"Shining"... now there's a name with some history in the world of gaming, as anyone who owned a Genesis back in the day will attest to. However, here in the US, we haven't seen a Shining game in quite some time. In fact, we nearly didn't get this game as well, as Shining Resonance actually came out in Japan only in late 2014.
Never say never though, as Sega decided to give Shining Resonance a worldwide release earlier this month, adding the Refrain title to the game along with an extra side-story and all DLC included. I'm all for more localized JRPG's, however, the most important question remains to be answered: is Shining Resonance Refrain worth your time?
Shining Resonance focuses on the story of a young man named Yuma, who we find imprisoned in an unknown fortress with... just very little willpower or fight left in him. It seems that the Lombardian Empire is interested in experimenting on him and young Yuma is pretty much resigned to his fate. This would be a very short game if not for a jailbreak that occurs when the knights of Astoria (a nearby kingdom) infiltrate the prison and bust Yuma out.
But why so much attention on Yuma? As it turns out, Yuma's soul possesses the power of the Shining Dragon, the most powerful dragon from legends of ancient times (even if he'd rather undergo torture than use its power to help himself escape). Hesitant or not, Yuma is whisked away to the Kingdom of Astoria and soon finds himself torn between his timid nature and the Empires aggressive advances.
Stop me if any of this sounds familiar: a young male protagonist must use his special, hidden power against his will against an aggressive empire. It's safe to say that Shining Resonance has a thoroughly generic JRPG story here, complete with ancient legends of dragons, their return, and a fairly black and white fight of good vs. evil. The story is also very text-heavy as it has very few cutscenes throughout the game and instead relies on the "visual novel" form of storytelling with character's profile above text boxes as they talk to each other (and oh boy, is there a lot of dialog in this game).
The real draw here, story-wise, is definitely the character's you'll meet. Many of them have very unique personalities (although JRPG tropes are still very much present) but you'll get to know them quite well throughout the game (both enemies and allies, as the game likes to give you "behind the scene" views of your enemies as well) and start to see your relationship with them grow. In fact, the game also lets you invite your companions to chats late at night, which can lead to dates with your female companions (Rinna is totally my girl!).
All in all, I found the story in Shining Resonance to be fairly generic overall, but definitely well told (as the game is very text-heavy and goes into all sorts of character details... seriously, I get it, Yuma doesn't want to use his power!). If you've played any JRPG's in the last decade, this story isn't going to amaze you or anything, but it is solid nevertheless.
OK, onto the good stuff: the gameplay! This is where the game's biggest contemporary comparison can be made. If you took away the game's name and just showed me it in action, I would just tell you this is a non-descript Tales of game. And sure enough, Shining Resonance is an action-RPG very similar to its PS3 Tales of counterparts, complete with character portraits at the bottom of the screen and the ability to assign up to four special moves. However, the game definitely has several things that set it apart.
For example, each character has a special "Break" move (assigned to the triangle button here) that is unique to their character (Yuma can knock foes down while other characters can make enemies focus on them). Each character can also equip "Aspects" to their weapon which give that character increased stats or even new abilities (this is similar to a simple version of Final Fantasy 7's Materia system).
Shining Resonance also has a huge focus on music and musical instruments as weapons (most character's weapons function as instruments as well, which is a bit weird). This factors into the gameplay in two ways. The first involves the weapons themselves, as you can change their "tuning" to emphasize certain stats (such as having Yuma increase his attack speed) and this affects how many aspects you can equip as well. You can level these tunings up as you play, which just makes whichever one you picked better. The second (more obvious) musical reference is the B.A.N.D. function, which functions much like a group-based limit break. When you use this ability, you actually do a mini-performance with the entire group, with the buffs you receive based on who you choose to take "center stage". These performances are definitely very powerful though, and you'll gain new songs (and buffs) as the game progresses.
One thing that impressed me was the fact that there's also a "Bond Diagram" in the game. You can assign titles to different party members here and gain bonuses in battle based on the diagram's results. What makes this impressive is that many of the titles are obtained by doing side quests for your party members and your affection levels with them (which ties this gameplay function into the story, which I'm always a fan of). As much as I like this idea (and how it ties into the story), the execution here is really a mess. The game color-codes these abilities but really doesn't tell you in-game what these colors mean or what the results are (which just leads to self-experimenting).
