Rom Mod: Shining Force 2 Battle Royale
Shining Force 2: Battle Royale is a homebrew modification/hack for Shining Force 2 on the SEGA Megadrive/Genesis, one of the first real strategy RPGs. It edits and shifts a remarkable amount of content almost making an entirely new experience – with new characters, enemies, items and spells, it’s a great way to relive the 90s classic.
The first two Shining Force games were mid-90s strategy RPGs for the SEGA Megadrive (aka Genesis). Like most fantasy RPG’s, the kingdom is in turmoil and so the King saw it fit to send an outnumbered and underequipped group of inexperienced teenagers to save the world. So Shining Force was the typical fantasy setting – plenty of slimes, fireballs and glowing swords with a barebones fairytale storyline that paled in comparison to, say, Final Fantasy Tactic’s heavy-handed political tale of moral conflict. Nonetheless, games such as Shining Force laid an important foundation for future titles and in some ways, revisiting the simplistic story and setting is a refreshing change. A world where the good guys were good, the bad guys were bad simply because they were evil and, after finishing the game, the implications of leading an army of force members of near-godlike power or marrying princesses you barely knew wasn’t really something we should be concerned with. In short, what Shining Force was really about was the solid, classic gameplay.
The World of Mods
After making a rock-solid formula for fun SEGA did the only natural thing and followed up with a large number of entries in the Shining Franchise that played nothing at all like the originals. Many fans were left unsatisfied, and despite petitions to SEGA, no ‘true’ Shining Force game has emerged for decades.
A dedicated community in the Shining Force Central forums didn’t take no for an answer, though. Shining Force 2: Battle Royale by forum member nightshade00123 is a fine example of a mod that breathes new life to the game while staying true to what made the originals great. Being is a mod (or hack if you prefer) of the original game’s ROM, the extent of what can be altered and added is limited. Impressive then, that the creator has managed to edit practically all the main characters, and add or edit a range of new items and monsters, new battle maps (in a sense), battle backgrounds, spells, and more. It’s not quite a new game, but changed enough that there will be quite a few surprises in store even for a hardened veteran.
No Bowie, Only Kiwi
The first and most significant change is the removal of the town exploration segments. Normally in the Shining Force world, between battles, you could travel the world map, explore towns and interact with NPCs to catch up on story and loot their meager possessions for the greater good (as all good RPG heroes must do). Now: it’s gone. Instead, the game is a series of back-to-back battles with the towns reduced to a menu between battles, similar to Shining Force CD. Some will argue that the exploration segments were the heart and joy of the game – and I don’t disagree – but the principle of the mod is for veterans of the game to see a classic from a new angle – people who, by now, have explored every corner of the town segments to death, and skipped past the story dialogues dozens of times already. So really, removing the exploration section by this stage is more of a mercy killing that does a lot to cut out the repetition and allows the mod to focus on the gameplay and new content.
The next major change is the Shining Force itself. You now begin from the start with a full selection of about two dozen characters to choose from. There’s a good mix of classes, with some characters making appearances from other games in the franchise (including the SEGA CD and Game Gear games) while some appear to be original creations. This means that for most, the sprites are usually a combination of sprites borrowed from other games, or original spritework and edits. Admittedly, a few of these new graphics are a bit rough in places, but all-in-all, it is quite an impressive effort that does much to match the original style. It also really adds a level of excitement to see all the new characters in action.
Likewise, spell selections have been completely revamped, in particular changing the elemental spell sets. Originally, the standard elemental spells were Blaze (fire), Freeze (ice) and Bolt (lightning), which start at level 1 and slowly increase in rank to level 4. Level one would generally hit only one enemy at short range, while levels 2 and 3 hit a bit harder but most importantly, hit a group of enemies. Level 4 did significantly more damage, but could only hit a single target again. Although providing some strategic considerations, the system was arguably underpowered, with mages easily outpaced by warriors later in the game. Battle Royale addresses this by providing three distinct attack spells for each element. Blaze, Freeze and Bolt levels 1-4, have been standardised somewhat, to hit one enemy at level 1, then a group at levels 3-4, doing increasing damage. However, relevant characters later learn a specialised single-target elemental spell, which does much higher damage. There is also a second group-targeting spell that targets a much larger group (like the old Bolt spells). As these are now their own spells, they too, can grow from level 1-4. This vastly improves spellcaster’s flexibility and ability to scale with the later game, making them extremely useful. The trade off is that that each caster has only one other spell (3 elemental spells and 1 other). Whether this is a good or bad thing will depend on your preferences; I found it made spellcasters feel much more specailised and distinct. Healers also get in on the action, and now have the ‘Hell’ spell – a wind elemental attack (which is derived from the name ‘Hell Blast’ in full) that hits groups at levels 2-4 and ‘Asura’ – a focused single target wind spell. However, I didn’t find them so useful as healers were generally busy healing. Several fighters now also gain spells of both the support and attack variety, also. The spell overhaul greatly improves your tactical options and effectively makes your force far more powerful than before – however the increased difficulty of the game means you will need every advantage you can get.
Equipment has also been remixed. A range of new and revised items are available progressively through the game in the shop menus between battles (and sometimes dropped by bosses). However, most notable is the addition of accessories as purchasable in-store items. In the original game characters basically only equipped weapons, and only a small handful of unique accessories were found throughout the game that could boost character’s other stats. Now, they can be purchased directly from shops, and increasingly stronger ones appear over time, such as adamant shields, eventually making significant differences. It is another change that may have mixed views, because while it increases tactical gear options, it basically becomes required for all characters by the end of the game lest they die in a single hit from an evil snail. Another caveat is that this means characters will end up always having two of their four inventory spots occupied. Considering you will want each to carry at least one healing item, some golden wings (the game’s item that lets you escape from battle), or other usable items, inventory space runs out even faster than the original. This can be a bit of an annoyance when shopping – as you cannot buy a new item for a character directly if the character’s inventory is full. You’ll to sell or shuffle around items to make space first. Although its more of an annoyance than a game-stopping flaw.
The battles, have all been redesigned, with a selection of new enemies all with harder stats than before, and usually packing more support spells. In some cases, the maps themselves have been changed. Although they are basically ‘swapped in’ from existing maps in the game (that were normally the exploration segments), rather than new designs, as the creator said he found technical issues didn’t allow him to customise maps layouts without glitches occurring. A shame, as it would have been cool to see completely new maps, but some of the swaps do mix things up a bit, such as fighting in towns. Unfortunately only a few new maps appear, and its a pity the creator didn’t swap in more maps. The game introduces a few new monsters, and notably, some bosses from other Shining games; some of them punishingly tough to defeat (Dantom caused a few total party wipes). Another nice touch is that completely new battle backgrounds have been drawn – and they look excellent, easily on par if not better than the original backgrounds.
As the game goes on, the boss battles get tougher and tougher until.. well.. wait til you see the final battle! However there is an unfortunate side-effect from being a mod, in that there is no proper ending: the game simply freezes once the final boss is defeated. Although it is understandable that the mod creator wasn’t really able to program in a new ending, it is a shame that such an epic mod must end on such an anti-climatic note.
Overall, the goal of the mod was to breathe new life into the game for old fans and veterans who grew up with the game, such as myself, to fill that ‘Shining’ gap in our lives. For anyone who has played and replayed the original several times, it really does create a golden opportunity to replay the game and almost, almost, feel like you are playing a new game. In many ways, it’s the closest we’ll ever get to “Shining Force CD 2”. Kudos.
Note, being a mod file, you need to own a copy of the original game’s ROM, and have an emulator. I recommend K-Gen Fusion.