I recently completed Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya. I have no prior history with the Shining Force series, and barely remember buying the game, but there it was, sitting on my dusty old 3DS that I hadn't flicked open in years. On a complete whim, after spending a few minutes with some of the other random downloadable games I had spent entirely too much money on in the mid-2010s, I decided to play through the first level just to remind myself what it was like and make a feeble attempt to justify its purchase to myself.
Something really struck with me during that first level, though - maybe how deceptively quick the menus and actions were, maybe the endearing 8-bit overworld sprites, maybe just that I hadn't played a video game of this complexity in quite a while - because I was totally hooked and spent the next few days clearing through maps, fine-tuning my party, and working the in-game economy like a fiend. All of the characters are great fun to level up and test out new abilities with, maps are designed well, and the interface doesn't waste any time at all. I couldn't follow much of the story (Sword of Hajya is the direct sequel to a game that was never translated), but I did like all of the characters, even the villains, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing where the adventure went next. Some of the enemies are a little too powerful, and I had to restart two or three maps a fair few times to deal with them, but it was never frustrating and I always felt like I had made significant progress whenever I lost. It was a very fine game to play while listening to a podcast, but as I got further along I really started to immerse myself in it and use my imagination to fill in the blanks, which was a lovely experience.
I understand the game was remade on the Sega CD with better graphics and music, and seeing footage of that version on YouTube is certainly tempting... but, at the same time, I think playing the original Game Gear version was part of why I liked it so much. There really isn't anything like a good, old-fashioned, 8-bit Japanese fantasy game. The game even got me interested in learning about other RPGs for the Game Gear, which, for a system I never previously found interesting, I consider a great achievement.
I really had a lot of fun with Sword of Hajya. I expected to goof around with it for ten minutes and forget all about it for the rest of my life, but I'm glad I stuck with it all the way through and that I had the time and interest to really sink my teeth into the game.