It shouldn't come as any surprise that, just like so many other games in the GBA's library, Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon is a remake of a game that originally appeared on a 16-bit system back in the early 1990s. What is surprising, however, is that with just a handful of upgrades, Sega and Atlus have taken one of the best strategy role-playing games on the Sega Genesis and have made it into one of the best strategy RPGs on the Game Boy Advance. Those of you who have played Nintendo's Fire Emblem to death will want to check out Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon.
The battle interface is similar to that in Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics. The player and the CPU take turns moving characters and making attacks.
The story isn't all that unique, but it works. Long ago, an evil monster called the Dark Dragon was sealed away by the gods. All was peaceful for a thousand years, until the king of Runefaust found out about the slumbering beast and decided to wake it from its thousand-year sleep. The key to freeing the monster is a book that's located somewhere on the peace-loving continent of Rune. Runefaust invades Rune in an effort to find the book, and, sadly, most of Rune's knights are killed in the process. One of the survivors is a young knight-in-training named Max, who also happens to be the hero character in the game. As often happens in these kinds of games, Max can't remember anything about his past. You can pretty much guess the rest. Max is recruited by Rune to put together an army to resist Runefaust, and while he's traveling from one village to the next, he ultimately regains his memories and confronts the king of Runefaust, the Dark Dragon, and the whole host of shady figures that are behind the whole thing.
Those shady figures and all of the other characters in the game are what make the otherwise flat story seem interesting. Every village is full of people to talk to. They'll tell you their life stories, fill you in on historical events, and often give you clues as to what Runefaust's army is up to and where to go next. Also in each village, you'll come across fighters that are willing to join your cause. You can control these various knights, mercenaries, beastmen, and birdmen on the battlefield, and each of these characters has a story to tell, which you can read in bits and pieces by talking to them in your headquarters between battles. The dialogue is charming and well written. Just by tapping the talk button a few times, you can uncover characters' life stories and learn all sorts of information about your mission and the society as a whole. By the last battle, you feel like you've developed a kinship with many of the characters and have a good sense of whom and what you're fighting for.
When an attack is performed, it's shown in an animated side view.
Still, chances are you're not just looking for this sort of game because it does a good job of telling a story. You're interested because it's a turn-based strategy game that you hope has long chesslike battles that can take an hour or more to finish. It does. When you combine the time it takes to complete the prebattle setup and the time necessary to finish a battle, it's easy to watch an hour just fly by. And Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon clocks in with more than 40 different battles spread throughout eight chapters, which adds up to at least 40 hours of playing time.
Battles can take a while, but you'll also spend a fair amount of time setting up for each battle. The CPU can bring upward of 30 individual units onto the battlefield, but you're limited to a maximum of 12--which you choose from an overall roster that grows every time you recruit a new character. It doesn't take long to compile a roster of more than 30 different fighters. Some character types have an advantage over others--barbarians can dole out huge damage to knights, while archers and other long-range units can decimate dragons and other flying units. Some character types are just handy to have around--knights can travel farther since they ride on horseback, healers can help you recover hit points, archers and mages can attack enemies located from two or three squares beyond their movement range, and some characters can cast spells that will affect an entire group of enemies. At times, terrain becomes a factor as well. Knights and mechanized units are strong and can move quickly over flat land and rivers, but their mobility is slashed in half in forests and mountains. There are dozens of different character types to pick from, including, but certainly not limited to, knights, barbarians, mages, assassins, beastmen, birdmen, and mechanized robots. Characters gain experience when they attack enemies, and their various stats (attack, defense, hit points, magic points, agility, speed, and magic resistance) go up every time their experience reaches a certain level. Characters can also be promoted when their rank reaches 10 or above. As you can see, between picking the best units for the situation and trying to level up particular characters, there's a healthy amount of push and pull that goes into just organizing your army before a battle even starts.
Out on the battlefield, Shining Force shares a great deal in common with games like Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics. The turn-based setup, unit types, and terrain types are pretty much identical between all three games. The setting for each battle is a large rectangular map that can contain a variety of different terrains, such as forests, mountains, rivers, and grasslands. The conditions for a victory vary, but a win usually involves eliminating all of the enemy's units, defeating a boss character, or reaching a particular spot on the map. Typically, your units start out situated in one area of the map, and the enemy's units are spread out in small groups at various strategic spots. The idea here is that you and the CPU will take turns moving units and making attacks. Once a unit's hit points are depleted, it's out of commission. During a turn, you can move each of your units any number of spaces in their movement range and perform one action per unit--make an attack, cast a spell, use an item, or wait. The order in which you and the CPU can make moves is set based upon the speed rating of each unit. Faster units can take their turns sooner, while slower units have to wait. Generally, this means that you and the CPU will alternate moving a few units at a time until the overall turn is over.