In every village, you'll find one or two people willing to join Max's army.
Of course, just as there are key differences that distinguish Fire Emblem from Final Fantasy Tactics, there are aspects that help set Shining Force apart. For instance, allies that lose their HP in battle don't stay dead like the units do in other tactics games. If a unit falls in battle, you can revive it by visiting the priest later on. Another big difference has to do with the elemental weaknesses that some units have. Many units are weak to a particular type of spell--either to fire, ice, wind, or electricity. Sometimes, the weakness is obvious, such as desert monsters and ice or forest monsters and fire. Other times, you'll discover purely by accident that a particular unit is weak to a particular element.
The main thing that Shining Force does differently from other strategy RPGs is that it lets you interact with villagers and manage your inventory like a traditional role-playing game would. Inside each village, you can enter houses, talk to people, take items from chests, go on brief fetch quests, and purchase items and weapons from shops to put in your inventory. Each character has its own inventory--they can carry one weapon, three magical charms, and up to four supporting items (such as alternative weapons or healing herbs)--but there's a common group inventory as well. This is nice, because if a character is loaded down and tries to pick something up during a battle, you won't miss out. The item will just end up in the item box instead of being carried by a specific character.
By now, those of you who played Shining Force when it originally came out on the Genesis are probably wondering what's so special about this version--what did Sega do to make this version better besides just making it portable? Well, for starters, the character portraits and battle poses have been redrawn, and a variety of new visual effects were added to make spells and attacks look spiffier. New sound and voice effects were put in as well. Character stats have been rebalanced so that there aren't any particularly overwhelming or overly weak units. Story epilogues have been inserted between chapters, and it turns out that they're fairly significant--partially because they cover what happens in Runefaust whenever Max wins a battle, but mainly because they introduce three new playable characters to the GBA version that weren't in the original Sega Genesis game. In a potentially disgusting move, a card-collecting subquest was also put in. But, amazingly enough, it isn't just a contrived gimmick meant to draw in fans of PokÃ©mon and Yu-Gi-Oh. One of the new characters can actually equip the cards you find and use them to turn into the characters and monsters shown on the cards. Since some cards allow you to damage the entire enemy army even before you've made your first move, the card subquest is actually a fairly useful and significant new addition.
Every character has a story to tell. As characters level up, they'll tell you more about themselves and offer another perspective on the main story.
The new additions and touch-ups do help this remake hold its own against the likes of Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics, but more should have been done to make the graphics and audio seem less Genesis-like and more like what we've become accustomed to seeing and hearing on the GBA. The battle maps and villages look pretty plain, mainly because the tiles used to put them together use the same variety of blue, green, purple, and gray hues that the Genesis version had. The side-view backdrops and various animations that are shown during attacks are lively and inspired and have been retouched for the better, but they're still not quite as sharp or as clean as the animations in Fire Emblem. The same sort of misgivings are true for the audio. The music is operatic and memorable--a real testament to the things that could be accomplished on the 8-bit sound chip in the Genesis--but the developers didn't do much to clean up the scratchiness or hissing that accompanied the original soundtrack. The variety of different weapon and voice effects is good, although you'll notice a bit of audible scratchiness there too.
In the end, if you consider yourself a fan of the strategy-tactics RPG genre, you're not going to mind that the graphics are a little outdated or that the audio has some hissing and popping in it. Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon is just too good to pass up.