Shining Resonance Refrain is an expanded and remastered version of the original Shining Resonance that was released as a Japan-only PlayStation 3 game in 2014. Developed and published by Sega, this new-to-North America JRPG seeks to captivate a new audience this time around. Does it succeed in earning a following, or does this remaster deserve to stay in the past?
The story starts off strong with a daring prison escape plan. Sonia Blanche of Astoria infiltrates Gaelritz Prison to rescue the protagonist, Yuma Ilvern. He is being held captive by the invading Lombardian Empire because of his unique energy signature. Experiments have been conducted on him and many others to harness their energy, which is channeled to make fearsome weapons to use against the Astorians in the stalemated war effort.
In order to escape without any of his rescuers being harmed, Yuma uses his gift, which turns out to be the power of the Shining Dragon. Flying away on his back, Sonia is relieved to have her mission be a success. Once back in Astorian territory, Yuma is convinced to help them fight back against the empire.
The story plays out over the course of eight chapters. Betrayal and a constant shift of empire authority and priorities keep the storyline interesting, and it is the best part of Refrain. Jinas, a mysterious man that is on a quest for redemption, adds interesting character interactions and works alone, becoming a nuisance to friend and enemy alike. Yuma partners up with six other characters along the way. His party members are referred to as “Dragoneers,” which can communicate with dragons through song and music. This is accomplished through their “Armonics,” weapons that are designed like a musical instrument and were made from the Shining Dragon’s flesh long ago.
Before the game is started, there are two difficulties available and two modes of play. The difficulty modes didn’t seem to have much of an effect on gameplay as I made my way through the game, so I stuck with the default setting. Meanwhile, Original mode tells the tale in the way it was told back in 2014 with Shining Resonance. If Refrain mode is selected, then two extra characters can be used in the party and bonded with. It is recommended that Refrain mode is left for a second playthrough to avoid spoilers.
The graphical style is nice enough to look at, but nothing to write home about. It looks like a typical last-generation JRPG. Character models are detailed, while the environments and backgrounds lack in textures occasionally. During gameplay, there were a few hiccups and framerate drops in battle when there were a lot of enemies on screen or performing a special action. These small issues had a negligible effect on gameplay.
Battles themselves are fought in real-time action arenas. The encounters are not random, as the enemies are wandering the field and can be engaged by Yuma and the party as they desire. There are three types of encounters: normal, advantageous, and risky. During an advantageous encounter, the enemy party is frozen in place for several seconds, allowing the party to get some easy hits in before the battle really begins. Risky encounters are the opposite and hardly hamper the heroes’ efforts, as enemies typically wait around for a few seconds before attacking. This effectively negates their starting advantage. One problem with this system is its lack of consistency. Sneaking up on an enemy in the field is supposed to commence an advantageous encounter, but often it never occurred or I even sometimes received a risky encounter instead.
Once the encounter has been initiated, a zone is drawn around the combatants indicating the battling arena. Direct control is relegated to the leader of the party, which can be assigned to any of the seven playable characters. Each of them fights in drastically different ways and the party can be divided up between melee and ranged combatants. Each partner in the four-character party is computer-controlled, but behavior and preferred actions can be changed with the push of a button. Depending on the bond level of the party and the “Trait” chosen, resonances can occur and improve the party working together. Action points are used for force and break attacks. Once these points are used up, magic attacks that consume magic points can be used while the action point gauge recharges. This lasts a second or two before the action points are restored.
Magic attacks are also varied in their effects in ways typical of the genre. Since each member can have four magic abilities enabled, the battle system encourages building a party of diverse abilities; plus, these abilities can be switched out during battle to adapt to the situation. B.A.N.D. specials are songs performed by the party to snag advantages in battle. These can range from increasing the party’s attack power and critical hit rate to decreasing the enemy’s defense and preventing the party from being affected by status ailments.
Since Yuma has the power of the Shining Dragon within him, he can transform in the midst of battle to offer up a huge advantage against whatever enemy you encounter. During the first half of the game, Yuma can lose control in battle if in the dragon form for too long, but this downside disappears later in the story.
