I clearly remember as a child of the 90’s calling my local cable company at least once a week to see if Sega Channel was available in my area yet. Yes, Sega Channel was a thing. Go look it up if you don’t believe me kids, it was like a 16-bit game-streaming heaven! And what were the games that dominated much of my subscription time once I DID gain that glorious access? The Shining series developed by Sega. I played many an hour of the dungeon crawling of Shining in the Darkness, and even more time (probably to an unhealthy degree) playing the strategy masterpieces that were Shining Force and Shining Force II.
OK, enough with nostalgia. The Shining series. Much like the Final Fantasy series, all of the Shining series titles are (for the most part) standalone stories unto themselves. Sure, there are some overlapping character names and settings from time to time, but otherwise each game can “shine” on its own. See? See what I did there? Including dungeon crawlers, strategy, action RPGs, and multiple remakes, this illustrious series clocks in at 30+ titles as of the writing of this article.
Which brings us to the recent release of Shining Resonance Refrain. Shining Resonance Refrain is an enhanced remaster of 2014’s, Japanese-only, Shining Resonance for the PlayStation 3. Even more meaningful for this writer is the fact that this is the first Shining game in over a decade to be brought to the West. This remastered edition includes all of the DLC originally purchasable for the PS3 version, along with a new way to play in the included Refrain Mode. Refrain mode is available from the moment the game starts, though as it is composed of alternative story lines and differing playable character options, the game (and this writer) suggests playing the game in Original Mode first.
Shining Resonance Refrain takes place on the island of Alfheim, in the kingdom of Astoria. In classic Shining-style, Alfheim was the glorious home of elves and dragons that existed peacefully under the divine being, Deus, until Deus got salty and decided to just wipe everything out and start over…because dragons? Long story short, some of the elves were on team Deus, some were on team Dragon, and eventually Deus was sealed up so that no more funny business would occur. Reminds me of the awesome Dark Sol/Dark Dragon plotline of Shining Force, but I digress.
Fast-forward to current time in the world of Shining Resonance Refrain, and we have the classic fantasy tropes that we all know and love. Yuma, some poor sap with the dragon of all dragons wrapped up in his soul, is a reluctant hero with poor self-confidence, an orphan, has a self-loathing attitude towards his awesome powers, and is terribly awkward around the ladies. He is quickly joined (and rescued) by the princess of Astoria, Sonia, and her “band” of Dragoneers in order to save the world from the growing evils of Lombardia…aka the bad guys.
Also of note about the story is that there is a lot of it! Ranging from extremely frequent visual novel-style conversations to odd flashbacks experienced by Yuma, as with any good JRPG you better be willing to be patient in addition to hacking and slashing. Personally, though, I have found the balance of story and combat quite pleasant thus far.
Gameplay for Shining Resonance Refrain is fairly typical of modern JRPGs. The player is in control of the current leader of the party (which can be reassigned at anytime through the menu) and is followed around by the non-leader party members in most contexts. The hub town of Marga offers all of the typical amenities. Plenty of time will be spent in the inn, both for rest and story advancement (seems like all of the Dragoneers crash there also). There is an alchemy shop, run by a child of course, where new items and weapon-enhancements can be synthesized by providing items gathered on your adventures. An item shop where you can *DUN DUN DUN* buy items. And a tuning shop.
Why is there something called a tuning shop you ask? If the clever title of the game did not give it away already, music plays a significant role in the gameplay of Shining Resonance Refrain. The weapons used by the dragoneers are called Armonics, which double as instruments. Furthermore, B.A.N.D. (Battle Anthem of the Noble Dragoneers) performances can turn the tides of battle in various ways depending on the composition of the party at the time. Therefore, the tuning and aspect systems in the game are used to alter the abilities and “songs” of the various weapons.
One gripe about gameplay comes in the form of travel, or the lack there of. While there is an item called a Marga Stone that will teleport the party back to the hub city, no other options for fast travel are available. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if it weren’t for the fact that each time you leave Marga on a quest of sorts, it seems like the distance grows larger and larger. Sure you can teleport back to town for 200 gold, but what about having to travel right back the way you just came from when you start your next quest? Thankfully the landscape has campsites periodically for you to rest and save, but it would have been nice for those campsites to maybe be waystations of sorts that you could hop between for a fee. At least you can have “night talks” at the campfires *Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more*.
If you are even mildly aware of action-style JRPGs of late, you essentially know what to expect from Shining Resonance Refrain’s combat system. Many have already compared it to the Tales series, though the style is certainly not limited to just that comparison. As combat systems go, though, I would describe this one as confusingly both fresh and dated. Camera woes and unpleasantly random AI helpers remind the player that this game did not originate in the current generation of consoles, though not to the point of being unplayable by any means.
From the beginning, you are able to attack, dash, shield, and a break attack that is unique to each playable character. As the game progresses you gain access to what are called Force abilities which include special melee attacks, defensive maneuvers, spells, and the like. Additionally, when playing as Yuma the ability to go into dragon mode is available after enough story progress has occurred. Using all of these abilities together is a seamless and enjoyable process, though the explanations offered by the game were a bit lacking at times. For example, even after many hours of gameplay I have yet to “learn” to use the shield button. Obviously, I stumbled upon it on my own within a few minutes. But given the fact that the tutorial at other times goes into WAY too much detail on less important features, it seemed a bit odd that something as important as blocking was omitted. Also, unless I accidentally skipped the relevant screen, no mention of being able to lock-on to targets was ever mentioned. It took me randomly looking online to discover that locking-on was even an option! This would have been a great improvement to the awkward camera angles during battle had I learned of it before getting too far in.
One final note on combat. Perhaps this was just my being clumsy running around, but the Risky versus Advantageous encounter system (basically whether you get the jump on the enemy or if they get the jump on you) seems almost random. Even when looking straight at an enemy I have gotten stuck with some “risky” encounters.
The Other (Naughty?) Bits
It would seem that no JRPG these days is complete without the obligatory scantily clad female characters. Not that this is necessarily excessive or distracting for the game in this case. Though it is worth noting that you start the game with a large number of outfits for your female characters (which essentially come down to differently colored swimsuits), and only two outfits for Yuma. And it doesn’t help that the only other outfit you start off with for Yuma makes him look like the late Great Prince, decided to join Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band!
Another somewhat odd addition to the gameplay comes in the form of the Bond system. Early on the player is introduced to what are called bond diagrams, which essentially display how much each character gets along with Yuma. New bond types can be unlocked through various ways, such as certain progress points in the story or even trying on certain outfits. Some bonds appear to be teamwork related, others are clearly romance related. I say appear, though, because once again the in-game tutorial for the bond system was pretty lacking. It clearly explained that bonds exist, as well as how to change them, though nothing about what the different bonds actually DO or how to improve the random bond types was offered. Perhaps this is explained further in the library/dictionary systems in game, but who wants to read?
While I am not 100% finished with this game as I write this article, as far as JRPGs go, Shining Resonance Refrain ticks all the boxes: search for meaning, reluctant hero, scantily clad heroines, random weird creatures to swing swords and spells at, and a quest to save a happy land from evil doer. There are certainly some kinks to be ironed out, Shining Resonance Refrain has been an enjoyable game with the nostalgic feeling of an old-school RPG story and characters. Though I would not be mad one bit if a new Shining Force game came our way…just saying.
Youtube Video Review: