Shining Resonance Refrain - PS4 Review

For those who are unfamiliar with Shining Resonance Refrain, it was an RPG title that released on the PlayStation 3 four years ago, but never made it out of Japan. There are a few times where Shining Resonance Refrain feels just a bit dated, but the overall experience should appeal to JRPG fans because of its multiple systems, charming characters and plethora of things to do.

At first Shining Resonance Refrain seemed to me like sort of a strange candidate for a re-release with an HD coat of paint. JRPG's can be pretty hit and miss, and a lot of younger gamers are probably unfamiliar with the Shining titles due to how long the series has been on hiatus. However, there seems to be a real effort by SEGA to hit people with the nostalgia stick, with recent releases like the Sega Genesis Classics collection and the upcoming Sonic Mania Plus (July 17th). With that in mind, Shining Resonance Refrain actually fits quite nicely as a potential opportunity to breathe some new life into an older game series.

Shining Resonance Refrain is quite different from the Shiniing games of my youth, but there are some pretty similar hallmarks as well. Familiar terms and names coupled with the same charmingly cute character visuals provide nice parallels to the classic games that were more strategic and played out in turn-based fashion. Here we have a title that is more of an action-RPG that plays out in real-time during combat.

The battle system is not revolutionary by any means, but it is comfortable and relatively easy to pick up and learn. Maps are broken up into sections littered with critters or enemy soldiers that when you cross their line of sight, they will try to catch up to and make contact with you, initiating the battle. Conversely, you can walk your party up to them and initiate the combat. If one happens to sneak up and blindside the other, the surprised party may start the battle at a disadvantage. From there, contact with a single critter spawns several other enemies into a circular piece of real estate as the battle takes place in the actual environment. From there you can use face buttons to dash, block or do quick and heavy strikes. Additionally, holding down the left shoulder button turns those face buttons into special attacks. Regular attacks use up a circular bar drawn around your character to represent action points / stamina. Attack non-stop and you'll drain that bar and start to swing far more slowly. The special attacks use magic (which replenishes one magic point at a time with any regular attack you land), so there is a sort of rhythm to the combat where you learn which attacks will open your opponent up to better strikes, while balancing those basic attacks versus your special ones.

This is really not the most complex system, but it is fun and there are a few wrinkles that get thrown in along the way. You control one character, but you can give general or specific orders for your AI teammates to try and follow. There is a command called B.A.N.D. that is tied to a gauge along the left side of the screen that when activated, can bestow benefits to the team for a limited amount of time. There is also command specific to one of the characters, Yuma, who can turn into the Shining Dragon. In this state, Yuma can do considerably more damage as he lumbers around the field (sort of reminiscent to the PS3 title White Knight Chronicles, which this title actually reminded me of several times). While in this state, Yuma runs a different kind of risk versus reward scenario, because his magic points count down continuously in this form and the lower they get, the more likely he will go into a rage where he attacks indiscriminately. That can be fine if he's the last one standing and you're just going after the bad guys, but there have certainly been battles where Yuma went berserk on me in this form and wiped out the rest of his party as well. Combining this ability with B.A.N.D. (which can calm / prevent Yuma from going into a rage while active) is the key to winning some of the game's more challenging boss battles.

The boss battles can definitely be a challenge. I don't believe I died to 'regular' enemies even once, but I think I lost over half of the boss battles on my first try. There was one particularly mobile swordsman encountered early in the game that was really testing my patience (though in fairness, I did not know about the lock-on button using the right trigger - not sure if it was in the tutorial or not or if I just missed it, but I suspect that would have helped). Using the Shining Dragon form certainly helps in those instances, as does some grinding for experience and items.

There are a lot of systems at play here, and while almost all of them can be found in other games and therefore sometimes gives Shining Resonance Refrain a sort of 'been there-done that' vibe, most of them are pretty well implemented and provided a lot to do beyond just the base storyline. Characters around the central city will have lots of quests available, and the quests range from money to items that can be used to enhance your characters in a variety of ways. Whether you are improving the support of the characters to one another through bonds, adding new abilities to your weapons or gaining experience, there are numerous ways to improve your characters. There is also a generated dungeon mode that can be accessed from within the city where you can use parts gathered from enemies in the field to generate what types of opponents will show up. This is handy for completing specific quests or gathering a type of item without having to venture out into the fields looking for something in particular.

The travel is probably one of my sorer spots with Shining Resonance Refrain. Thankfully there is a dash that makes it a bit quicker  to move about from one map to another, and generally that is fast enough to avoid combat if you pay attention to the critters in the environment. There are some campsites / save points scattered throughout the world, which is nice from a checkpoint perspective, but it might have been nice to provide fast travel between these or even some select locations along the way. All of that running back and forth does start to feel a bit like unnecessary padding after a time. It might not be so bad if the environments were more interactive or interesting, but generally speaking they suffer from the same problem many similar JRPGs do. They have attractive coloring and frequently sport an interesting piece of landscape here and there, but otherwise do not offer up anything particularly memorable long the way as you spend countless hours running back and forth.

The story itself reflects Yuma's struggle to balance the might of the Shining Dragon against his fear of losing control, but similar to the environments there are some nice moments along the way, but little in the way of 'wow' factor or huge, gripping moments. Some of this is offset by the characters who are more charming than the overall narrative, and this is augmented by a sort of conversation / lightweight dating system that sees Yuma interact awkwardly with a handful of characters. These characters touch on some familiar tropes, from the 'bossy' one to the 'quirky' one to the 'flirty' one, but they are well-enough written and voice acted that I found myself enjoying the time spent with them all the same.

Despite the lack of fast travel, I appreciated some of the other small quality of life items such as easy-to-read UI, a locking mechanism (when I discovered it), and a map that can be turned on, shrunken to the corner to show the immediate area or overlayed across the middle of the screen to show the entire section at the press of the triangle button. So often in games where exploration is involved, I wind up having to look at the map a lot and it is really handy to not have to pause the game to go into a menu to access it. They are small items, but for a game that's more than a few years old, it's nice to see all the same.

The music is quite good here, but that makes sense given that so much of the title actually touches on music as an important component of the story. It is one of those items that is a little clunky at first, seemingly shoehorned in. Weapons crafted from the Shining Dragon itself long ago actually double as musical instruments. This leads to the aforementioned B.A.N.D. sessions that grant boosts and can soothe the savage beast.There's certainly nothing wrong with this, even if it seems a bit out of place and quirky right at first, but I soon rolled with it and accepted it as part of the game and storyline, even if initially it was a little weird watching one of the party members rocking out on what sounds like an electric guitar.

One other interesting addition to this game aside the updated visuals is the Refrain mode, which tells the story in a slightly different way by giving you the opportunity to add some interesting new characters to your party. This by extension adds more of the private conversations I mentioned earlier, which was one of my favorite aspects of the game. It is nice that the developers recognized this as an opportunity to provide more content to Shining Resonance Refrain that also plays to the title's strengths.

Shining Resonance Refrain is a title that should appease Shining and general JRPG fans, as it does a lot of things found in other games, and does them pretty well. The art style is cute, if the overall environments are a bit lacking visually, but couple with a solid audio presentation to create an enjoyable overall package. There is a lot to do here, though those turned off by grinding might not find the various systems interesting enough to spend oodles of time roaming and killing random critters encountered along the way. Personally I hope this is a sign of things to come, and we might see more Shining titles in the future - perhaps another strategy game please?

Game Information

Sony PlayStation 4
Single Player
Other Platform(s):
Microsoft Xbox One
Nintendo Switch

Provided by Publisher

Article by Nick


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