Shining Resonance Refrain Review – Bringing a Dragon to a Knife Fight

    Title: Shining Resonance Refrain
    Developer: O-Two
    Release Date: July 10, 2018
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Sega
    Genre: JRPG

I wouldn’t say I’ve been a long time fan of the Shining series, but when Shining Resonance released on the PlayStation 3 in Japan in 2014, I knew I needed to have it. As you know, the west never received this version of the game so I sought out some of the previews titles that the west did receive. So there you have, I’ve only been a fan for a couple years of a series that has been actively receiving entries since 1991.

So when Shining Resonance Refrain was announced for the west, I couldn’t wait to finally play this game that eluded me in the past due to a lack of localization. I was excited to get back to action JRPG, a genre that has been dominated in the west by the Tales of series. After playing, I was thankfully not let down, but the game does have a few mechanics and systems that show its age.

When booting up Shining Resonance Refrain players are asked if they want to play the game in the Original or Refrain mode. Well, I’ve only ever played the game in Japanese so I wanted to play through Original mode first and get the story that I was almost robbed from me due to my limited knowledge of the Japanese language.

The two versions ended up telling the same story, but Refrain mode put two extra characters in your party who are supposed to be the antagonists. The story plays out normally and it’s never addressed why these characters are there so I just saw it as like DLC for additional characters and went about my day.

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Shining Resonance Refrain tells the story of a human, Yuma Ilburn, who has the spirit of the Shining Dragon within him. This grants him enormous strength and also allows him to turn into the dragon at will, but he is afraid to use the power. After being locked up by the empire, he is saved by two members of the Astoria military, Sonia Blanche and Kirika Towe Alma. The first 4 hours or so of the game is spent with Yuma being afraid to use his power and the rest of the party trying to convince him to join their cause to fight the empire and end the war.

The story does well at handling Yuma’s inner struggle within himself to decide what he wants to do and how he wants to use the power of the Shining Dragon. This hesitation that Yuma has does affect some crucial battles. However, if you don’t connect with Yuma and sympathize with his willpower and backstory, it’d be hard to get through the game’s story because getting Yuma to use his power is the driving force for the main narrative.

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Outside of the game’s main story or separate character specific stories that can be accessed by spending one on one time with party members. During the time between missions, players are able to talk to characters and ask if they’d like to talk later in the night just the two of them. Over time Yuma will bond with the party members which will unlock a special romance scene between the two. However, this only happens with the characters that you spend the most time with. These scenes are short and I felt like they offered a good insight into the characters that you wanted to know about. I actually enjoyed many of these interactions as the scenes ranged from emotionally charged to comical, but sadly not all of them have voice over.

The interactions between characters play a big role in the Bonding system where players unlock traits during the game’s story, unique to each character. These traits can be changed at any time in the Bond Diagram. Each trait will resonate with a party member differently and changing them is crucial to preparing your party for some of the tougher battles. I applaud Sega for creating an easy to understand bonding system using traits because often developers overdo with the level of depth these systems can go.

Shining Resonance Refrain’s world is separated into branching areas which have different enemy types and themes. The game also has an interesting weather feature that adds rain or fog to an area as well as unique creatures. Sadly, the game doesn’t have a fast travel system to get to any of the further areas that you will revisit time and time again as you near the end of the game. They don’t even make it easy to get back to Marga City, which requires the use of a Marga Stone, an item that needs to be crafted in order to obtain. However, the areas found throughout the region are unique and offer plenty of areas to explore.

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The battle system featured in Shining Resonance Refrain was quite revolutionary when the game released on the PlayStation 3. Battles are initiated when you come into contact with an enemy without going into a separate battle screen. However, fighting is probably the weakest part of this game. During battles, each character has a strong and weak attack that the player can sting together for combos. What holds the battle system back is that this is the extent of a character’s move set. Although skills can be equipped, you’ll learn quickly that the charge time to unleash the skill isn’t worth the damage inflicted on the enemy. Also, skills have a high chance to miss the enemy entirely.

One redeeming factor in battles is that you Yuma can turn into the Shining Dragon and unleash powerful attacks. However, the downside to turning into a dragon is that Yuma can randomly lose control and kill the entire party, yes, it happened to me multiple times. It also should be mentioned that the difficulty balance seems a bit off when one minute you are kicking butt in the dungeon, but once you meet the boss you get killed in less than ten seconds. I found myself fudging some of the battles by simply using a ranged character and running around the field launching attacks when I found an open window. I’d hate to call the battle system bad, but it had so much potential to be better. I would have liked to see more streamlined combos which mixed attacks and skills better without the need for the lengthy charge times.

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Shining Resonance Refrain doesn’t move the bar for the action JRPG genre instead, it sits right below it. The game plays it safe for the most part in terms of its battle system but offers unique features that could have made the game stand out when compared to similar series. When it comes to side-quests, crafting, tuning new weapons, or hanging out with the party for someone on one time, Shining Resonance Refrain can easily hold the attention of a player for its 40-hour campaign.

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I’d like to see the Shining series continue and build off of what Shining Resonance Refrain has delivered. I had a great time learning about Yuma and the rest of the cast, especially Rinna, which makes the story the best part of the game. Although Shining Resonance Refrain isn’t pushing boundaries, it definitely knows how to tell a great story.

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Azario Lopez

Hanging out max, relaxing all cool.