Shining Tears PS2 Review

Call it what you want, but Shining Tears is gorgeous. It's a flawless example of how beautiful 2-D graphics can be on such powerful hardware, and it doesn't look outdated in the least. While it may look like something fans of the series would find enjoyable, the gameplay is a complete turn around, and that takes the game in a direction that may not be what you're looking for.

The strangest thing about this latest entry into Sega's Shining series is that the first few hours are completely disjointed from the rest of the game. You'll begin with basic tasks, a few small-scale battles, and long-winded, boring text dialogue conversations. Then, as if the developers had enough of designing the game that way, you're thrust into a huge war, and suddenly, a two-player cooperative option becomes available.

That's how the majority of the game will play out from that point. There are still those dry dialogue sequences intermittently in place, but it's mostly formed with a basic hack 'n slash engine in-between some basic adventure elements. It can best be described as a combination of the recent Dynasty Warriors titles and Champions of Norrath (or you can insert your favorite action-RPG substitute). The battles grow increasingly larger as the game goes on, requiring a significant time commitment, and even more so if you're the type that needs to kill everything. This is nothing like the turn-based games in this series that came before it.

There are countless sprites in any given battle, and if you do take them all on, you can expect a body count into the upper-hundreds. This is fine short term. As you continue on your quest, it begins to drag. You're limited in moves, and your required chosen partner, whether AI controlled or handled by a friend, doesn't have much to work with either. While there are some special moves and combination attacks, there's never a real need for them. You can repeatedly slam the circle button and with enough health power-ups, you'll never die.

That's another interesting aspect: death. It doesn't matter where you die. You're thrown right back into the fray in the exact spot you left. If you die during a boss fight, you'll go in and battle his weakened state assuming you did some damage before succumbing. Oddly, you're sent back into the main town when your health depletes.

That may not sound bad until you actually play it. Load times are an issue, so the only penalty for dying is your time. An option to just continue the fight instead of warping back would have been nice, even if it would make the game too easy. As it is, the enemy AI blindly walks into your attacks anyway, and only when provoked. There's not much challenge here, and your AI partner is useless half the time.

On its very basic levels however, this game is a blast. It's a throwback to the days of Gauntlet with its simple combat, and the customization features that come along with leveling up keep this title addictive. In short bursts, it's one of the most enjoyable games you can currently buy since the major flaws only tend to be apparent if you play for long stretches. In addition, once past the first few hours, the multi-player aspects add to the value.

It would be criminal not to give the art style it's fair due again. The character design comes from Tony Taka, a famous manga/anime artist. It benefits the game greatly, giving it a focus and originality. The shading, animation, and painting-like backdrops seal this one as true video game art. There is some slowdown when things get crowded and you will lose your character inside the scuffles. It's a small trade considering just how fantastic this game looks.

The same can't be said for the audio, with its repetitive (though quality) music and unintentionally hilarious voice acting (what little there is of it anyway). A few themes, like that of the blacksmiths, suit the needs of the game, though if you spend too much time in one area, you'll notice the looping becoming a problem. It feels like a 16-bit RPG at times, and the soundtrack is the likely culprit.

Whether or not you'll enjoy Shining Tears is dependent on assorted factors, the most important being how long you play your games in one stretch. If the battles were a little more confined and (needed) bonuses weren't offered for beating everything in a stage, then this could have been game of the year potential. As it stands, the die-hards that will likely be drawn to this title in the first place will likely stick it out, but be drained by it's repetitiveness by the end.

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