Shining Resonance Refrain (PS4) Review

Shining Resonance Refrain is a remaster of a Japanese only title simply known as Shining Resonance, which came out back in 2014. This came as a mild surprise and disappointment to fans of the long-running series as it wasn’t the first game in the franchise which neither came out in the west or received any kind of official translation. I imagine not a lot of people even knew this existed back then, as in 2014 we were all excited and playing on our shiny new PS4 consoles and thus, Shining Resonance became a hidden gem. That is until SEGA decided to remaster, enhance and re-publish the game worldwide as Shining Resonance Refrain and release it on as many platforms as they could (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC). The question is, was it worth the time and money to remaster an unknown niche title?

As a side note, I love the Shining Force series – I’ve played every game in that part of the franchise, even Shining Force CD (which Sega needs to re-release!). However, I’ve not played one of the RPG-based games, only the turn-based strategy ones.

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The question is, does he want to be saved?

Shining Resonance Refrain begins with a rather exciting prison break event. Yuma Ilvern, our protagonist, is being held captive by the Lombardian Empire due to the strangely unique energy signature he possesses. While held captive, Yuma had been the subject of many experiments and research as his captors tried to harness his energy to create mighty weapons. Weapons which were going to be used against the Astorians within their actively stalemated war.

Fortunately for him, Sonia Blance of Astoria comes to his rescue as she breaks in to get him out! This is where we first discover Yuma’s power, in order to help them all escape unscathed, Yuma uses his gift to transform into the magnificent Shining Dragon. Once everyone was aboard, they fly off into the distance and proceed back towards Astorian territory. Once there, Yuma is persuaded to join forces with Sonia and her army as they fight back against the empire and aim to put an end to this war.

Your adventure will take you through eight chapters which will include many boss fights, lots of grinding, singing, many side-missions and even more grinding. It’s all held together with an interesting, yet very narrative-heavy, story along with various locations to see and people to meet. Shining Resonance Refrain also comes with two story options, which I’ll come to later on, both of which are available from the start.

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Oh look, the witch-like character runs the shop, that’s a surprise…

So, you load up Shining Resonance Refrain and your first choice, as the player, is whether you wish to play Shining Resonance [Original] or Shining Resonance Refrain mode. The main difference here is that the [original] mode is how the game was presented on the PS3 – the same story, characters, interactions, and bonds. Refrain mode allows you to join up with two extra characters soon after starting the game – this allows for new interactions, bonds, and slight story alterations. The game recommends you don’t play the refrain mode until you have finished the original mode though, as it contains spoilers and things won’t really make sense if you haven’t already got an understanding of what’s going on.

In regards to the story in general, Shining Resonance Refrain is full of clichés, from the shy and timid main character to the hot princess who only cares about the safety of others, and back to the evil mad scientist who has a thirst for torture and pain. Pretty much every JRPG cliché is thrown into the mix in Shining Resonance Refrain and this bleeds into the story as well. Often you will predict whats going to happen next or you get a feeling that you know who you’re about to meet up with. It’s not a bad thing, there is just very few surprises and ‘wtf’ moments if you’ve played a lot of JRPGs in the past.

One thing that did bug me about the story was the exposition and the dialogue. Now, before you all hate on me, I know this is a last-gen JRPG and I was expecting a lot of reading (or listening in this case), but the game throws so much at you in one go. It just makes the pacing a little off as you can be sat there for literally 10-20 minutes as the characters talk among themselves. I found myself skipping on a few interactions as I just wanted to get back to the gameplay. However, after finding out that once I did that I had no idea what was going on or why I was now seemingly angry with someone, I decided not to skip anymore. I would have liked it if the info came in smaller chunks so that it kept my interest a little bit longer in some scenes.

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Gotta get me some of those Jiggly Pillows!

For me, Shining Resonance Refrain felt like one big series of fetch quests. Your main base is the city of Marga, this is where you can talk to many NPCs, use various stores to purchase items or forge new ones, rest at the Inn, and obtain side quests. Now, I didn’t realise until a few hours ago that I didn’t have to participate in all of the side missions – I thought it was going to be like the usual JRPGs and you either have to complete them to move on the story or you need them all for a trophy. As such, I currently have about 30 in my quest list as the townsfolk seem to have more for you everytime you re-enter the city. However, since finding out that you don’t need to do them and they are just there to effectively help you grind with a purpose, I’ve stopped accepting them – for now.

From Marga, you will be venturing out into the wilderness as you traverse the various map segments, which is similar to games like FF XII, the Tales games, and older Monster Hunter games before the new one went into a seamless open world. As such, you will be going back and forth quite a bit as you head out to defeat a boss or track down information within a certain segment, then return to report your findings. Thankfully, you are returned automatically in most instances and those you aren’t, you can use a cheap item to instantly warp you back to town.

What I thought was a really nice touch here is, just like in the Atelia Series, the various weather effects and chapter you’re on will affect what you will bump into in the various zones. For example, if you head out into the mist then you may encounter a lot of giant Chocobo-style creatures, yet if you go out in the sun you will see small goblins who want to smash your face in. It also varies the items you’ll find in the many ‘search spots’ which can be used to create items and passive boosts with various NPCs. 

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The bond chart – your guess is as good as mine…

One thing I would like to touch on before I get to the combat is the customisation of your character and your weapons – or should I say, the lack of. I love RPGs, be it Japanese or Western games, and the common things between all of them is usually the sheer amount of weapons, accessories, armour, spells etc… which you can obtain and use to customise your characters. Shining Resonance Refrain, however, takes all of that and leaves it outside whilst we sit inside and play the game. Shining Resonance Refrain does come with a bunch of costumes which you gain at the beginning of the game – you may have noticed my characters are wearing bikinis. That’s not their usual get-up – but you won’t come across armour or weapons as you play. It’s an unusual stance the game takes as it removes almost all of the character customisations.

You can also create bonds with your fellow allies. Okay, this one is a bit strange and I still don’t fully understand it. You can gain up to eight playable characters as you play Shining Resonance Refrain, all of which have their own personality and aspirations. As you perform various things, one of which was putting the characters in their ‘idol’ costumes, then you unlock new personality bond traits. In the spidergram above, you can change the placements of each character, what trait you would like them to have and then you get to see how it affects their ‘feelings’? As I said, I’m not 100% on what this is for, but I’ve read it’s supposed to help later on as the game has a sort-of dating sim built into it. So the more your characters know about each other and ‘like’ each other, the more they are willing to date, maybe? Also, there is a trophy for each characters ending – so it may be like Star Ocean 5 where you had to please each person enough so that you get their ending?

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Music is emphasised in this game – she is blowing her own weapon though…

Okay, so these are the things you can use to customise your characters into the playstyle of your choosing:

Aspects and Tunings:
Tunings are effectively your ‘weapons’. You must visit the Atelier in town if you wish to change your Tuning – this means you can swap your attack style around for another. It’s quite confusing but you have three stats, Attack, