Shining, Sweeping & Satirizing

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Posted by mento (3731 posts) -
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Shining in the Darkness

(Why does all this seem a little... off?) Hey friends. Being the beloved moon monarch of this site seems like it's all fun and games (as many as two per week, you might even say) but actual video game kings rarely have it as easy. Take King Drake of the Kingdom of Thornwood: His ancestors thought it would be best to set up their Kingdom yards away from a foreboding ancient labyrinth full of monsters. A lack of forethought you might think, but Kings can do whatever they wish and frequently do. What good is hubris if it only engenders sensible decisions that ensure a prosperous and safe future for your progeny? No good at all is the answer to that. Trust me, I'm a King.

It'd be a short game if I didn't.
It'd be a short game if I didn't.

So in comes the hero, who is as bereft of a name as he is of a personality (no seriously, if he has any opinion about anything, we don't get to hear about it). We'll go with Sexywald Bus- oh, there's only room for five letters? Might as well stick with "Mento". It's nothing special as names go, but somehow it fits for a brutish fighter with more Weapon Points than sense. This now-named hero is brought before the King and told to spelunk the aforementioned hole in the ground full of evil to rescue his wayward daughter Princess Jessa. Sounds simple enough. Oh, except for all the monsters. Fortunately, the King's loyal Minister gives the hero enough cash to fill his inventory with only the shiniest of... wait, 200 gold? Let me check the conversion for gold pieces to moon dollars... carry the one... the moon dollar's strong right now, so... Ah.

And from that auspicious start, when the region's governance accidentally gives the hero knight less money than what is contained in the castle's apprentice janitor's weekly paycheck (to be fair, when Dark Lords are crashing through the ceiling every five minutes, he's definitely earning his stripes after clearing all that rubble so quickly) to take out an entire den of evil, we begin Shining in the Darkness, SEGA's answer to Wizardry and the various old-school dungeon crawlers that PC gamers in the West never seemed to be in short supply of in the early 90s.

This image is courtesy of an excellent LP of the game over on It's informative and amusing, like me. Sort of.
This image is courtesy of an excellent LP of the game over on It's informative and amusing, like me. Sort of.

Does it hold up? Absolutely, provided you have a high tolerance for obfuscating dungeon crawls and a random encounter rate only slightly less malicious than Skies of Arcadia's. Sega's oddly whimsical world of Shining, generally better represented by the Shining Force strategy games, has a sort of guileless and timeless fairytale quality to it. It's also not like this genre ever became particularly prevalent on consoles, at least not in the West, which sets it apart somewhat from what most NES RPGs were doing at the time. There is an element of "no passage until you've increased your numbers to be similar to the numbers of the monsters" stymieing going on that can be a little aggrieving, but generally it's an intelligent - in terms of puzzles, at least. Narratively it's about as complex as these early RPGs inevitably tend to be, which is to say not very - and surprisingly well-preserved RPG. Considering Etrian Odyssey 4 just came out this week thereby proving that someone somewhere must surely still care about these first-person dungeon delvers, it might be worth visiting if you've never done so before now. Just be in the mood for some grinding. And a bad case of crabs. No, I won't elaborate. Let's move on.

Review Synopsis

  • Did I mention the grinding? Get to level 3 before you even try to venture beyond the first few corridors of the dungeon. Trust me, it'll save you a lot of heartbreak.
  • The hero can never learn magic, in contrast to his two best friends Pyra and Milo, making him one of the few RPG protagonists less complex than his followers. Wait, what am I saying? They're all less complex than their followers. Most protagonists don't even speak, do they?
  • It's a handful of loose change on Steam right now. In fact, it costs so little that the hero might've been able to afford it with that hand-out from the minister. So yeah, hardly anything.

Oh Hell, where does that VGK fellow find his marvellous YouTubes? I mean, beyond sticking some mixture of "vocaloid", "video games", "abominations against nature" and "SpongeBob" into a search engine. Hopefully this ought to suffice:

Mamono Sweeper

(I don't even know if he covers browser games. I'm the worst parodier ever) Our own Brad Shoemaker is currently deep in his tireless quest for more iOS games to cover (the first iOS Quick Look should be here any day now!) as some sort of penance for the many lost years in which he roundly ignored that much vaunted bastion of video gaming excellence that is the smart phone. He mentioned (or Patrick did, I'm having trouble telling them apart in this regard) a game named Dungelot, said to be a "cross between Minesweeper and a Dungeon Crawler". Well, I've played Dungelot, and it falls way short on delivering a fulfilling experience of either. But you know what free browser game (perhaps the only medium that garners even less respect than mobile phone games) totally does bring the minesweeper monster-bashing goodness? Mamono Sweeper from Hojomaka Games.

