Originally Released: 1991 (Sega Genesis)
Version Played: PC (Steam)
Shining in the Darkness is a first-person dungeon crawler that marks the start of the long-running, genre-spanning, Shining series. While the most famous Shining games on the Genesis are the strategy-RPG Shining Force duo, Darkness opts for a play style closer to the early Wizardry games or even the original Phantasy Star on the Master System.
Like in Phantasy Star, you and your party traverse a dungeon in a first person perspective, and combat plays out in the typical turn-based Dragon Quest style. While the dungeon in Darkness may look similar in screenshots to those in Phantasy Star, the scrolling is significantly smoother. Although the viewing area is unfortunately only a fraction of the screen, the dungeon traversal still looks good today.
What looks even better are the characters and locations outside of the dungeon, in the castle and town. While your time spent in these areas is far less than what you spend in the dungeon, the detailed backgrounds and well-animated character sprites are super charming.
Shining in the Darkness doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of story (kidnapped princess, great evil threatening to take over the kingdom, etc.), but everyone from the innkeepers to your party members have a lot of personality, which comes through thanks to the excellent (for the time) localization.
Unfortunately, the dungeon crawling itself is not nearly as inviting. Enemies are tough and grinding is a must- wandering too deep into the dungeon unprepared will result in your party being wiped out quickly. Fortunately, Darkness adheres to the failure penalty established by Dragon Quest, where you keep the items, experience, and levels you gained after being wiped out, but lose half your gold. Losing gold can still be a significant setback though- it is essential to keep your party stocked with the best gear to survive.
What makes Darkness difficult isn’t necessarily the strength of your foes, but rather the complexity of the dungeon. Similar and repetitive corridors with many dead ends and few landmarks make referring to a map a must. While it’s easy enough to pull up a map in your browser while playing the game in a window, it’s just as easy to lose your location and find yourself hopelessly lost after a battle. Utilizing quicksaves in this Steam version helps to eliminate some frustration, but the fact remains that Shining in the Darkness, while incredibly charming, is a punishing and exhausting game.
Does it deserve a Sega 3D Classic version?
OK M2 / Sega, this could be AWESOME, but it’s gonna take some work on your part.
Step 1: Convert the visuals to 3D. The dungeons are going to look rad!
Step 2: This is the tough part- you need to create an automapping function to place on the bottom screen of the 3DS. I know this is a ton of extra work, but players would really appreciate it. Besides, now that Sega has bought Atlus, maybe you could get some of the Etrian Odyssey folks in to help? Well, I’ll let you guys work that out ;-)
As I was writing this, I was saddened to learn that Greg Martin, the artist who illustrated the NA/EU cover for Shining in the Darkness along with other classic Genesis / Game Gear covers from that era, had apparently passed away last May.
I adored his art as a youth and it is still burned into my mind today (especially those Sonic Game Gear covers). Greg Martin was a true legend in the field. My thoughts go out to his friends and family.