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Old 04-09-2014, 01:08 PM
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Default Dissecting the anatomy of Shining Force: Let's discuss SRPG design

Alternative subtitle:
I think Dark Dragon is coming back. Will you help us? C'mon, it'll be an adventure!

This thread is moving the active discussion that starts around here about Shining force and SRPGs.

~~~

The talk about Vandal Hearts reminds me that I have this theory why Shining Force is so great, and why it is much better than Shining Force 2. I understand most people don't regard the original that highly, so the explanation is maybe meaningless for them.

Anyway, Shining Force seems to be solely designed around the individual micro ideas for each battle. It is as if the designers believed (correctly, in my view) that the central problem for a SRPG is 'if battles start to repeat, then the game will be boring'. They didn't approach the game with the idea that battles are filler for any other part of the game. They didn't approach the game with the idea that there is a "normal" battle you get to experience most of the time. Nothing is ever normal, it's always new. (Or so it wishes it could be. It does have similiar battles... e.g. two nearly identical ship battles, placed almost back to back)

In Shining Force's vocabulary, this means introducing new terrain features, new enemies, and new map layouts. Battles of different scopes, sizes, and intensities. After realizing this, I find it funny how retrospectives will never neglect to describe the game as being "not very complex". The modern SRPG certainly has complexity out the wazoo in their systems, but could play like 100 hours of chewing the same piece of fat.

Speaking of which, Shining Force is also by far the snappiest SRPG I've played. The plot moves quickly, the battles play quickly. People are complaining about the pacing of FFT, for instance, and I think how many times I've played Shining Force and would end my first session around the Laser Eye boss (10 or 11 battles, end of the 3rd chapter out of 8 chapters total).

If Chrono Trigger was a SRPG it would be Shining Force.

Last edited by dosboot; 04-11-2014 at 05:43 PM.
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Old 04-09-2014, 01:19 PM
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If Chrono Trigger was a SRPG it would be Shining Force.
Along those lines, I consider Arc the Lad II to basically be a combination of Chrono Trigger and Shining Force.

I do prefer Shining Force's brand of strategy, mainly because I like the snappy battle system. It's paced much more effectively. It's also why I seem to have cottoned to Growlanser as well, as they tend to mix up battle constraints quite nicely.

(I still need to sink some time into Shining Force III, though.)
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Old 04-09-2014, 01:20 PM
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Just got the results back from the lab.

Skills tied to items is, scientifically speaking, the worst system ever conceived. We did a test using a control case of Final Fantasy 2's original implementation of "stats tied to canceling your attack commands". It was still 3.5 standard deviations worse.
Actually, it's good.
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Old 04-09-2014, 10:11 PM
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That's strange because personally speaking it's the other way around for me. I'd love to say that this decision is grounded in logic but it really isn't. There are a lot of changes in SF2 that should make me like it more, but I just don't. Maybe it's just the brisker pace of the first game that keeps fans coming back for more makes me like it over SF2. But I really do need to play SF2 to completion before I make any sort of final judgement on it.
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Old 04-11-2014, 12:44 AM
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Could you or dosboot elaborate a bit on this? What didn't you like about SF2s changes? I always get bored playing SF1 and in fact have never beat it. SF2 has better music, graphics, and the story seems no better or worse than 1.

I've probably played more Sword of Hajya, even.
I'm really interested in a discussion about Shining Force 1 & 2 too. I find the series much better than FFT, yet FFT gets a lot more love.

I do like both SF1 and SF2, but they are actually quite different. SF1 actually has a lot of things that are better than in SF2.
For example the AI. In SF1 the AI is coded for every single unit! Each unit will have a movement pattern and the monsters will take certain formations, always the same ones on the same map. In SF2 this individuality is completely lost. Every monster except for bosses has the same AI which is "If no enemy in sight, walk 2 tiles towards it. If enemy in sight, walk towards it and attack it."

