Developer: Camelot Software Planning | Year: 1993 | List Price: ~$19.99
Buy from Amazon
Having just emerged victorious from a long playthrough of Bravely Default, I got Pushmo when it was on sale a while back, and due to the taxes incurred, my $10 couldn’t stretch enough to afford another $4.99 game. After a bit of browsing, I decided to try a SEGA Game Gear game, because I never had a Game Gear and all their titles were on the 3DS eShop for only $3.99. It was a toss-up between this and Defenders of Oasis, but having immensely enjoyed Fire Emblem Awakening earlier this year, I decided to dive headfirst into the Shining Force series with Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya.
On the surface, this is standard SRPG fare. You control your characters around a map, exchanging blows with the enemy. There is a simple plot, but if that’s what you’re here for, it’s best look somewhere else. Basically the mightily important Sword of Hajya has been stolen and you have to go find it. The story progresses from there in a series of 24 battles over 4 chapters, with not much in the way of cutscenes to break them up.
I’ll have to make comparisons with Fire Emblem here, since that’s the only other SRPG I’m familiar with. Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya, though 20 years older, plays much the same, except for a few details here and there. The most glaring difference is the way turns work in Shining Force. Rather than having the player move all his/her characters at once, followed by the enemy moving all its characters, Shining Force assigns a Quickness stat to each fighter and everyone moves according to their speed. This adds an extra layer of stress, because unless you are carefully noting the turn order of everyone on the map, you never know when the enemy will strike.
Also, the permadeath Fire Emblem is famous for is absent in Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya. Instead, you can raise your fallen characters for a fee after each battle. The game’s challenge makes up for this, however, some fights near the end being teeth-gnashingly stressful enough without having to worry about your characters being gone forever.
That sort of brings me to the subject of balance, particularly regarding magic. While there isn’t much of a difference between Levels 1 and 2 offensive magic, Level 3 magic can wipe out multiple full-health characters in one hit. I’m not sure whether this is a bug or a deliberate addition, but this seems only to be the case with the American releases of The Sword of Hajya. In any case, it really adds to the difficulty once the enemies start being capable of casting this magic, though it does seem strange to me why the developers would include such a peculiarly overpowered move.
This game was originally released in 1993, yet the graphics are still charming and the bare-bones menu gets bearable after a while. Where the game does show its age comes in the forms of little annoyances I assume were fixed in later entries in the series. Firstly, the camera doesn’t seem to scroll until the cursor attempts to actually leave the screen. This is not an issue until you try to attack enemies obscured by the info panels near the top of the screen. The camera refuses to pan further up, forcing you to guess their locations. Also, items lack descriptions, forcing you to either guess their uses or look them up.
For all its shortcomings, Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya still manages to deliver an insuperable amount of value at its Virtual Console version’s low cost of $4. (A physical version for your Game Gear will run you about $20). I took 21 hours to complete the main quest, though actual results may vary since I attempted to play through the game like Fire Emblem, casting Egress to restart each level if I lost any of my characters. It is indisputable, however, that for anyone who is a fan of the SRPG genre or who is remotely interested, Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya is a must-buy.
Here’s a breakdown of the game:
Design: 4/10 This game hasn’t really aged well in light of newer, more story-focused games in its genre. The characters and enemies are generic, and the game basically jumps from battle to battle with only basic sprite-based cutscenes to fill you in on the story’s progression. The game does have some unique and creative level design though.
Graphics: 6/10 The game’s graphics haven’t aged all that well. While the anime-esque character portraits were a nice touch, the sprites and backgrounds look a little bland and generic. It is still important to note, however, that these were some of the best visuals a handheld could pump out in the early 90’s.
Sound: 5/10 Some of the tracks are rather catchy, but the fact that the same music repeats for every similar action will prevent you from turning your sound up over the course of the 15+ hour game.
Gameplay: 7/10 The game isn’t particularly difficult per se, but will require some strategy and perseverance to beat. Though it doesn’t deviate from the formula set by earlier SRPG titles, it is still an addictive and rewarding gameplay experience.
Replayability Value: 8/10 I’m amending this because, while not extremely replayable, Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya delivers so much bang-for-its-buck on its first playthrough that it would be a pity to slam it in this category.
Total: 29/50 (D+)
List Price: ~$19.99 | Buy from Amazon
What do you think of Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya? Tell us in the comments! Also, want to know how this game stacks up against all the other games I’ve played? I’ve created a numbered list here that I update every time I play a new game. Finally, be sure to check out all of Kantaloupe’s other game reviews right here!