The original is based around a child called Aarbron being kidnapped by servants of the Beast lord, Maletoth, and taken to his realm (the nature of the series' world at large is somewhat ambiguous), then brainwashed and corrupted into a Beast over the years by evil magic. One day, while watching some sacrifices, he recognizes one of the dying victims as his father, and with the sudden remembrance of his past (and the Beast transformation conveniently making him superhumanly strong), begins a Roaring Rampage of Revenge to kill Maletoth. The game was mainly noted for its stunning artwork and soundtrack (seemingly heavily inspired by Roger Dean, such that he designed the cover art for the game) and was one of the main Trope Codifiers for Scenery Porn in Video Games. It also had a combination of puzzles and combat that was somewhat novel at its time of release and it got positive reviews overall. However, the game was also undistilled Nintendo Hard and its puzzles were full of Trial-and-Error Gameplay and Unwinnable, which got it some major criticism as well.
Shadow of the Beast II continues from the first game. While Maletoth is still at large, Aarbron's actions in the first game have allowed him to regain some of his original human form (although he still remains a Half-Human Hybrid), while drinking from a pool of water he sees a vision brought on by Maletoth to taunt him, where he finds out his sister has been kidnapped and taken to the region of Kara-Moon. Aarbron ventures into unknown territory to rescue her... The sequel kept the visuals and soundtrack quality of the original game, and also attempted a more non-linear style of gameplay. It was just as Nintendo Hard (if not more so) and still had several Trial and Error Gameplay and Unwinnable moments (and in most cases required things to be done in a specific order, compromising the seemingly non-linear world); with the novelty of the original game's style fading a little it got a weaker reception overall.
In Shadow of the Beast III (released only for the Amiga), Aarbron sleeps after killing Zelek, Maletoth's right-hand man (his sister is not referenced again) and has a dream where a wizard called Rekann, freed by Zelek's death, tells Aarbron he must find four Macguffins to acquire the power to finally kill Maletoth. Waking up, Aarbron realises he has regained his human form. Soon after a plane lands seemingly of its own accord; Aarbron enters and the unmanned plane takes him toward the items he needs, and Maletoth... The visuals and soundtrack were again top-notch. The game had a more linear format to the pseudo Metroidvania design of the earlier games, with the player choosing between four different levels instead (along with a final ending level where Maletoth is fought). While there was still plenty of Trial and Error Gameplay and Unwinnable, the Nintendo Hard was heavily reduced thanks to three lives being provided, along with enhanced ranged abilities, making combat a lot easier; the luster had somewhat faded from the series for reviewers at this point, but it still saw a better reception among reviewers than the second game, and was noted for actually attempting to improve the formula.
As well as the Scenery Porn and Awesome Music, the change in the hero is also somewhat notable. In the first game, Aarbron can only use melee attacks outside of a few special items, in the second game Aarbron uses a spiked ball on a chain that allows for some minor ranged ability, and in the last game, while Aarbron has lost his superhuman strength, he has apparently gained some inexplicable ninja skills as he uses shurikens throughout, along with a couple of other ranged weapons.
These games provide examples of:
- Actionized Sequel: Notably completely inverted. The first game has lots of combat and various corridors full of enemies, the second game has quite a bit of combat, but still less than the first game and the third game has very little combat at all.
- All There in the Manual: The plot summaries above are not explained in the games at all (with the possible exception of the second game's introductory cutscene).
- Bear Trap: This is the first trap you encounter in the first game.
- Boss Game: While not a pure example, the third game has elements of this; outside of the first level "fodder" enemies are very rare and only there to drain your health a little, every other enemy is either entirely unique (although not always a boss fight) or important to a puzzle.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: Pretty much every other thing in the series just fades or explodes when it dies, so a moment in the third game where you have to a lure a creature underneath a spike trap so it doesn't fall on you sticks out for it having a pretty gruesome death sprite.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Aarbron in the second game.
- Metroid Vania: While the genre description didn't exist when this series came out, the semi-open world and persistent inventory that allows access to later areas gives it some link with this genre. The third game was more of a pure Action-Adventure though.
- Nice Hat: Aarbron gets one in the third game.
- Ninja: While not mentioned, the main character seems to have elements of this in the third game, considering his Weapon of Choice.
- Nintendo Hard: The whole series is full of it, the third game has less, but it's only "non-nintendo hard" by the standards of the first two games.
- More precisely, most of the action scenes in the third game are quite easy and majority of the challenge comes from various puzzles. While it is easy to screw up the puzzle by destroying objects/NPCs necessary for solution, the Unwinnable situation is avoided by allowing player to return to the most recent checkpoint by pressing Help button. While using this option doesn't cost any lives, the health isn't restored, either.
- Scenery Porn: The series' biggest claim to fame, to the point that the art still holds up very well today.
- Schizo Tech: The first game seems to establish a somewhat medieval world (albeit a very alien one)... Then you face biomechanical monstrosities and get a jetpack and laser gun for a shoot-'em-up sequence.
- Title Drop: "Congratulations! You have freed yourself from the shadow of the beast!"
- Unwinnable by Design: Most puzzles in the series can be broken quite easily, rendering the game impossible to complete. By the third game you were finally allowed to try again without restarting the game. Any attempts at Sequence Breaking will also render the first two games unwinnable.
- Walking Shirtless Scene: The intro to the third game shows Aarbron wearing clothes that cover his chest, yet in-game he remains shirtless throughout.
- Also in the first two games, in which he only wears a Loincloth (except the Sega/Mega CD version of the second game, in which he has a breastplate).
- Was Once a Man: Aarbron in the first game.
- Weapon of Choice: A spiked ball on a chain in the second game, Shurikens in the third.
- Zeppelins from Another World: A Zeppelin is part of the background detail outside in the first game.