Another thing I liked about SF1 more was the character growth. Again it's a lot more individual. Each hero has defined for EACH LEVEL which stats he gains and it doesn't follow any pattern. So it's always a surprise! And even characters of the same class develop completely differently. Ken gets a lot of HP at first but not much ATK and DEF while Mae hardly gets any HP at first but more ATK and DEF for example. And every time you see the "character level increases by 1" message you are super exited about which stats will grow. It's fun trying to figure out for every character how he will evolve. In SF2 again it's a simple formula with a small random factor. Usually it's 2 HP, 1 ATK, 1 DEF and 1 AGI per level up for all characters at all levels (sometimes 1 higher or lower) and after promotion it's +1 for each per level.

What I like about SF2 however is the exploration aspect. Both games have a lot of secrets however.

SF2 features a two player mode and random encounters too to a small extend. If they had worked out on that idea more they could have made something even greater.

I played through SF1 four times (the fourth time I played the remake for GBA) and through SF2 two times. On my third run through SF2 I got bored.
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Old 04-11-2014, 02:02 AM
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I think you're really overselling Shining Force 1's AI. Basically how it goes is, monsters are grouped into formations. A given formation of monsters will stand there passing every turn until a character comes close enough (or enough of them die) that the entire formation can swarm over and mob them to death.

I specify "or enough of them die" because ranged attackers can, surprisingly often, sit just outside the movement range of the farthest one back and spend several rounds picking them off. Especially mages, who hit multiple targets. Especially Domingo, the flying spell casting nautilus.

But, you know, flying spell casting nautilus. All is forgiven.
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Old 04-11-2014, 03:25 AM
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I'm not actually saying that the AI is smarter in SF1, just that it's more fun if every single monster has its own behavior rather than every monster the same. Not all monsters will just stand where they spawn until someone gets close, they will actually move into some formation first. On some maps the formation is even defined per turn.

In both games the AI isn't all that great.
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Old 04-11-2014, 05:23 AM
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Originally Posted by dosboot View Post
The talk about Vandal Hearts reminds me that I have this theory why Shining Force is so great, and why it is much better than Shining Force 2. I understand most people don't regard the original that highly, so the explanation is maybe meaningless for them.
As Alucard says, I'm interested in this. I like Shining Force 1 and 2 a lot but I find that 1 is easier to replay, mostly due to the crazy difficulty (IMO, anyway) of 2 compared to 1.

In both cases I'd rather just replay the PS1 version of Tactics Ogre, but Shining Force was a pretty damn good series. I don't really think of it as "not very complex" in a bad way. Fire Emblem isn't very complex either. Shining Force just leans more heavily on the RPG side than FE, but still feels similar.
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Old 04-11-2014, 07:41 AM
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Could you or dosboot elaborate a bit on this? What didn't you like about SF2s changes? I always get bored playing SF1 and in fact have never beat it. SF2 has better music, graphics, and the story seems no better or worse than 1.

I've probably played more Sword of Hajya, even.
Shining Force 2 has lots of overworld battles that are very similiar. Terrain wise they'll just be your party following a grassy path to your destination flanked by forests or mountains. This is my bad job at explaining what I feel the main point to me is: the progression of new battle ideas is slower in SF2 compared to SF1. I really ought to be breaking down the first 10 battles of SF1 vs SF2 or something here. In SF2 they have 3 desert battles almost consecutively, and those battles aren't doing any other gimmicks or introducing new things. In SF1 there is one desert battle in the whole game, and the designers still felt obligated to add 2 more gimmicks to the fight to make it stand out from the surrounding ones. This is the kind of pattern I see between the two games.

Shining Force 2 also introduced the concept of "random" battles, where when you are moving around the overworld map you have a chance of re-encountering old battles. To avoid these you have to egress back to town and re-roll the dice for those spiked squares. I think they wanted SF2 to be a little bit grindy. There are twice as many optional level ups you can get after reaching the promotion threshold, and I feel there is a greater tendency to partake in some of them.

I'm not so sure about the plot pacing of SF2 vs SF1, but SF2 does have worse "quest" pacing. This is a smaller issue, but it is consistent with the how SF2 feels different to me. By quest pacing I mean where it takes a longer time for you to talk to everyone in the bigger towns, or it takes a long time for you to trek across the map to another town to advance the plot. I almost want to say SF1 didn't do that at all, although I guess you did have to walk back from Manarina to Rindo, and from Dragonia to Rudo. The second continent of SF2 is absolutely massive, and surpasses all the walking around you do in the first game.
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Old 04-11-2014, 08:38 AM
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One of the biggest things I've always liked about Shining Force is that the user interface, most of the time, doesn't get in the way. The ability to march your guy around within their movement range does wonders for making you feel more connected to the battle. Well, that, and the fact that the RPG elements are strong, which is another attraction for me to the series. I think that's why a lot of people put SF2 over SF1. The RPG elements (and freedom) are significantly expanded.

That's not saying the core combat isn't good, though! Because even stuff like Shining Force CD, with the exploration bits excised, is solid stuff.

One of the closest things running to Shining Force is the earlier Arc the Lad games. It's pretty clear they were inspired by these games, and the second game in particular is one of my favorite SRPGs ever.
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Old 04-11-2014, 09:22 AM
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I'm really interested in a discussion about Shining Force 1 & 2 too. I find the series much better than FFT, yet FFT gets a lot more love.

I do like both SF1 and SF2, but they are actually quite different. SF1 actually has a lot of things that are better than in SF2.
For example the AI. In SF1 the AI is coded for every single unit! Each unit will have a movement pattern and the monsters will take certain formations, always the same ones on the same map. In SF2 this individuality is completely lost. Every monster except for bosses has the same AI which is "If no enemy in sight, walk 2 tiles towards it. If enemy in sight, walk towards it and attack it."

Another thing I liked about SF1 more was the character growth. Again it's a lot more individual. Each hero has defined for EACH LEVEL which stats he gains and it doesn't follow any pattern. So it's always a surprise! And even characters of the same class develop completely differently. Ken gets a lot of HP at first but not much ATK and DEF while Mae hardly gets any HP at first but more ATK and DEF for example. And every time you see the "character level increases by 1" message you are super exited about which stats will grow. It's fun trying to figure out for every character how he will evolve. In SF2 again it's a simple formula with a small random factor. Usually it's 2 HP, 1 ATK, 1 DEF and 1 AGI per level up for all characters at all levels (sometimes 1 higher or lower) and after promotion it's +1 for each per level.

What I like about SF2 however is the exploration aspect. Both games have a lot of secrets however.

SF2 features a two player mode and random encounters too to a small extend. If they had worked out on that idea more they could have made something even greater.

I played through SF1 four times (the fourth time I played the remake for GBA) and through SF2 two times. On my third run through SF2 I got bored.
Oh man, this is so true. The little AI and leveling things Shinning Force 1 did are so cool. They make the texture of a playthrough much more interesting. (It's not about whether the AI is smart when evaluated from what a human would do, it's about the player being engaged in what's going to happen.)

The level up system in Shining Force 1 is actually even neater than this. The way the game decides behind the scenes your random stat increases for each level is completely unique (perhaps for any RPG). It lends a very memorable feel to the level up system, even though the player wouldn't have the faintest clue what exactly is so different about it internally.

Levels gains aren't linear, but this is only half of the story to me. Each character has an average growth curve for each stat, with some characters getting, on average, zounds of HP in levels 1-10 compared to their other levels. The other half of the story is how each level up randomizes what you actually get.

Here is the visual way to describe the random level ups. Start by visualizing a character's average growth curve for one stat. So this is some discrete function f(x) that increases steadily (but perhaps sometimes more rapidly) for 20 levels. Now add random noise to this curve, which you can imagine as adding -5 to +5 to each f(x) value, with a tendency more towards the middle. At this point, the random growth curve isn't an increasing function anymore. So rectify that by making f(x) constant (horizontal) anywhere it would have decreased. That's it. That's the random growth curve the character experiences.

Some observations:
1. Everyone probably remembers it is quite common to experience a sudden large increase in a stat. A lot of this is due to the random rectifications. To put it another way, the random growth curve the player sees has more constant regions than you'd normally think should be there, and when these constant regions end there is a big jump back up to what the stat should be (plus or minus a small bit). Yet on average, the increase from level n to level n+1 is exactly what the average growth curve tells you. In probabilistic terms, the increases between levels aren't independent random variables.

2. What if one ignores the unusual roller coaster ride and considers the random distribution for a fixed level, say level 20? Well, the approximate answer is that the random variance can't be worse than -5 to 5 from the average, with the middle of the range being more typical. The entire answer is more in your favor than that, because no matter how unlucky you were for levels 1-19, this does not negatively affect your level 20. Your luck with levels 1-19 can only positively skew level 20 upwards, namely if a single recent level (probably 17, 18 or 19) happened to overshoot their average enough to exceed the random value for level 20.

Last edited by dosboot; 04-11-2014 at 01:06 PM.
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Old 04-11-2014, 02:09 PM
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This is in the wrong forum.
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Old 04-11-2014, 05:58 PM
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Dry wit I think? I mean, the thread name is recognizing that it was centered on the design of Shining Force. But I don't want it restricted to that subject, nor is this supposed to be a long ongoing project.
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Old 04-12-2014, 08:49 PM
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I have played very little Shining force, so I'm sort of talking out of my ass here, but here's my two cents bucks on SRPG design: one thing that bugs me about a lot of strategy RPGs is that they feel too abstract in terms of tactics. There's a big difference between the tactics of chess and the tactics of the actual battlefield. SRPGs, on the other hand, should be a bit more intuitive, right? Well... not incredibly, actually. I mean, I'm not a hardcore historical battle reenactor or anything like that, but I still have the mental association of spearmen in squads forming a wall of defense. In most of the SRPGs I've played, it doesn't work that way. Also, it just feels weird when enemy A runs right past ally B without ally B attempting to engage in combat. Where's my AoO? Wouldn't a soldier worth his salt try to engage an enemy who comes into range immediately regardless of whether his opponent attacks first, unless otherwise ordered?

I understand wanting to put gameplay and game balance before realism, but in many cases, an easy-to-pick-up, yet fluidly simulative experience can be a whole lot more fun than one carefully constructed to be balanced, and it's a lot easier to find realism within simulation than you think.

Last edited by Madmachine; 04-13-2014 at 10:18 AM.
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Old 04-12-2014, 09:01 PM
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My favorite strategy game is actually Live-A-Live's battle system, and I'd love to see a game that expands on it. It almost feels like chess with the well-defined attack ranges and constrained board, and it's a shame that the game never really does anything with it outside of the Wrestler chapter and Captain Square.
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Old 04-12-2014, 09:50 PM
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There is a slim chance you'd like Koudelka. I mean, it's aged terribly all combat happens on an 8x8 grid and polearms hit a knight-move away.
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Old 04-12-2014, 11:30 PM
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Interesting I always wanted to know how the Shining Force leveling works! It's actually a bit like the Wizardry HP growth system as in you roll out your total stats rather than the stat increases and then it will increase if the rolled value is higher than the current.
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Old 04-13-2014, 04:15 AM
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I have played very little Shining force, so I'm sort of talking out of my ass here, but here's my two cents bucks on SRPG design: one thing that bugs me about a lot of strategy RPGs is that they feel too abstract in terms of tactics. There's a big difference between the tactics of chess and the tactics of the actual battlefield. SRPGs, on the other hand, should be a bit more intuitive, right? Well... not incredibly, actually. I mean, I'm not a hardcore historical battle reenactor or anything like that, but I still have the mental association of spearmen in squads forming a wall of defense. In most of the SRPGs I've played, it doesn't work that way. Also, it just feels weird when enemy A runs right past ally B without ally B attempting to engage in combat. Where's my AoO? Wouldn't a soldier worth his salt try to engage an enemy who comes into range immediately regardless of whether his opponent attacks first, unless otherwise ordered?

