July 11, 2014

Shining Ark Review

Posted in video games tagged , at 7:29 am by riulyn

Wow, my blog has become review central, but this time it’s for the Japan-only game, Shining Ark. For those of you who have read my Shining Hearts review, you probably wondered why I was playing another Shining PSP game. I thought I got Shining Wind for the longest time, so once I realized I got Shining Ark I was a little bummed, since I read a review that the game wasn’t so great. Well, I ended up playing it anyway and it wasn’t great, but it worked well enough for late night or “kind of just want to do something but not think” gaming.

TLDR This game will upset most people because it could have been decent and not because it’s unbearably long or awful to play. In the end it’s mostly a time-passer that you don’t have to think much about and ended up being decent Japanese practice for me.

BATTLE SYSTEM

I read on another review (if only I could remember where it was…) that this game’s combatis sort of like Valkyria Chronicles fantasy-style. All battles occur on a set battle field and happen during “quests” (aka no random encounters). Basically you move around in real time in a field and can move a certain distance/turn. Once you get within an enemy’s attack range they can attack you for usually minor damage until you select a command. You have the ability to attack, use “force” for techs/magic, items, and “songs” for two of the characters. You or your enemies can counterattack if the opponent is within range, though I don’t think any of my ranged characters ever countered. Turn order is shown on the bottom right and depends on a character’s speed. For large enemies there is the chance to target multiple parts.

The battle system is fine in principle. However it gets meaningless pretty quickly because you can pretty much mow down your enemies without worrying about damage for most of the battles. In addition, most of the objectives are to wipe all the enemies out. I feel like 90% of the quests are “Oh no, monsters are in the way! We need to get rid of them.” At least that means battles go by quickly.

PLOT AND CHARACTERS

The plot starts off slow. Panis comes to the island suddenly and she’s pretty much Fried’s (the MC) “little sister” and you kind of just go around town helping people and passing time until Kilmaria shows up and finally starts the plot moving somewhere. It’s a linear plot with little surprises especially if you have played lots of JRPGs. There’s a lot of familiarity in the types of plot elements and characters. I didn’t find any of it particularly compelling, but I came in not expecting a plot (Shining Hearts was my only previous Shining game), so it was good enough for me.

There is a lot of dialogue in this game, or maybe it feels especially this way due to all the battles in the main plot being scripted. Still, in my opinion, the plot actually has a lot of “filler” put in or all those quests to help gather plants or materials or you reach a site but monsters are in the way, need to rethink things, etc. I wonder if the creators were worried that the game would be too short without it. The problems with the dialogue for me were 1) a lot of repetition due to the repetitive nature of the quests (must talk about the presence of monsters and exterminating them before exploring) and 2) reinforcing the two character traits given to every character, even the main character. Only in the optional dialogue do I feel any depth in the characters, but it was hard for me to care about pursuing those scenes when I couldn’t care less about the characters based on first impressions.

OTHER GAME MECHANICS

This leads me to the other mechanics of the game. Unlike some of the other Shining PSP games where you could date the girls, this isn’t really a thing for Shining Ark. You still have the M.O.E.S. system (need to choose a response to a question/statement within a time limit that will improve/worsen your relationship with the other character a bit) which I believe is the key to unlocking character-specific quests/scenes, but I didn’t find them interesting or involved or different enough from the usual filler to pursue them.

There are also other quests you can do. Alize (sp?) has a bunch of battle quests were you basically exterminate more monsters for more materials. A bunch of other quests are “deliver this one thing to this person” or “get this item for me”. A lot of the “get this item for me” is bread. Bread is pretty awesome as a battle healing item in this game and making it is not as involved as in Shining Hearts. A good way to gather some of the materials for it is planting seeds/farming (pretty much you get a harvest one day later), getting eggs/milk from animals, and fishing. All these mechanics are pretty simplified. There’s also the ability to trade items for other items. You can get materials for breadmaking as well as weapon making from this.

There’s a time-passing mechanic but you manually pass the time by choosing to sleep and not by spending a lot of time walking around (well at least I don’t think you can pass the time by walking around). Quests and fishing goodies are time of day sensitive.

But basically the village is like 5 screens and maybe 40 people? There isn’t a ton of non-story stuff to really do, and it is mostly repetitive.

LAST THOUGHTS

In the end, this is a game I recommend as a relaxing time-waster and/or Japanese learning tool but not one to go out of your way to import or even buy for 500 yen at a Book Off in Japan. Everything about the game is almost “too safe”, which I guess means it isn’t offensive but it isn’t anything memorable either. I’d probably still pick it up over Shining Hearts if I had to choose between the two since I could not stand the grind of Shining Hearts (remember it wasn’t hard but encounters were like all the time and not avoidable), but I feel like I rather recommend Shining Hearts to people because at least it has good systems (dating, bread-making) instead of just being fluff.

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