Shining Resonance Refrain is a remaster of a PS3 game that never made its way out of Japan until now. The series itself has roots going back to the Sega Genesis, although they are very loosely connected. It’s great to see the most recent action RPG entry finally receive a wider release, with all DLC included and new playable characters, but I think this remaster kept too much of the past. An otherwise excellent combat system is marred by how outdated the storytelling and presentation are, leaving it a shadow of what could have been.
Musical Dragons of War
Shining Resonance Refrain features a standard JRPG set-up, but with a musical twist. The story stars Yuma, who has the soul of the most powerful dragon, the Shining Dragon, sealed inside of him. This makes him a target for the evil Empire to exploit his hidden power. Because of this, he is sucked into a war for control of the beast. Long ago the Shining Dragon created instruments that are also weapons of immense power from his own being. In a apocalyptic war thousands of years ago, the Shining Dragon and almost all the other dragons perished. Possession of these powerful dragon souls is key to the Empire’s conquest. The game opens with Yuma already captured and then his immediate rescue by the Empire’s rival, Astoria.
I enjoyed learning about the politics of Astoria and the Empire as well as meeting the varied cast of characters. The villains in particular all have different motives, goals, and co-conspirators. It’s mostly lighthearted anime-fare with paper-thin reasons for some fights, and 180 degree turns in motivations simply to keep the plot moving and for other characters to have their ‘moment.’ That doesn’t make it bad, simply something you’ve likely seen before if you’re familiar with the tropes of the genre.
On the other hand, how the story is portrayed isn’t so hot. Cutscene presentation is basic and dated. The character models all look great and have distinct designs, but they are hardly given anything to do.Early on there is a sword duel between two characters that is portrayed via slashing animations and sound effects over a black background. While other key action moments are animated, most of the time you’re watching two character models stand next to each other talking. This is a common conceit for plenty of Japanese productions, but it feels dated here when the vast majority of action isn’t shown to the player in what should be an exciting action sequence.
What is Love?
A major element of Shining Resonance Refrain is getting to know your fellow party members. Chatting them up in town or spending some quality time with them at campsites. You’ll learn more about them and gain the opportunity to go on dates to further build the relationship between Yuma and company. The dating (if you can even all it that) is essentially any harem fantasy anime trope with characters all liking Yuma simply because he said hello. Nothing I saw was creepy or untoward, in fact most of it was wholesome and cute, but it wasn’t exactly compelling. At the very least, it was interesting to get to know certain party members better. There’s likely nothing in Shining Resonance Refrain’s story that will blow you away, but the characters and their motivations were enough to keep me engaged.
Since this is a remaster of a game that was on the PS3, a lot of the technical limitations of the time are still noticeable. A cave early on consists of two separate maps that are both a linear path with two small dead ends. It makes the exploration feel dated, but also nostalgic in a weird way for games like Final Fantasy X. There is some interesting background decoration but most of the areas feature drab textures and basic geometry that a good art direction can’t cover up. It’s a good thing you’ll be more concerned about fighting monsters than seeing the sights.
The combat is in real time, with each character offering different movesets and abilities to complement different playstyles. A stamina gauge determines how many attacks can be performed before a retreat is necessary, but doing simple combos is more than enough to handle the basics. And it’s a lot of fun.
I found myself fighting enemies for no reason and going out of my way to clear an area before moving on. Additionally, Yuma can transform into a powerful dragon at any time to turn the tide of battle. But he can lose control of the beast if his MP drops too low. This adds a trump card to bosses and other difficult fights. There’s also the B.A.N.D. system which lets you build up a gauge and activate different buffs depending on what songs you know and who is leading the session.
Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Chorus, Chorus, Verse
The enemies are varied but you will be fighting the same ones over and over again. As you travel the same areas over and over again. There’s no way to fast travel except if you want to retreat back to the game’s only town. This means you will see the starting areas countless times for little reason. Enemies level up at the beginning of each chapter so encounters aren’t a waste of time, but I can’t help but be annoyed by fighting the same giant turtle 10 hours later—even if he’s 20 levels higher now. Thankfully you can easily dodge enemies and get to where you need to go fairly quickly by holding a button to run.
A big part of any RPG are the boss battles and Shining Resonance Refrain has a large cast of characters for you to take on. However, they happen to be very uneven in their difficulty. I could tear through standard mobs only to get destroyed by the boss. Or more often, enjoy some strategic bouts with soldiers only for the boss to die in 30 seconds. Furthermore, several of them are repeated and a lot of them are dragons, meaning they can feel as generic as normal enemies.
Aside from the same world map areas you’ll retread countless times, there are optional Grimoire dungeons you can complete to level up and gain crafting materials. Additionally, there are many different modifiers you can apply to the dungeons, from more soldier enemies to rare item drops, and some will increase the difficulty of the run, which also increases the rewards. There are even dozens of side quests to undertake from the nice citizens of Marga, even if they mostly amount to busywork. These side objectives are little more than distractions from the main plot used to fill out the world.
There are several other systems but they are all are poorly explained. You can set characteristics for each party member and this leads to certain actions happening automatically in combat, but what it exactly does or how often it happens, is anyone’s guess. You can tune your weapons, but all the alternative tuning options lower your stats and it’s unclear if leveling them up will make them better or not, let alone be worth the time investment.
Shining Resonance Refrain isn’t a great game but it isn’t a bad one either. I love the combat despite the repetition and the story and characters are both worth paying attention to, but it’s rough around the edges. Whether it’s the dated presentation, the several wholly unnecessary systems, or traversing the same areas ad nauseum, there are simply too many roadblocks for me to give it a resounding recommendation.