Shining Force III is the high point of an incredible series, telling one huge story over three different Scenarios, each with its own heroes, perspectives and unforgettable battles.
The epic trilogy starts with Scenario I: God Warrior of the Kingdom, the only part of the game officially released in English. The plot starts with peace talks between the Republic and the Empire, but soon escalates into kidnappings, religious plots and a vicious cult seeking to bring about the end of the world. The second game, Target: Child of God, occurs simultaneously but sees you take the role of the Empire’s Prince Medion. Both games start and end in the same place, but along the way show very different sides of the same conflict, and that’s where Shining Force III‘s genius lies.
In many games players aren’t encouraged to see events from alternative perspectives, but developers Camelot devised a system named Synchronicity that not only shows conversations and battles from both sides but also the effects your actions can take on others. For example, if you allow the brainwashed General Spiriel to live in SFIII: Scenario I, she appears in Scenario III to join your force to help defeat the Bulzome Cult. This is just one of many examples of the Synchronicity system at work: treasure chests opened in Scenario I remain empty in Scenario II, a stolen key on one disc can unlock a character in the next, and any number of other strands serve to keep all three Scenarios locked together as one huge game, rather than playing like three disparate versions of the same story.
Shining Force III was the very first RPG I played, and it made such a huge impact I’ve been a big fan of the genre ever since. I remember reading a preview in Sega Saturn Magazine and completely obsessing over it, even going so far as to plan a play diary so I could recall all the major plot points, items and secrets. When the game eventually arrived I was absolutely blown away by it, leading me to get my Saturn switched, which proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made!
There’s a rather good piece on the Shining series in this month’s GamesTM (although it does neglect Shining Force II, officially the tenth best game ever), but for all the talk of its political plot and the lack of translation for the last two discs, it doesn’t sum up why I love the game so much. Crammed into the three discs are so many amazing battles, characters, weapons, attacks and enemies that it’s like a constant revelation to you, with something new in every battle. Scenario II has a great battle by a lighthouse, and at the end of each turn you have to take cover or the lighthouse’s beam will expose you to the enemy as you sneak over the bridge. The idea of making a stealthy turns-based battle amazes me every time.
Shining Force III‘s sense of spectacle was only bettered on Saturn by Panzer Dragoon Saga, but as beautiful as PDS is, it could never compete with the SFIII trilogy’s sheer size: completing all three Scenarios properly probably takes between 100 and 150 hours of gameplay, a huge game even by today’s standards. Even better is that by completing the third Scenario, you can access even more battles on the best "thank you" gift ever, the elusive Premium Disc, which lets you use the characters you’ve so lovingly raised to take on classic Shining bosses including Darksol and Dark Dragon. For a Shining Force fan, it doesn’t get any better.
I could reel off another fifty unforgettable moments from the trilogy, but the fact is that Shining Force III changed my life. I must have completed the first disc at least six times, and I have a save file on Scenario III that’s no more than a few months old.
For Christmas, my brother gave me the Shining Force III artbook, and it reminded me how incredible the series is. It was clearly a real labour of love for the Takahashi brothers and Camelot, and it’s such a shame that we’ll never again see their vision of the Shining world brought to life. The three Scenarios of Shining Force III stand as the pinnacle of Sega’s greatest RPG series, and the third-best game they ever made.