Shining Force was the brain-child of Hiroyuki Takahashi, who left working on the Dragon Quest franchise in 1991 to form his own company, Camelot. His previous effort, Shining in the Darkness, laid the groundwork for some of the series' ideas.
Takahashi's goal in entering the RPG space was to focus on creating compelling and original battle-mechanics rather than simply a compelling narrative, which was the focus of the popular RPG's of the day. He has revealed that the PC game Silver Ghost had a significant influence on the development of Shining Force. The game received a rather mixed reception; standard opinion stated that while the end result did indeed feature a then-unique battle system, it came at the cost of the story, which was reduced to a string of standard fantasy-setting tropes, culminating in a battle against Dark Dragon, who was oft described as an unimpressive, generic final foe.
In ages long forgotten...
...Light fought Darkness for control of the world.
Dark Dragon led the evil hordes of Darkness.
The Ancients fought back with the Powers of Light.
Dark Dragon was defeated and cast into another dimension.
The Lord of Darkness vowed to return in 1,000 years.
Time passed and Dark Dragon was forgotten by all.
Ten centuries of peace ruled the land of Rune.
Until the kingdom of Runefaust brought war and fear to Rune.
Hordes of evil creatures ravaged every land.
Here and there, strongholds of good still held out...
...awaiting a Hero who could wield the Powers of Light!
Shining Force is a turn based Tactical RPG in which the player controls multiple units on a grid based battlefield. Units range from melee fighters to ranged combatants, magic users, and flying birdmen, each with different movement ranges. Battles take place at scripted points throughout the game, on both the world map and field map locations. Instead of random battles, most leveling tactics would be having the main character die multiple times at one fight,over and over. Theoretically keeping each character's experience to grind levels.
Unlike some other Tactical RPGs, Shining Force features extensive field map exploration through a variety of towns and other locations. Over the course of the game the player will meet a wide cast of characters, many of whom can be recruited to the players party. Most characters are required additions, but there are also additional characters who can be met at various points in the adventure. There is a limit to the number of units taking part in a battle, however there are many more to be found in the game. Units are held in a headquarters which is an available area in every town. Inside of the headquarters the player can engage in conversations with all his units, which change according to the games events, and the units that make up the current battle party can be selected. Equipment and Items can be purchased at shops in towns for each unit.
Once units that reach level 10, out of a maximum of 20, they can be promoted, which changes their appearance and abilities. Promoted characters reset to level 1, and can level to level 20 again. The player can promote any unit between level 10 and 20, with the benefit of waiting allowing the unit to become ultimately stronger.
Max is the protagonist of the game; also he is the only character in the game that can be named. He can only wield swords and he automatically has the spell Egress, which lets the entire party escape from battle. He is a very powerful character, but if he dies, then the party surrenders, no matter how certain victory was. He is also the only character who can wield the powerful Chaos Breaker. This is because he is the only character in the game of the "Swordsman" class required to use it, and later, the "Hero" class.
Lowe is the protagonist's best friend and he automatically joins at beginning of game. He automatically starts with the Heal spell, and he eventually learns Detox, Dispel, and Quick. He is a good starting character but has trouble keeping up with the party as the game progresses. He becomes a Vicar after his promotion.
Gong is waiting at a house outside of the first battle of the game. He is the strongest of all the healers in the game, but he is limited in combat when compared to the stronger characters on the Shining Force. He only learns two spells: Heal and Aura (sadly, only learns Aura level 1). He is a lower tier character, but he does have an awesome fighting animation once he is promoted from Monk to Master Monk.
Khris the deer-kin automatically joins your party after freeing you from prison in Chapter 1. She is much like the other healers, but she does learn some powerful spells early in the game. She starts with Heal and eventually she learns Slow, Quick, and Aura (she only learns Aura level 2). If your force needs another healer, she is a good choice in the early and mid chapters of the game. She becomes a Vicar after her promotion.
Torasu joins the Force as you leave Prompt in search of the tower of the ancients. He is, by far, the best healer in the game. He learns Heal, Detox, Shield and Aura, but he is the only character in the game to learn Aura level 4, which cures everyone in your party where ever they are located. He joins the force later in the game, but he is worth levelling up because he helps your team become unstoppable. Also, he totally fits the archetypal healer look. He becomes a Vicar after his promotion.
Ken joins your party after speaking with the king at the beginning of the game. He can use lances and spears, and he normally has a lot of HP. Ken starts out as a strong character, but much like many of the knights, he becomes weak around the middle of the game. If you stick with him long enough, he can be promoted to become a Paladin.
Mae joins the force after the king is killed in Chapter 1. Mae is great early in the game. She boasts and incredible amount of defense and she has average attack stats, but much like Ken, Mae becomes weak around the middle of the game. She can be promoted to become a Paladin.
Arthur is in Manarina, which is the same mage school where Anri is located in Chapter 2. He is on the upper floors of the school, and he is doing laundry. He joins the force if you talk to him after you speak with the Spirit of the Holy Spring. He starts off really weak, but if leveled correctly, he can become one of the stronger Knights in the game. He also learns to cast Level 1 Blaze, Freeze, and Bolt, which is kind of cool.
Pelle is originally an enemy mercenary, but he joins the force after Runefaust attempts to murder him at the end of Chapter 3. He can use lances and spears, and he tends to level up more evenly than Mae and Ken. Pelle has a chance to be a final party character, but normally he is overpowered by many of the stronger characters.
Vankar joins after being fired from his initial role as a guard in Chapter 4. Vankar is the definition of an average character. With nothing spectacular about his stats, he normally goes straight to the bench because there are more powerful characters in your team by the time he joins the party. Like the other Knights, he can use lances, spears, and can be promoted to become a Paladin.
