After declining to buy it new due to ethical compunctions, I finally picked up a used copy last month and have since completed it. While I'm generally no longer an active member on these boards, I still feel I have to post my thoughts on the first new (to me) Shining game I've played in three years.
It's pretty good. Gameplay-wise it's largely a retread of Record of Lodoss War, but the Fortress system is a very welcome addition. It prods you into keeping more than three of your party members in circulation, and more importantly, breaks up the formula of dungeon traversing with some variety and danger.
The challenge level does have some oddly-placed spikes, but in general I found it neither too easy nor too hard.
The story's also decent, with at least a few breaks from RPG standards and a well-developed relationship subplot to keep things entertaining. I also love how they flipped traditional J-RPG gender roles by having the guy be a half-naked stud and the girl be brooding and emotionally withdrawn.
Overall I would never rank it alongside Shining Soul II and Shining Force Feather as a later era series highlight, but Exa is a respectable entry which I much enjoyed playing.