Shining Tears is one of those games that I really, really want to like. It takes a series of games that I really never was able to get into and tries the action RPG approach—which is perfect for me. I'm a fan of those kinds of games, so you'd think that it'd be a slam dunk. Great scores, tons of praise, and a pretty easy review to write… right?
Unfortunately, all is not well with this game. There are some nice character designs, a few decent pieces of music, an interesting focus on duality, and other ideas that might have been great, but Shining Tears ultimately falls flat in execution and in its pacing. Only the most hardcore fans of the earlier games in the series or someone who likes more reading than action will get a kick out of this game—and that's too bad.
Shining Tears starts out promising. After a nice anime introduction, we see Xion, the game's protagonist, rescued after washing up on a beach in the thriving kingdom of Shildia. He is rescued by a cute elf, Elwyn, who helps to nurse him back to health. After a lot of setup (read: text), we come to find out that Xion is in possession of a pair of rings that could be the fabled Twin Dragon Rings—rings that make their wearers seemingly invincible in battle. It doesn't take long before Shildia falls under attack from a sinister force called the Rune Geist Empire, and Xion, Elwyn, and a few other assorted characters are called into service to protect Shildia from a horrible fate.
Based on the story alone, the game sounds interesting. Xion also builds relationships with the characters that he fights along with, and it's fun to see how these relationships develop; unfortunately, the game decides which character Xion fights alongside, which is somewhat limiting. There's also a duality element to the Twin Dragon Rings. One wearer becomes more benevolent (and becomes slightly more skilled in magic use), while the other becomes more aggressive (and thus becomes stronger in melee combat).
Even better, each character can learn and improve upon a variety of different skills and techniques as they gain levels. Some skills are automatic, while others must be triggered in battle from a "locked" position or done in tandem with the other character. This, combined with the ability to increase stats manually and visit a smithy regularly to hone weapons and armor, allows for a fair amount of customization. Each weapon or piece of armor has certain stat and level parameters, so players will have to monitor how they distribute stat points along the way.
Unfortunately, the problems begin with the pacing of the game. There's a definite pattern to the sequence of events in the game, and it will rapidly become annoying. To start, there's a sequence when you can mingle with other characters and buy items. After finishing your social activities, you have to return to the inn where the sequence started and talk to the right character in order to move the game forward. After this, a "chapter" begins, and more text-based setup takes place, mainly as Xion and company attempt to recruit different races within and around Shildia to help their cause. Finally, after a bunch of reading (with little or no voice acting to help it along), the action sequence finally starts.
This leads to the other big problem with Shining Tears. The action sequences are very easy and rarely require the use of your partner. Xion is usually very capable of hacking and slashing his way through each action sequence—which generally lasts no more than 10 minutes—while the AI-controlled partner cycles between uselessness and occasional assistance. It's possible to utilize "twin skills" with the computer-controlled character, but doing so is a bit more complex that it has to be and you'll likely find it much easier to just devastate everything in your path by yourself. Although it's possible to add more depth to the combat, you just won't need to… with the possible exception of the few boss encounters that the game sends your way.
After the battle ends, the cycle begins anew. It's predictable, annoying, and totally destroys the possibility of decent pacing in the game. There are chapters where there are a few battles linked together, but this doesn't happen often enough. You just find yourself wanting to fight more and sighing in disgust when you're warped back to Shildia and forced to do the usual talking and shopping transactions. Sure, this is an action RPG, but there just doesn't seem to be enough of a balance between the action and the RPG elements, and the frequent loading times don't help the game's pacing either.
In short, Shining Tears is a nice-looking 2-D game. The visuals represent some nice anime-inspired art and certainly what fans of the Shining games would expect. I really like the character designs. There are plenty of different races of beings represented in Shining Tears, from humans to elves to wolves. The backgrounds are nicely drawn and rather colorful. In battle, it can be impressive to see upwards of 40 enemies on-screen at once, with little or no slowdown. The animation is pretty smooth, although the 30fps frame rate just doesn't seem all that impressive to begin with.
As for the sound, it's mixed. Most of the RPGs in this generation have employed at least a fair amount of voice acting to rescue players from reading too much and at least help to give each character some sort of identity. In Shining Tears, there just isn't enough voice acting—and it certainly would have helped. Unfortunately, when you hear what limited voice acting that there is, you tend to understand why there isn't more of it as it's either flat or just inconsistent. The music isn't bad, with a few noteworthy tracks, but it tends to be repetitive and doesn't really break much ground. There are certainly better RPG soundtracks out there.
Shining Tears just isn't worth $50. The pacing just kills the experience and the good ideas that the game brings to the table were never executed the way that they were drawn up. Even mindless "hack"tion games seem to understand that pacing keeps the game moving along. It almost seemed to me that the game's development team wanted to keep the feel of the strategy-based Shining games while producing an action-based game. Unfortunately, it's just not possible to do both, and nobody will ultimately be satisfied by this game.