What can I say about this game that hasn’t been said already? It’s by far the most well known and popular SRPG; the Japanese wikipedia page says that it sold 1.35 million copies, the most of any SRPG in history. Many people discovered the genre through the game, some never really playing many others (“Where can I find another SRPG like FFT” is still a very common question on Internet forums). Although I had played a few stages of Shining Force 1 in high school, this was the first SRPG I completed. I stayed with a friend in college while I was doing a summer research project, and he had this game. I played it through, and the night I beat it I immediately started a new game, something I’m not sure I’ve ever done with any RPG.
The game was made by people from the Final Fantasy development as well as Yasumi Matsuno, the developer of the Ogre series. It is clearly based on Tactics Ogre, combined with a version of the job system found in FF5 and FF3.
The story is often cited as one of the best in an RPG; I personally think it’s a bit overrated — the first chapter is a masterpiece of RPG storytelling, but I feel that it loses some focus in the rest of the game. It is by no means a bad story, but I preferred Tactics Ogre in that respect.
The graphics are well known for the lack of noses.
The music is another high point; it’s one of the best soundtracks in a video game and it was the first video game soundtrack I ever bought on CD.
The job system allows you to select a job for a character, and then level up the job level (which unlocks new jobs) and also earn JP to spend on abilities. You can switch to a new job and then set some abilities from other jobs that you have earned.
This gives you a lot of flexibility, but it does create one of the flaws of the game, that the system is not very well balanced. Some of the jobs are nearly worthless (Archer, Knight) while others are grossly overpowered (Calculator). The system is opaque and can lead to misconceptions about how well your characters are performing — for instance, the prominently displayed “Brave” value actually affects very little in the game (mostly reaction abilities, barehand attacks, and a few special “knight” swords). However, I believe this is the first SRPG to show a detailed prediction of what will happen with a move (with attack percentage and damage).
It is a bit more generous in death compared to Tactics Ogre. When someone reaches 0 hp, you have 3 turns to revive them or they will permanently die (or game over if it’s the main character).
The flexibility of the job system does allow for a lot of self-designed challenges, though. After playing it a few times, I played several “Double Dares” (where you can only use two characters, and each can only use abilities from two jobs). After that, I was on GameFAQs around the time people started getting interested in the Solo Straight Character Class challenges — where you can only use Ramza, and Ramza must stay in one class for the whole game (and not use any abilities outside of it). I was the third one to complete one of these; I beat Monk (the first two were Ramza Squire and Time Mage). My contribution is immortalized in the long GameFAQs walkthrough. At this point all of the classes have been done except for Mime and True Calculator, which are thought to be impossible. (The less difficult “Straight Character Challenge” where you can use 5 people of one class, has been completed for all characters.)
These SSCC’s weren’t the most fun, but the community around them on IRC and GameFAQs was great, and it’s one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had around a video game. 20 years later I’m still in touch with some of the friends I made doing those.
This game is still remembered as a classic but it is somewhat a victim of its own success; there are some people who strongly dislike it. Harvester of Eyes, who has now deleted his youtube channel and site, hated it so much that he refused to cover it on his site and considered it one of the worst SRPGs he had played (or so he claimed). I think he did have some valid points about the game — the opaque system requires a lot of grinding if you don’t understand it, there are a few cheap battles (particularly the solo vs. Wiegraf), and it’s not quite as tactical as other games. But for me it’s still a one of my favorites.
It was re-released for the PSP in an updated version, which I don’t know much about, but I’ll cover it when I reach there.
I’m close to finished with Seiken Densetsu 3 so things should return to normal next week.