Earnest joins right before you fight in the Fortress of Balbazak. He is a revenge ridden centaur looking for vengeance on Balbazak. Besides sporting a totally sweet scar, he is one of the better Knights in the game. But he requires some grinding for him to catch up with your main party. He is one of the better Paladins in the game. Like the other Knights, he can use lances, spears, and can be promoted to become a Paladin.
Luke joins your party after you meet the king in Chapter 1. As a warrior, Luke is a great front-line character. He has good defense, good attack, and a solid HP. He is a solid character throughout the entire game. He excels in Chapter 5 if you equip him with the Heat Axe, which is dropped by a Lizardman during battle. Once he is promoted he becomes a Gladiator. Also, warriors movement is not prohibited by forests and mountains.
Gort can be found in a bar to the right of Guardania in Chapter 1, but he only joins the force after the city is left in ruins. Gort is generally accepted as the lesser of the two warriors because he lacks the HP growth of Luke. But since stat growth is randomized in Shining Force, he can be better than Luke. It really depends on how the stats play out. But much like Luke, he is a solid character. He boasts both solid defence and attack. Once he is promoted he becomes a Gladiator, and he shares the Warrior movement bonus.
Tao joins the party after you talk to the king in Guardania. She a strong character in the first half of the game, and she learns the strong spell Blaze 4 during the earlier parts of the game. The problem is that Blaze 4 is her best means of attack and seems weak when compared to some of the other level 4 spells in the game. Another one of her strengths is her ability to cast boost, which can really help with levelling weaker characters. She is a must have early in the game, but becomes replaceable as the game progresses. When she receives her promotion, she becomes a Wizard.
Anri joins in chapter 2 after you inform her that her father was killed. She is more powerful mage than Tao, but she is less versatile. Her best spell is Freeze 4 and Bolt 2. She also learns Blaze 2 and Muddle, but both spells become useless as the game progresses. Her stat strength is her high Defence. When she receives her promotion, she becomes a Wizard. A solid choice.
Domingo is a secret character. To get him do the following: in the mage school of Manarina, there is a odd looking giant statue with large teeth. If you search it, then you will find a Domingo Egg. When you arrive to Poa (the traveling town) after defeating Elliot in battle, talk to the guy that Max starts out next to. He will hatch the Domingo Egg for you, and then you have Domingo on your team. Domingo is the only flying character that can use magic. Also, he is a tank/mage. He has a lot of HP, MP, and defence!
Alef the lynx-kin joins as you leave Prompt for Valley of the ancients. She is a glass cannon if you take the time to level her up. She joins late in the game and she is not promoted. But if you take the time to level her up, she learns the strongest spell in the game Bolt 4. The main problem is that Bolt 4 takes an unreal amount of MP to cast. But every ultimate spell needs a drawback right? When she receives her promotion, she becomes a Wizard.
Hans joins after you talk to the king in Guardania at the beginning of the game. He starts off as an average character and he rarely becomes much more. He has incredible speed, but that stat really doesn't make up for what he lacks in HP, Attack, and Defense. Unless you have a thing for below average archers, switch him out of your party first chance you get. Once you promote him, he becomes a Bow Master.
Diane joins the force if you speak with her at the beginning of Chapter 3. She is in a house in Bustoke. She is better than Hans but not as good as Lyle. If you really like archers in your team, I would choose her over Hans because her Attack and Defense are generally much higher than Hans. But as far as characters go, she is average at best. Once you promote her, she becomes a Bow Master.
Lyle can be found on top of a tower in Rudo in Chapter 6; he is the only centaur to also double as an archer. He is generally accepted as the best archer in the game. He has the movement of a Knight, and he outclasses Hans and Diane in almost every important stat. If you want and archer in your final party, take Lyle. His only draw back is that he joins your team with a low level, but because of his ability to keep his distance, he is easy to level up.
Balbaroy is a Bird Warrior who joins the force after being saved from zombies in the Shade Abbey. He is Amon's mate.
Amon is a Bird Warrior who joins after being saved from zombies in the Shade Abbey. She is Balbaroy's mate.
Kokichi is a Flying Knight who must first be met in Bustoke; however, he joins in Pao ONLY if you have previously talked to him in Bustoke.
Zylo is a Werewolf driven crazy by Runefaust so he would not join your cause. He joins after you cure his insanity with Lunar Dew in Bustoke.
Guntz is a Steam Knight who joins your force in Pao (after defeating Elliot); however, you first meet him in Rindo.
Bleu is a dragon character first met in the city of Dragonia.
Adam is a mechanical man who joins your force in Metapha. Before promotion, his class is Robot; afterwards, it is Cyborg, which is confusing, as he has no organic components.
An awesome Ninja who joins the Shining Force after you find him hidden in the bushes of Runefaust.
Musashi is a hidden character who joins by simply reading a hidden sign on a house in Prompt, and, as befitting a samurai, is the most powerful character in the game save Max himself.
Jogurt the Yogourt is a joke character who is absolutely useless, having only 1 HP and being incapable of doing any more than 1 damage at a time in battle. If he does manage to defeat an enemy, he gains the Yogourt Ring, which, when equipped on another character, makes them look exactly like Jogurt, including his profile image. You meet him in the same area where you recruit Gong; however, he does not join until much later.
In addition to the characters above, a few planned characters were cut from the final implementation stage due to time/budget constraints. One of these is Shell (pictured), the first NPC you meet in the Mermaid village. Although she was cut as a playable character from the final version of the game, her character portrait was left in the code. This makes her one of the few NPCs in the game with a character portrait (Nova and the kings being the others). A lizardman was also supposedly planned as a playable character, but was scrapped before any implementation into the game.