Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Switch, Xbox One, and PC
The Shining series has been around for a very, very long time. It actually dates all the way back to Shining in the Darkness, a first-person dungeon crawler on the Genesis, before the franchise shifted to becoming a Fire Emblem-esque strategy RPG with Shining Force. Then Shining Soul was a top-down action RPG, sort of like Diablo, and on and on it goes. The only consistent thing about the Shining games has been their unpredictability.
Now in 2018 it’s been about a decade since the West has gotten a new Shining game. With Shining Resonance Refrain, we’re getting a remaster of the 2014 PS3 game, Shining Resonance, with updated visuals, streamlined mechanics, and a new alternative story that lets you recruit some of the antagonists into your party.
The Shining Dragon
In Shining Resonance Refrain you set foot in a world embroiled in a massive war between two factions. At the start of the game you control Sonia, a princess of the “good guys” side on a mission to rescue a prisoner, a young man named Yuma, that’s being held captive and experimented on.
As it turns out Yuma has the “power of the Shining Dragon” inside of him, which makes him incredibly powerful and the key to winning the war -- because this is a JRPG and that’s how these stories go.
What follows is a series of events involving more dragons, more female protagonists to recruit and eventually date in your party, and a story that slowly plods along without any real twists, turns, or engaging hooks. Characters are extremely long-winded and spend an inordinate amount of time complaining, whining, pleading, and over-explaining everything. Brevity is not the strong suit of anyone in this world.
The voice acting, while plentiful and enthusiastic, is really hit or miss. Some characters sound better than others for the English voice acting, but you can also switch it over to the Japanese voices if you prefer. Frankly, I skimmed over a lot of dialogue just to get back to the fun bits: killing monsters.
Tales of inspiration
Combat in Shining Resonance Refrain is easily the high-point. Each character has a different weapon and fighting style, but the button layouts are all the same. You’ve got a basic attack combo string, break attacks, magical Force abilities, your standard block, and an evade action. Standard combos and break attacks drain your AP gauge, which is a ring beneath your character a bit like a stamina meter, and Force abilities drain your MP. Each standard attack rebuilds a single MP so it’s all one big balancing act to be effective in combat.
The most novel idea in Shining Resonance Refrain’s combat is the break system. If you time your attacks well (such as when an enemy is casting a spell) then you can overwhelm and “break” them, which is basically just stunning them. Then all of your attacks do more damage and you get a free window to wail on ‘em.
Yuma uses a massive longsword with slow, steady strikes whereas Sonia has a sword and shield that moves much more nimbly. My favorite party member, Kirika, uses a bow that doubles as a harp. She, along with most of your party members, are connected to various dragons and they use their musical instrument weapons to play songs that summon them on-command. Except for Yuma -- he essentially becomes the Shining Dragon itself.
You’ll end up doing a lot of grinding in Shining Resonance Refrain due to how frequent bizarre difficult spikes occur. Within zones you’ll often run across boss creatures that are a much higher level than everything else. And with only one single city to visit and a handful of surrounding areas, you spend a lot of time re-exploring to fight new monsters. Combat is fun on a mechanical level, but it needed more variety to really carry the game all the way through.
Putting it all together
As a long-time fan of these sorts of games and JRPGs in general it was easy for me to look past some of the shortcomings and find some fun with the combat system and character interactions. But it’s going to be tough for some to get past the incredibly underwhelming story and incredibly tough to like main character. The overly whiny JRPG anime boy trope is getting real old.
Shining Resonance Refrain can best be summed up as a clunky, often inconsistent, action RPG that has an earnest desire to be loved. It checks a lot of the boxes that fans of the Tales of and Ys series likely look for in a game, but it lacks that special sauce to really stand out from the pack.