Review – Shining Blade

I came across Shining Blade in a random Japanese game magazine. But from the SECOND I saw that article, I knew I would be buying Shining Blade.

That’s because I absolutely love the character design of this game. I know it’s a personal opinion, but seldom I’ve felt so great about a whole cast. The bad guys are also cooler than average : they might seem cliché, but their personality is really coherent with the cruelty of their actions. Graphics are OK for the PSP but far from Final Fantasy levels, and I think we could have had more artworks. Fortunately, Shining Blade is big about its characters. There’s a friendship level system in which your answers have an influence on the side events you can trigger. Those ones tell you more about the characters’ personalities and their relationships between each other. They are a lot of fun as they’ve been fairly well written.

On the other hand, the main scenario appears a bit flat : very similar to Fire Emblem or Valkyria Chronicles, it’s all about the reconquest of countries occupied by an Evil Empire about to resurrect an devilish dragon. Even though the campaign does have some strong moments (everything that involves Roselinde for example), it lacks that sense of grandeur that made the legend of its glorious models. Music is where Shining Blade really excels : for a game that is all about singing maidens, I guess it was pretty critical… But the original score is really worthwhile and adapts perfectly the situation. The 歌姫‘s song (see below) are really beautiful, Roselinde’s being just moving…

If I mentioned Valkyria Chronicles and Fire Emblem, it’s also because the gameplay is largely inspired from those two. Shining Blade was developed by Media Vision, who happened to have developed the fantastic (but still unlocalized!) Valkyria Chronicles 3. Therefore, you find many similarities : the personalities system is exactly the same (ex. Sakuya’s leadership : if more than two allies are present, her stats are up), the turn system uses CP-like crystals and the various classes find a heroic fantasy equivalent (ex. the swordsman class works like a shocktropper). That said, Shining Blade doesn’t fail to add some interesting features (variation actually). Duo allows your character to have a partner follow you without him using his/her movement points. Link attacks has you choose a partner within range to deal more damage. This is just in fact applying to all characters Kurt’s Direct Command of VC3. It’s still a very useful add strategywise. Another thing is that archers actually fire at enemies when those ones are moving within range, which VC3 snipers cannot do. However, middle-range units such as magic users can’t (whereas scout can). Wizards can also target multiple enemies (up to 8!) at once, and even close-range can deal up to 4 hits on different (but close) enemies. Every character has powerful attacks that uses Force points, and have various properties such as inflicting poison, etc. Last but not least, 5 characters are what the game calls 歌姫 (utahime) who can sing to support the rest of your party. It’s crucial during boss battles because their song negates the boss’ Force Field that greatly improves their defenses. But the singing character can’t move, attack or defend herself, so you «lose» one character which is sometimes a difficult choice to make. All that ends up in a really convincing battle system, and I expected no less.

But all that is ruined by one STUPID thing : it’s super easy! Enemies barely scratch you while you’re doing insane damage with just normal attacks. Even if some bosses can put some pressure (like the final boss, who made me sweat a little), Force attacks are so powerful that they can take them out in 1 or 2 blows! I some point I searched for the ultra-hard difficulty level, but there was none. This ridiculously easy difficulty setting is a major drawback because it affects the gravity with which you perceive the story and makes strategy almost useless : in most fights, you barely need to think your way to victory given that rushing head-on is the fastest way to it. We’re very far from the hellish missions of the Valkyria Chronicles series, which tasted SO good. In comparison, the dungeon accessible after you have cleared the game is more interesting : monsters do a lot of damage and you begin to prepare your turns carefully.

I finished Shining Blade in 35h straight so it’s still a fairly attractive game. But what PAINS me is that it failed to be a masterpiece simply because there was no bloody difficult mode. It’s a quite serviceable JRPG that takes smartly from both Valkyria Chronicles and Fire Emblem, but lives up to neither…


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