I understand wanting to put gameplay and game balance before realism, but in many cases, an easy-to pic up, yet fluidly simulative experience can be a whole lot more fun than one carefully constructed to be balanced, and it's a lot easier to find realism within simulation than you think.
Rondo of Swords kind of pushes in this direction, at the cost of severely unbalancing the game and making it kind of unfun.
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Old 04-13-2014, 04:20 AM
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Shining Force 2's biggest flaw compared to 1 is that it slows down/adds grind to the gameplay and that makes it just about impossible for me to play it and not get frustrated after a point in the story.

It's a shame because it adds a lot of good elements, but it goes so heavy on the grind that it makes the game turn pretty bad in spite of the cool stuff they added to 2.
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Old 04-13-2014, 04:36 AM
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I've never played a Shining Force game but I've played my fair share of SRPGs. Fire Emblem Thracia 776 is almost my favourite game. Like, it's totally broken but it has a plethora of cool mechanics and the varied mission objectives are awesome and rare in this genre. The capturing, leadership, resource management and mounting are all really cool ideas that I wish were expanded on in later Fire Emblem games. My hope is that they remake Genealogy of the Holy War and Thracia 776 and keep all of the unique and interesting stuff but remove all of the crap (Why do stats cap at 20? Who thought this was a good idea?).
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Old 04-13-2014, 05:27 AM
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All this talk about Shining Force 1 makes me want to give it another shot! I never really got into it. I've played and beat SF2 around 3 or 4 times and it's one of my favorite games. When I got around to playing the original, I remember getting frustrated that some of my characters(your starting archer, specifically) got really piddly level ups, and in one case received NO stat increases on occasion.
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Old 04-13-2014, 05:33 AM
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thracia is my favorite fire emblem but that mission right at the beginning where the game tries to trick you into using rescue on a bunch of people right before walking into a super tough encounter against like 8 heavy knights is fucking vile
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Old 04-13-2014, 06:59 AM
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All this talk about Shining Force 1 makes me want to give it another shot! I never really got into it. I've played and beat SF2 around 3 or 4 times and it's one of my favorite games. When I got around to playing the original, I remember getting frustrated that some of my characters(your starting archer, specifically) got really piddly level ups, and in one case received NO stat increases on occasion.
Yeah, that archer is Hans. That's not the RNG, he levels into the joke of the Force for everyone. Themes like that tend to be pretty consistent because of the growth curves and leveling system.

It's weird, especially when you start replaying the game. With replays you always look forward to exploring the freedom of using different characters, but that can be tied to party strength. You might have to balance a team of ugly ducklings (members you normally didn't use much, and want to experiment with) with a bunch of majestic swans that are much more popular picks. I do like how it makes experiences much more portable though, where people can share and relate to other people's stories.

Last edited by dosboot; 04-13-2014 at 12:37 PM.
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Old 04-13-2014, 11:51 AM
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My main problems with SF2 are:

Bloat. There's way more battles than in 1 (well, I think) and I only remember one of them. There's no fight with Marionette, or Laser Eye, or Shade Abbey. Different situations that are memorable. The one I do remember is the fight with Talos where only one weapon will damage him, and for no particular reason only the hero can wield it. If your strategy has been keeping the hero out of trouble, being an insta-win for the baddies if he's killed and he's under levelled I'm guessing you're kinda fucked.

The story's also less memorable. The problem with a demon big bad who won't break out until the final battle is that he's not going to do much in the story. In 1 you have Kaine, Mishela and Darksol all messing with you, all with backstories. Dark Dragon himself also has a backstory, having nearly destroyed the world ten centuries before. And everywhere you go, Runefaust is doing things. Digging up super weapons, breaking seals, sending Zylo mad and so on.

Zeon has "Darksol, Dark Dragon and Zeon once had a fight and he kicked their asses". And I can't remember any antagonists. The only reason Zeon is breaking loose in the first place is Slade's an idiot.

So basically SF2 is too big and unfocussed and the storytelling's duff.

Last edited by Phantoon; 04-13-2014 at 12:02 PM.
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Old 04-13-2014, 12:07 PM
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My hope is that they remake Genealogy of the Holy War and Thracia 776 and keep all of the unique and interesting stuff but remove all of the crap (Why do stats cap at 20? Who thought this was a good idea?).
Well, it was pretty rushed and I guess balancing for lower stat caps (well, making it so it wouldn't be super easy at the end) is easier or something. My biggest problem is that mages' CON means nothing.
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Old 04-13-2014, 12:55 PM
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If X-COM (recent remake) is a strategy RPG, then X-COM is my favorite strategy RPG. The RPG elements to me come in the leveling up of the characters and the weapon and support item load outs.

It basically forces you to make smart tactical moves, and consider the terrain to advance. By the end of the game it teaches you how to play as a very tight-nit team with high efficiency.

My chief criticism of X-COM is that it takes a long time to level up your team. Especially randomly going for psi-opps members.

**
I've play some Final Fantasy Tactics, but I didn't really get into it. I found myself easily beating the random encounters and losing to the story mode. Mega spell effects and super hard bosses turned me off of the game. I don't use guides, so perhaps the bosses have exploitable weaknesses, but I was not enjoy my time with the game enough to finish it.

I would level the same complaint from X-COM to Final Fantasy Tactics. It takes a long time to level up your team.
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Old 04-13-2014, 01:20 PM
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If X-COM (recent remake) is a strategy RPG, then X-COM is my favorite strategy RPG.
For disambiguation, the new one is XCOM, the old one is X-Com (Or UFO if you wanna be all British about it). I was a bit confused there at the psi bit which was a whole lot more intimidating/impenetrable/late game in the original.
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Old 04-13-2014, 03:16 PM
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I certainly play XCOM like a Fire Emblem game, just without any resetting if I lose some soldiers early. I'd definitely consider it an SRPG, with all of its things like equipment choices, leveling up soldiers to give them new skills/traits, and having to choose what to spend your resources on to upgrade your base and units.

And seriously, Shining Force has lots of things in common with Fire Emblem, particularly in its basic gameplay. It's just that FE games are a little more tactical and less RPG, while Shining Force is a lot more on the RPG side. Shining Force plays almost exactly like FE (move units on tiles, attack targets in your attack range), but its gameplay rules are more like a Dragon Quest game. Units can be revived between battles if they're defeated, if your hero is defeated you get sent back to before the battle with half your money, characters have MP and learn spells, spells do mostly fixed damage/healing, your units can get a big attack boost by equipping new weapons/accessories, and so on. There's only really one part of SF gameplay that I don't like compared to FE and it's the inconsistent/random nature of counter-attacks and multiple attacks per round.
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Old 04-13-2014, 05:37 PM
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Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: Oklahoma
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As much as I love SRPGs, I've never played one that hit the sweet spot between Fire Emblem's Rock/Paper/Scissors approach and FFT's let's-see-how-many-systems-we-can-graft-together approach. Gladius did a pretty good job but the battles felt slow and the carrots weren't good enough to keep me playing.
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Old 04-13-2014, 06:38 PM
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Mightyblue Mightyblue is offline
Are You Sure About That?
 
Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: I am a Mountain Man, in a mountain land
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As much as I love SF II, you can see the writing on the wall for Camelot going from SF I to II. Many, many of the changes both mechanical and in terms of content are emblematic of their later excesses. Then it leads to the realization that Beyond the Beyond is basically Golden Sun .5 and the world becomes a much sadder place.
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