Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya is the sequel to the Game Gear Shining Force Gaiden that never came outside of Japan. In 2013, this game was released in Europe for the first time through the 3DS’s Virtual Console and I am so incredibly glad that it did.
Shining Force is a series that has not seen much love outside of Japan, so for the uninitiated, Shining Force is a tactical RPG that is similar to the Fire Emblem series. Unlike Fire Emblem however, Shining Force’s turns are based around unit speed, which gives a different approach to tactics as you never quite know what character will move next. This is a great system as it allows for unpredictability on the battlefield. Also unlike Fire Emblem, Shining Force games do not focus heavily on the “triangle system” of weapon and magic effectiveness.
One word can be used to sum up Shining Force’s gameplay: addictive. Its brand of grinding is a blast and it’s great to see your army level up and increase its power. Upgrading your soldiers when they reach level 10 is great fun and can form key decisions as I never knew whether or not to upgrade at level 10 or wait for them to get up a little more. Shining Force games have never had the same feel for equipment as the Fire Emblem series for example, The Sword of Hajya even more so does not give many equipment options throughout the surprisingly long amount of time it will take you to complete the game (took me over 15 hours).
The Sword of Hajya follows this kind of gameplay very well, but squashed down onto a small screen. The smaller screen however plays into the game’s only real down-point, as the amount you see on screen never seems enough, meaning you have to scroll more than you do on other games in the series.
Indeed, really the only thing holding The Sword of Hajya back from true greatness is the fact that it’s a Game Gear game. Unlike the two Shining Force games on the Mega Drive, there is no exploration here – something rather unique for the series – just battles presented with a rather lacklustre story. The battles however are great fun and balanced just right as the game never feels too hard as when a character dies, they can be brought back for a price.
Something that has always struck me with the Shining Force series is its sense of humour and fun with character designs and conversations, po-faced this is not. The Sword of Hajya is the brightest, breeziest game in the series that I have played and it made me laugh on occasion, something that can’t be said for many of its contemporaries.
However, it is unfair of me to compare a Game Gear game to a Mega Drive game, as the Game Gear really could not produce the same level of game. What we’ve got here then is a great hand held game of a great series. It is not as memorable as its bigger brothers, but it is as fun and plays just as smoothly. The game nearly looks as good as its bigger brothers, quite the feat for a handheld game no?
Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya may not be as memorable or big as its home-console counterparts but it retains the series’ sense of humour, addictive grinding based gameplay and balance. This is an impressive, worthwhile game marred only by the console it was made on.
The best Game Gear game, but not the best Shining Force game that’s well worth the asking price.