While we're on the subject of things that really don't work well, the game is rife with palette-swapped enemies and fond of re-using enemies and just "increasing their levels" to populate dungeons. Exploring the game consists of setting out from the hub town of Marga where you'll be forced to run (or fight) to the newest story point over and over. This means you'll be running through the basic beginning areas dozens of times throughout the game, as there's no warping here (although you can warp back to town if you buy certain items). It's annoying, but at least the maps are fairly small and you can spring through them if you wish.
Speaking of that hub town, it is literally the only town you'll ever visit (this game isn't very big on exploration...). There's not too much to do in Marga apart from talking to your allies, shopping, and running around town on the occasional date (should you romance someone). You'll also pick up dozens of side quests here. Being a JRPG, I'm pretty sure it's a law to have side quests, but these missions were so bland and repetitive (as well as never-ending) that I straight-up stopped doing them after awhile. One last dig at the game has to be the fact that the game lag is noticeable during fights with an excessive amount of enemies. It doesn't happen during every fight by any means, but when there are too many things happening on screen the game's framerate will definitely take a dive.
All in all, the gameplay here is reminiscent of PS3-era Tales of games while having a few systems of its own as well. Honestly, there's nothing here that really sets this game apart from its peers, but if you've enjoyed this type of gameplay in the past you may be right at home here.
One thing is definitely for sure: Shining Resonance is a great-looking game. The character art is absolutely beautiful, as are many of the game's environments, despite being a PS3-era title. A big part of that is the watercolor aesthetic the game has (which holds up better over time, I feel). The animations are rather solid as well, although the character idle animations are definitely starting to show their age. One thing I have to mention though, as pretty as the game's environments are, there's not much to do in them. Beauty over function, I guess...
Being a re-mastered game, we have to note that Shining Resonance comes with the previous DLC included. This means that each character has several costumes you can equip, changing how they look out in the field and in dialog scenes. While the men in the party usually had 3-4 different outfits, the females had... quite a few. And by "quite a few" I really mean there's a ton of swimsuit options for the girls. Honestly, the main game really doesn't have a lot of fan-service (Sonia's chest "armor" notwithstanding) but these DLC outfits were clearly meant to fit that niche.
Another thing the game does extremely well is its soundtrack. A full orchestra dominated by string and wind pieces will accompany you on your journey and is definitely pleasant to listen to. With instruments as weapons, you may expect this but I genuinely enjoyed using the B.A.N.D. feature whenever I could. Several characters also have solo singing pieces (these fit into the story) that were quite nice.
Shining Resonance comes with dual audio (JP/EN) as you may expect, but one thing I didn't see coming was how much of the script was fully voiced in English. That and the voice actors did a really good job all around (I absolutely loved the item shop voice actress... well, her and Rinna). Overall, the audio is solid throughout the game!
Shining Resonance isn't a particularly hard (or long) game to beat (clocking in at around 30-40 hours), although I definitely did a bit of grinding around chapter four as some of the boss fights throughout the game can be a wake-up call for sure. Don't forget that the "Refrain" mode is included as well, which actually gives you two extra party members whose inclusion changes the story. You can actually play this mode from the main menu (meaning you don't have to unlock it).
In the end, Shining Resonance Refrain is a solid addition to any JRPG fan's lineup, but honestly, I'd recommend it to hardcore JRPG fans looking for something new. For as many things as Shining Resonance gets right, it stumbles with as well which leads to a very generic RPG in the end (retreading areas and reusing enemies over and over really make this title seem like it was made on a budget). If you can live with all of that and can't wait another minute to dig into another adventure, you're definitely in luck with this localization! Otherwise, you're probably safe on sitting on this game for a while.
It's good to meet you! I'm better known online as "Bkstunt_31" and have been writing Reviews and video game Strategy Guides/Walkthroughs for WAY too many years! Feel free to stop my my Facebook page and say hello! Have fun and keep playing!