I think that I shall never see, a monster as fearsome as a
I think that I shall never see, a monster as fearsome as a "3". (Though now I've thought about it more, it ain't as scary as a "4".)

It's easy enough to pick up the basics: Enemies each have their own level, and the player can only safely defeat enemies of his own level or lower. Use logic to decipher which of the hidden enemies are safe enough to engage and which are too tough, marking those which fall into the latter group for later so you can deal with them after you've levelled a bit. The numbers on each square tell you the total levels of all the monsters that surround it, and you can use it to extrapolate the locations of said foes and their respective strength levels, so it requires a minor bit of mental arithmetic on top of everything else. I know, I know, no game was ever made better with math. Except perhaps Donkey Kong Jr. (but not Frog Fractions - I'll save my nonconforming disappointment with that game for a future blog).

Egad! Have I displeased you all in some way?! (NB: This is just what happens when you win. Everyone celebrates by bouncing.)
Egad! Have I displeased you all in some way?! (NB: This is just what happens when you win. Everyone celebrates by bouncing.)

There's not much more to it than that. It has a few modes, including a rather terrifying mode where the player character doesn't level up and all you can do is mark where all the enemies are hidden without engaging a single one. On the whole it's considerably more addictive and involving than Minesweeper, but at the same time very much follows a similar cadence of cautious exploration, logical deduction and a minimalist yet effective presentation. Also - it's a free game, dammit. Go click that link, try it out and see if it doesn't become a fixture whenever you have a moment to spare.

Review Synopsis

  • It's free and available on any browser, including the one you're presumably using to read this. I don't think it requires any of this usual pros and cons hemming-and-hawing.
  • Instead, I'll use this space to apologise profusely to @Video_Game_King, whose blog format I've purloined here for reasons I'll go into in the next bullet point. Just... wait until then, okay? Only a little bit longer to go.
  • OK, so here it is: The duder just posted his 300th blog. It's quite a milestone, to put it mildly, and I figured the least I could do to celebrate it was to parody the heck out of the guy. I have so many people skills it's crazy.
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#1 Edited by Karkarov (3385 posts) -

Are you saying you don't like Shining in the Darkness? Give the game a break it was an early (maybe near launch) genesis title. The later addition to the series that actually made it into the united states "Shining the Holy Ark" for the Saturn is a much stronger game in that there is alot more depth to the characters and it has an actual plot beyond save the princess. Something about it isn't as classic though, maybe it is the fact that the ultimate villain of the game is a damn ninja, yes, a ninja.

That aside sure the main character can't cast magic. But he also has the most HP, the highest armor, and by the end of the game hits like a freakin mack truck doing 100 miles an hour.

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#2 Posted by ArbitraryWater (14684 posts) -

I believe Shining in the Darkness is part of those 50 Genesis games I got for a low amount of money, so that will probably be represented in some form or another on my blog... thingy at some point. Though, I still have that copy of Etrian Odyssey III and a fancy 3DS to play it on, so if I wanted to be serious about my hardcore dungeon crawler w/obnoxiously cutesy anime art style I would probably go in that direction. Also The Dark Spire, which is basically the most... accurate love letter to Wizardry 1 as one could find in our modern era. Bah. Japan should stop remaking Wizardry 1-5 and start remaking Wizardry 6-8.

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#3 Edited by mento (3731 posts) -

@karkarov: Nah, I think I was mostly positive in that short appraisal. It's sometimes hard to recommend a game that's over 20 years old without adding a proviso or two, just in case saying "yo, it's old" wasn't sufficient warning enough, but I can safely say I enjoyed it quite a bit.

I have @buzz_clik to thank for suggesting it back when I was talking about Shining games to cover, since I don't have a whole lot of experience with them. And I'll be sure to follow your suggestion to check out Shining the Holy Ark some day as well, ninja antagonists notwithstanding, once Sega gets their wits together and starts putting Saturn games somewhere where people will play them. So, not the Saturn then. Me-ow.

@arbitrarywater: No doubt, if it's the same compilation of Genesis games that came out for consoles a few years back. It's a little discouraging that Capcom's pulling this piecemeal Game Room bullshit with their Arcade games, since I can't think of any compilation model that's as good as the Ultimate Genesis one was. Kind of a bummer they're sold separately on Steam, but they're not exactly breaking the bank by asking for a couple of (mean) beans for each one and there's quite a lot of 16-bit games (especially RPGs) that are worth a paltry couple of pounds.

Nintendo needs to get their finger out and create their own expansive SNES compilation to compete. Of course, such a compilation won't appear anywhere except on their own consoles, but there's no reason it can't be as reasonably priced. Besides the usual "Nintendo overestimates what their old-ass games are worth and either overcharges for them on Virtual Console or just releases a slightly shinier variant of the old model and sticks 'new' on its name" rule of thumb.

