It’s hard to believe that Shining Resonance Refrain is the first Shining series game to come outside of Japan in over a decade. While the franchise use to be a stable of SEGA back in the 90s, it seemed that us Westerns have been kept in the dark on the recent releases, until now. Shining Resonance Refrain is a definitive release of the PlayStation 3 exclusive Shining Resonance. So was the wait for the return of the Shining series worth it?
Shining Resonance Refrain is an Action RPG which takes a lot of influence from the Tales of series by Namco Bandai. The lead character in this game, Yuma, has the legendary Shining Dragon trapped within him which makes him a prime target for the empire and other organizations to exploit. The Empire wants to use the Shining Dragon for their own purpose and its up to the shy Yuma to embrace the Shining Dragon within and overcome the Empire with the help of he’s new friends. The story of Shining Resonance Refrain isn’t anything special, its filled with a ton of cliches found not just in other JRPGs, but also Anime. Yuma’s character seems like a direct rip-off of Naruto for example. If you are looking for a JRPG filled with anime characters that use friendship to overcome all odds, this game will have you gripped at the edge of your seat. While I didn’t expect Shining Resonance Refrain to have a super deep story, its a shame that most of the characters don’t grow too much past their cliches. If you know which character troupe the character is using, you’ll know how they’re story unfolds.
I do like that the developers basically knew that they’re making a popcorn JRPG and embrace it with their writing by adding comedic bits within to make the ride more entertaining and mixing some lore for good measure. Characters do get their own side stories and while this doesn’t add complexity to the characters, but does dive into the lore of the world. The game also has a ton of side quests, the only issue with them is their your run of the mill fetch quests. Not only that, they repeat, which is a big sin to me when it comes to JRPGs.
While the characters might lack unique characterization, the team did put in time to separate each playable character in combat. While the move set for each character is limited and only consisting of magic moves plus a hard and light hit; they did a good enough job making each character play uniquely. My only grips with the combat is the same grips of I have with most Japanese Action RPG games, that is that the AI of your teammates is pretty bad. While you do get some control over what they do with the d-pad commands, they’ll still die in battle. The team decided to remedy that by giving almost every character in your team the ability to resurrect fallen characters. Another pet peeve is how they don’t allow you to switch between characters in real time, forcing you to pause the game to switch to another party member.. This totally breaks the flow of combat and made me just stick to one character throughout my adventure which was Yuma due to having massive damage also turns into a dragon that wrecks everything.
Shining Resonance Refrain‘s real time combat works like you’d expect from your run of the mill action RPG. You have normal attacks that have their own bar, forcing you to rest if you strike with normal physical attacks too much and force abilities (aka magic) that take MP. If you want to refill your MP bar, you do regular attacks. You unlock a ton of Force abilities throughout the game but you are only allowed to equip 4 during combat per character. The idea of combat is to study the opponent until they do a move revealing their breaking point, which in this game is almost 80% of the time when they are casting a spell or when they fall. While I found the gameplay to be fun for the first dozen or so hours, the bad guys really didn’t offer anything new in terms of AI to keep the adventure fresh and that’s a big flaw.
There is also a lot of stuff to unlock to make things easier, one of the biggest things to look into are ‘Aspects’ which go into your weapon giving you buffs. The game doesn’t have unlockable weapons or armor instead Shining Force Refrain uses Aspects to give you an edge in combat. Doing character missions and ‘night caps’ unlock traits that you can customize in your Bond Diagrams, which give you and other characters special types of buffs if you fight together. So let’s talk about a few of the in-game systems that SEGA promoted.
Character bonds or dates is something that SEGA pushed pretty hard when promoting this game. If you are thinking that these bonds open up a ton of dialogue choices and change character relationships in terms of story, you will be disappointed. When you are in town or a campsite, the game allows you invite any member of your party for a one on one night cap. This will unlock traits that basically give you a buff during combat in the bond diagram, which we just talked about. Eventually if you do enough night caps, the character will take you on a date in town where you just walk to random spots and unlock cutscenes. While this is a nice touch, its not really that deep and interactive compared to games like Persona 5.
The game also features the Grimoire which I found interesting. In the game you unlock these things called sigils, each one giving you the ability to spawn a certain enemy, capping enemy levels and so on. The Grimoire is a dungeon that you create out of these sigils, allowing you to spawn the amount and types of enemies you want. Each Grimoire run consist of at least three floors and is a good way to hunt down a certain type of materials or just grind out a few levels.
Graphically Shining Resonance Refrain isn’t going to be blowing anyone’s mind. I mean its a port of the PlayStation 3 game and even for a PlayStation 3 game its just about average. While I do whine about Tony Taka’s designs in the newer Shining series games, I have to say this is possibly the best job he has done. I actually thought that some of the characters had some cool, well designed outfits which seem to have some complexity in design and make each character have their own style that matches their personality. Well most characters besides the lead character, I thought he’s outfit was terrible. The game’s world also does a good job of designing each area to feel unique as you traverse through beaches, deserts, snow and even caves. The game’s open world is actually a bunch of smaller connected dungeon maps that you unlock as the story progresses. One thing I did like about the game’s world is that they included a weather system, which changes from day to day, the enemies in the open world change depending on the weather as well. What does suck is that the game doesn’t allow you to quick travel. There is a item called the Marga Stone, which allows you to teleport back into town. This will save you half the time in traveling and definitely recommended.
Shining Resonance Refrain makes a big deal about the games music in its world, as that’s how Force powers are channeled and a ton of other things in the world revolve around music. You’d expect a sweet soundtrack. While the game’s soundtrack isn’t bad per say, it has a mix of tracks that I wasn’t that into and some that I surprisingly found good. There are some epic tracks you’d expect in this type of game, but also slower paced ambiance tracks and even some heavier tracks mixed in there. I also like the little touches the game put into its sound design including giving each character their own musical sound and changing the games victory music to reflect the characters in your party.
For this review I got to play the game on the PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch. While the Nintendo Switch version does have some downgrades in terms of minor graphical changes, added bloom and dropping the framerate to 30fps; its actually a pretty great port. While I noticed some minor framerate issues and bugs in both PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch versions, the Switch performed well enough that I played the full game in handheld mode which was a pretty great experience. The Nintendo Switch version also supports in-game screenshots and video recording.
Shining Resonance Refrain isn’t just a typical port, it actually has some extras making this the definitive version of the game. The first thing they added in the package was 150 pieces of DLC from the original PlayStation 3 release which included outfits and optional missions. But the big mode that was added was Refrain Mode which is a extra story mode allowing you to play as in-game antagonists Excella and Jenius. While the game lets you play either Original Mode or Refrain Mode any time, I would recommend you play through the Original story first as Refrain contains spoilers.
- Each playable character is unique enough
- Action combat is fast
- Changing scenery is nice
- Refrain mode and DLC all included
- Meh Story
- Shallow in-game systems
- Fetch quests side missions
- No quick travel