The Shining Series has come back to the west for the first time in ten years via the recently released Shining Resonance Refrain. Initially, I was shocked more than I was excited when I learned that Shining Resonance Refrain was coming over. After all, this is a remastered version of Shining Resonance, which released for the PlayStation 3 a number of years back, exclusively in Japan. Its multi-platform comeback not only comes with visual enhancements, but with dual audio with English and Japanese voices as well as all previously released DLC.
There’s a few extras on top of that too, making this the game’s definitive edition. Now, if you’re anything like me and you hate the lack of JRPGs on Xbox One, Shining Resonance Refrain is certainly worth your time and attention. It’s far from perfect, of course, but it does bring all of the bells and whistles that you would expect to see from a game of this type. Its fantasy-esque theme is filled to the brim with magical elements, decent-ish story beats and a solid foundation as far as the gameplay is concerned. So, what’s this all about?
There’s some history that players will need to soak up first before deep diving into the plot. Many years ago a war saw the end of dragons, though unlike traditional beings, dragons’ souls are left behind upon their demise. Fast-forward to current day and the world is at war once more, only now it’s a war between humankind; the kingdom of Astoria and the Empire. Pause right there. The game throws players into the role of Yuma Ilvern, an apprehensive guy that just so happens to have the soul of the Shining Dragon within him.
The Empire captures Yuma in an attempt to use his powers against the kingdom of Astoria, that is until the Sonia, princess of Astoria, launches a rescue mission. Once Yuma learns of Astoria’s plight, he decides to aid them in their struggle. From here the story kicks off and introduces you to a band of different characters quite swiftly. They tend to range from the typical offerings that we see in these games; elves, knights and so forth. More characters are indeed introduced at a semi-regular pace as players proceed through the lengthy story.
One of my main gripes sits right here. The characters within lack originality. It would have been nice to see few unique characters here and there, but to rely merely on the character-types we’ve seen in most JRPGs was a kick to the teeth. It’s easy to overlook, mind, but I would remiss if I didn’t say that character attitudes and story-arch don’t become somewhat predictable and safe. It’s cliche-city at its finest. Though with that being said, there’s a neat little system put in place that helps to alleviate these fairly unoriginal design directions.
For instance, you can mingle with your party in towns and at campfires to get to know them on a more intimate level and if you put in the effort and earn their affections and interest, they’ll occasionally ask you to go on a date with them. I quite liked this aspect because it genuinely makes an effort to form bonds between the player and the cast, despite being a simplistic and basic feature. Note that if you play the Refrain mode before the original story, you may well find a few spoilers seemingly fired your way, in an oddly intentional format.
You see, when you start the game for the first time you can either go directly into the story or hit the aforementioned Refrain mode. This mode should (the game tells you as much) be played after completing the main event. You’re free to dive into whichever, but the latter wont make much sense if you go there first. The core gameplay loop sees you talking to the locals, taking on missions and ultimately driving back the threat of the Empire. I have to commend the game for its pacing regardless of its slow start. For me, it was just about right.
There’s a great blend of combat, action, chilling out and exploration thrown into the mix, each of which bounces off one another quite well. There’s times in which the dialogue comes on thick and fast, but this is forgivable. When you’re not found in the city of Marga, (Astoria’s capital) hitting on the locals, you’ll be out in the game’s world. Enemies can be seen moving around the map via their own unique patterns and behaviors. Using Final Fantasy XV as an example, if you get close enough to make contact, a battle will commence.
Shining Resonance Refrain utilizes real-time action combat across a range of different gameplay mechanics. Each active character brings their own pros, cons and abilities to the fold, making it important to find that tactical balance to ensure victory over the many enemy variants within. Attacks vary from mid-to-close range through physical and magical attacks, all of which are served up through standard, strong and magical damage outputs and options. Yuma, however, has the distinct ability turn into a huge devastating dragon.
Naturally his attacks in this form are quite harsh, though it does feel massively empowering all the same. Rewinding back to the bonding feature mentioned above, this interestingly feeds into the combat system. Through a mixture of dating and events, you can unlock a characters potential in the fields of battle, and if you’re fortunate enough to trigger “resonance” depending on the bonds of set characters, you’ll enjoy some added support to see each fight through. The bonds do not feed into the story, which is a missed opportunity.
I found the combat to be quite laid back and lax in comparison to the more well known JRPG franchises out there. It’s not overly challenging in the grand scheme of things but it does provide a difficult edge when the game calls for it. That said, this is quite a lengthy game that’s packed with content, questing and occasional secrets. With that in mind, some may find the combat, and indeed the gameplay, to become quite repetitive before long. This wasn’t an issue for me, but I can definitely see this being a shared concern nevertheless.
Dungeons are also present and can be altered to present a difficulty of your choosing, serving up decent rewards and items per-whack. Leveling up is achieved through natural progression (and plenty of fighting), with an easy-to-use crafting system in place that feeds into this nicely. What I will say about Shining Resonance Refrain is that if anything, it’s an excellent starting point for anyone that wants to dip their toes into the JRPG waters. The lack of complexity makes for a very accessible experience, which is something I appreciate.
When all is said and done, Shining Resonance Refrain is a good game, if indeed not a great one. For its price you can get much better, despite the slim pickings that the Xbox One offers, but it’s certainly worth its asking price regardless. There’s a solid level of diversity across the board; the world’s design is good, there’s heaps of options as far as combat is concerned, the story is captivating enough, the character growth is great and most things in between sits nicely inline, save the music, which isn’t very memorable to say the least.
Shining Resonance Refrain is most certainly overshadowed by the more intriguing, deeper and better developed JRPGs of this gen. However, that’s not to say that it isn’t worthy of your time and attention. Despite its unoriginal characters, its poor soundtrack and its slightly repetitive gameplay loop, the game has a strong and interesting enough backbone to make for an enjoyable and diverse adventure.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.