Combat scenarios are enjoyable for the most part, but there are major flaws in the system that cannot be overlooked. Much like the graphical style, the controls feel last-generation as well. They feel clunky and slow at times, and just running around the world map can be a pain, as Yuma skids to a halt whenever the sprint button is released instead of just slowing back down to a jog.
During the forty-hour-minimum investment, expect to see and fight the same handful of enemy types with a palette swap and elemental shift repeatedly. The enemies encountered consist of goblins, large tortoises, large mushrooms, ghosts, two-headed dogs, large caterpillars, living cacti, floating crystals, and dragonflies. It gets boring. The same can be said of the mini-boss-type monsters that roam the world map. While the elemental weakness changes for these creatures to keep the magic ability usage different, the battles feel the same.
In addition to the main story, there are sidequests to tackle, as well as the Grimoire to explore. Fetch quests, another typical genre trope, make up the majority of the sidequests. These reward the party with materials to craft items and are inconsequential are best. The reason for this is that the materials received as rewards can be found out in the world, or the items that can be crafted can also just be bought from a shop.
The completely optional Grimoire is basically a dungeon crawler that can be utilized to grind some levels and acquire items in small three-floor areas ending with a boss fight. Items and materials gathered can be used to craft other items and “Aspects,” which are used to increase abilities by inserting them into the party’s weapons. Each character’s weapon has a “tuning,” which affects how it performs in battle. These can change the element of regular attacks, or increase certain stats for that character. The downside to this is that it can be detrimental to level a tuning up all the way and switch to another, as it could decrease that character’s attack power substantially. It is best to find a tuning you like and stick with it to avoid this, unless you’re the kind of player that loves to grind and level everything up.
Speaking of grinding, be prepared to do it. Level up all party members as equally as possible as well. Certain points in the story mode require specific characters to be in battle, and if your characters aren’t leveled up enough, you’ll get demolished by the stronger enemies. This caused me to play an additional five or six hours late in the game because I had neglected characters that the story now deemed important.
This title also lacks a fast travel option. As the story progresses, each event takes place farther and farther away from Marga, the one and only city available to explore. This can become annoying as you will be trekking through the exact same environments time and time again. You can run past all the enemies, but it’s still a drag going through the same desert, plain, or swampy area for the umpteenth time. There are “Marga Stones” that can be purchased, but these items only warp the party back to the home city. The mini-map display in the upper right-hand side of the screen is too zoomed in to make much use of it, and when it is blown up to a bigger size, it blocks your view of the party leader you are controlling. The transparency of the map can be altered, but it’s still a strange design choice.
There are weather effects as well–clear, rainy, or foggy. These affect the monsters that roam the land and their strength level, but it’s an overall needless addition. The fog effect on the world map is simply atrocious, making the screen look like the input is messed up, not that there is fog present.
The sound effects during battle are great, with spoken one-liners by party members that make it feel like they are truly in the fight together. Depending on who is in the party, the victory fanfare music will change because each character uses a different weaponized instrument, which I thought was a very cool attention to detail. All major story segments and important bonding moments between characters are voice acted. Overall, I enjoyed the voice work. It was well directed, and emotion could be detected in most of the characters, although it was admittedly very anime-like and sometimes over the top.
Overall, Shining Resonance Refrain is a good story hampered by clunky controls at times, a lack of variety in monsters to battle, and borderline useless sidequests. If you enjoy grinding and maxing everything out in your JRPGs, then this title will get you by. While the story is good, it’s nothing mind-blowing, and the repetitive gameplay, lack of variety, and frustrating lack of travel options might turn some gamers off.
Title: Shining Resonance Refrain
Release Date: July 10, 2018
Genre: Action RPG
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam for PC
Disclaimer: Game featured was provided free by publisher for review purposes.
Life long video game player with diverse tastes in genre. Tactical RPGs, JRPGs, FPS, and Survival Horror are favorites, though. Follow me on Twitter @vebystry and let’s talk games!