As for other dungeoneering games, I still have Grimrock sitting in the wings. I don't know why I'm so hesitant to start playing it.

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#4 Posted by ArbitraryWater (14684 posts) -

@mento: Grimrock is really good. I should finish it. I guess I'm not actively playing anything after finishing World of Xeen. Hmmmm...

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#5 Posted by Video_Game_King (36564 posts) -

You knew I was posting #300 today, didn't you? Fine, I'll give it a read, even though I've never played any of these games.

Yea, this sounds a lot like something I'd write, which means it jumps from thought to thought with some semblance of structure and the letter S/TH.

Wow, Shining in the Darkness sounds a lot like a game I'm playing right now: Sorcerer's Kingdom. (Did you expect me to cover something you've heard of?) After all, it's a Genesis RPG that's grindy as hell with a silent Muggle protagonist among magic users, that's pretty much it. I'll have more on that when I blog about it (and not just in terms of screenshots), but let that be a preview synopsis.

I have no idea how I stumble across the videos I put in my blog. For instance, I was typing up this comment to this. I have no idea where it came from. SOMEBODY TELL ME!

You are the worst satirist ever. Only one musical sentence per parentheses!

Wait, what's this Mambo Minesweeper biz about again? I'm all for covering browser games (not all of them suck), but I've only the slightest clue as to how this works.

Oh, this is definitely me. All it needs is something terrible (which is why I linked said terrible....ness.)

Might as well end on a slightly depressing note: you're not the first person to satirize my blogs. I remember @Dalai doing one that I didn't read until way after the fact.

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#6 Edited by Ravenlight (8057 posts) -

Ahahahaahahaa! Well-played, duder.

I propose all blogs on the site follow the VGK format henceforth.

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#7 Edited by mento (3731 posts) -

@video_game_king: I most certainly did recall that today would be your 300th. We had a conversation about it in 299's comments, remember? I knocked together that stupid Lego thing as practice.

Honestly, besides the structure and that opening paragraph for Shining in the Darkness, I wasn't particularly going for a full imitation. I did have two games I wanted to discuss for one reason or another. I'm glad it was received as the warm homage it was meant to be rather than something more sinister, though I'm a little chagrined Dalai beat me to it. That crafty llama ought to start blogging again. Well, once the site becomes more hospitable to bloggers again, anyway.

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#8 Posted by Video_Game_King (36564 posts) -

@mento said:

@video_game_king: I most certainly did recall that today would be your 300th. We had a conversation about it in 299's comments, remember? I knocked together that stupid Lego thing as practice.

Not particularly. I have the memory of....something. I forget what I wanted to say there.

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#9 Posted by buzz_clik (7470 posts) -

Ah, my favourite blogger duder is back, and this time he's culture jamming like a mofo. I thoroughly approve. Also, the fact that @Dalai apparently did one as well makes me think that we should have a week dedicated to every user blog parodying VGK's style.

Obviously you're aware that Shining in the Darkness is a game that's always in the back of my mind - something about it at the time really got under my skin (in a good way) and it's a title I can't help but have a bash at every now and then. Side note: It's one of a handful of games that are perfectly suited for play on the Nomad.

I'm with you on the Dungelot thing. I am enjoying that game enough as a fun little time waster, but I feel Brad's description of the game was a little misleading - it feels more like a flashier take on Dungeon 18, a reductive and abstract take on dungeon crawlers. What you've presented here with Mamano is very much what I was expecting from Brad's enthusiastic spruiking. Man, it seems like finishing just one game is going to be a taxing timesink, though! I'm barely making a dent before biting the big one.

Also, the visual style of Mamano has reminded me of another abstract dungeon game, Parameters. I actually finished that game entirely, slowly sussing out what I had to do by myself and ultimately triumphing, before I realised there was an English option. Actually, now I think about it, I should write a blog about that game. Maybe.

Okay, now I've buttered you up with agreeing with you on a bunch of stuff: YOU ARE STRAIGHT TRIPPING BY NOT BEING ON BOARD THE FROG FRACTIONS HYPE TRAIN. You know I love you, Mento baby, but the hell?

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#10 Posted by Video_Game_King (36564 posts) -

Also, the fact that @Dalai apparently did one as well makes me think that we should have a week dedicated to every user blog parodying VGK's style.

Somebody get on this insane idea.

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#11 Posted by Dalai (7868 posts) -

Oh fuck, what did I do now?

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#12 Posted by Video_Game_King (36564 posts) -
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#13 Posted by pyromagnestir (4452 posts) -

@buzz_clik said:

Also, the fact that @Dalai apparently did one as well makes me think that we should have a week dedicated to every user blog parodying VGK's style.

Somebody get on this insane idea.

I'm not sure enough random youtube clips and video game music exists to allow for this.

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