The Shining series hails from Japan, and it’s been around for quite some time, originally releasing back in the early 90s over on the Sega Mega Drive. It’s unfortunately not a series that makes its way West very often, and it’s actually been over ten years since one was last released over here.
Shining Resonance Refrain isn’t a brand-new entry in the series, but instead a remaster of a PS3 game. What makes it exciting though is that this is the first time it’s been released over here in the West.
The world of Shining Resonance Refrain is filled to the brim with fantasy elements like elves, magic, and of course dragons. It’s one of those games where there is quite a rich backstory that ends up heavily shaping what happens throughout the game.
Ancient History Repeats
Long, long ago there was a great war which ended up wiping out most of dragonkind. Dragons are magical creatures though, so when they die they don’t just disappear, instead their souls get left behind. In the modern era, the world is at war once again, but this time it is a war between humans: the Empire of Lombardia and the Kingdom of Astoria.
The story definitely feels a little bit dry but if you can push through the tedium of the first few chapters it does slowly start to pick up. It’s a little predictable throughout, but what will help to keep you hooked is the strong cast of characters.
You’ll be introduced to your first few characters fairly quickly. There’s Sonia, a knight who’s also a princess, Kirika, an elf who can sing songs that commune with dragons, and also the games protagonist, Yuma. He’s a rather unique individual as his soul is entwined with a dragon.
Yuma spends much of the game being a bit timid and afraid of his powers which can get tiresome after a while, thankfully the rest of his companions are much more interesting. As you progress through the game you’ll be introduced to a whole host of other playable characters.
You can choose to get to know them better by talking to them in town or when settled down next to campfires. If you increase their affection towards you, then they’ll sometimes ask you to go out on dates with them. It’s a cute little system that will cause you to feel more affectionate towards your companions. It’s also great that you’re free to try to romance all of the playable characters, regardless of whether they’re male or female.
You’re also given the option to select freely between English or Japanese voice acting. The English voice acting is particularly good and they’ve done a really good job of casting voices that fit the characters. Of particular note is the voice actor for the Imperial Princess Excella, the game’s antagonist. They’ve managed to perfectly capture her haughty attitude.
It should also be noted that in this remake you’ll actually be given the option to play as Excella. When you first start the game, you can either play the original game or a new version called Refrain mode. There’s not much difference between the two, but Refrain mode gives you two new playable characters: Excella and Dragonslayer Jinas. The game doesn’t even try to attempt to explain why these antagonists are in your party, but it’s a nice little extra all the same.
If this is your first time playing the game and you choose to play Refrain mode, then be aware that if you talk to the two of them in town, they will sometimes refer to events that haven’t happened yet. Thus, they might end up spoiling some events that happen later on.
Not All About Dating
The game is not just about hanging out with your friends though, remember that there’s also a war going on. You’re based in the Kingdom of Astoria’s capital, Marga, and the basic flow of the game is that you’ll talk to local inhabitants before being given some kind of mission, which sends you out into the world.
When you’re outside, you’ll see visible enemies wandering around the field and by making contact you’ll initiate combat. There are some interesting and rather novel gameplay elements to the combat, some of which work better than others.
You have a standard attack, a stronger break attack, as well as magic skills. If you hit an enemy with lots of break attacks and magic skills, then you can inflict a broken status on the enemy which weakens their defense and causes them to freeze for a brief moment of time.
You’ll pretty quickly realize that each playable character handles slightly differently. For example, Kirika is a ranged attacker as well as having healing magic, whereas Yuma has a big sword so needs to get up close and personal with the enemies.
Yuma is the most unique character as he also has the ability to transform into a super-powerful dragon. His attacks in this form are extremely powerful but if you stay in it too long then you risk going berserk and attacking friends and foes alike. It’s pretty fun to annihilate your enemies as a dragon, but it can sometimes feel a little over powered.
All the characters have different strengths and weaknesses, but it’s unfortunate that the game doesn’t really encourage you to switch between them. There’s no shortcut button to do so and instead you have to go into the menu do this. It means that it doesn’t feel very fluid and ends up breaking your immersion in the battle.
Another system which impacts battle is the games rather unique personality system whereby you can assign specific traits to a character. These traits influence the bonds between all your companions. While they don’t affect anything in the story, it does have an impact in combat. Depending on their trait they will sometimes perform special offensive or supportive actions. It’s not a system that’s explained very well in game so you’ll end up having to play around with it to try to work out what traits work best for each character.
It’s a shame, but overall the combat never feels particularly fun. It doesn’t feel smooth to switch between different types of attacks and ends up feeling quite clunky. Most of the random enemies you encounter will feel far too easy to defeat, and only the occasional boss fight will give you any trouble. Even with the tougher boss fights, it’s still too easy to inflict a break state on your foes, which will allow you to take out a good chunk of its health while it’s frozen. You then just repeat this until it eventually dies.
You’ll only get to visit one town in the whole game which does make the world feel a little small but thankfully there are a variety of things for you to do.
As well as going on dates with your companions you’ll also be able to listen to requests from the local townsfolk. Most of these are just simple things like killing a certain number of monsters or finding specific items. Completing them will grant you various items that you can then use in alchemy to create everything from healing potions to items that can be used to strengthen your weapons.
Many of the sidequests are repeatable, but have no change in dialogue. So, while it’s great that you can keep harvesting the rewards it feels a bit lackadaisical to have the same old lady continuously moan about the exact same slime creatures outside of town or a man constantly complaining about a statue flying away.
If you tire of taking on quests, then you can always speak to the mage in town to access a number of different dungeons. You’ll be able to tweak the dungeons and change what monsters appear in them as well as changing the elemental type and difficulty level. These dungeons are great for when you want to kill certain monsters, and you’ll be able to gain plenty of rare and unique items.
Shining Resonance Refrain feels very much like a budget RPG. While it does some things really well such as well-written characters with excellent voice acting and awesome music, there are plenty of things that just don’t really work. Combat is clunky and dull, the sidequests are mostly repetitive, and the game world feels surprisingly small. Unfortunately, this is a game that’s unlikely to stick around in anyone’s memory for very long.
Shining Resonance Refrain review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.