I’ve been trying to write a review of Shining Force III for a month now and it’s just not coming together. Not finding the time, not finding the words etc. So for now I am settling on a short post about the game and what it means to me.
For some people their favorite game is the first game they ever played. For others it’s a game that has some deep meaning to them whether it touched an emotional note or a a spiritual note (yes games are quite capable of doing both of those.) For others still it’s a game whose experience was so unique that no other title will ever be able to recreate the feeling they had while playing it. Regardless of age or experience with games, most gamers, when asked, will have an immediate answer to the question, “what is your favorite game of all time.”
Since 1999, the answer for me has been Shining Force III.
The game itself is actually comprised of three full standalone titles called scenarios. Only the first scenario was ever released in English though. The game was met with critical praise when it first came out, most magazines and websites at the time scoring it between 8 and 9. It’s a Strategy RPG and was released in the twilight era of a dying system, the Sega Saturn. Regardless of the life expectancy of the system, the game itself has become ageless, representing what can come about when a group of like-minded individuals come together for a common cause.
The story follows a noble young soldier named Synbios on a quest to clear the name of his king and save the recently abducted emperor. That is only the beginning of the story, however, and by the end of the game the stakes have escalated to something much larger. A group of pagan monks are seeking to rebuild the kingdom of an ancient demon, the first step of which is to awaken the demon, or vandal as they are called in Shining lore, Bulzome. The first scenario, the one I experienced for the first time as a 14 year old, ended with a cliffhanger, but the overarching theme of light versus darkness hit home for me personally as those are ideas which have always piqued my fascination. I remember sitting there as the credits rolled knowing I was supposed to be a part of something bigger and knowing, from what I’d read in magazines, that I would never actually get to experience that something bigger.
But I tried. I begged my mom to take me to the independent game store that carried import games. I knew they would know how to get a hold of the other two scenarios. I was determined to play through them even if they were in Japanese. And I did. After a few months of hunting I was able to track down brand new copies of both Scenario 2 and Scenario 3. As soon as they arrived I disappeared into my room, spending practically every second of freetime there until I’d finished the saga. I even printed out the entire script to the games, pages upon pages of each piece of text from the 2nd and 3rd scenarios to try and experience the story that every English player was missing out on. I sat for hours enveloped in the games that I couldn’t understand, constantly looking at the script. I remember walking around in the towns and talking to the villagers. I’d approach an NPC, then glance down at the script where it said “townsperson 1” and had a snippet of translated dialogue, and imagine that I was playing the game in English. Oh to be young again.
Since then I’ve made it a point to play through the games once every couple years. The strategy combat is always fun and engaging, regardless of how many times I have seen the same battle or fought the same enemy. It never gets old for me, because when a game is truly your favorite game of all time, you can play it over and over and never grow tired of it.
Fast forward to this summer when I decided to start a file in Shining Force III once again . For kicks and giggles I checked a website I used to frequent on a daily basis, Shining Force Central. It was a hub for all things Shining, but I always felt it was especially fond of SFIII in particular. As I went to the forums I noticed one of the sticky posts entitled “Shining Force III Translation Project.” This immediately caught my attention. As I browsed through the posts there my initial suspicions and hopes came to fruition: for years a team of fans have been working on a patch for the game that translates all of the text in the Japanese scenarios to English.
The more exploring I did the more elated I became. The most recent version of the patch had just been released and while not entirely proofread and completed, the 2nd and 3rd scenarios were fully patched and playable in English. I was absolutely stunned and amazed.
On and off for the last 14 years a small group of dedicated individuals have worked to translate two entire games. This was no small feat, as both of these games are very story and text driven, spanning over 25 hours each. And to this moment they continue to work to perfect the grammar, spelling, story continuity, and clarity for a future patch that will allow any gamer who owns the 3 scenarios to finally experience the epic story they missed out on over a decade and a half ago.
I set aside time over the next couple of weeks between my full time job, time with friends, and various other trivial things like sleeping and eating to play through the story I’d longed to experience in its original form for years. By the end of the third scenario Shining Force III had only deepened it’s place in my heart, further solidifying its engraving as “My Favorite Game of All Time.”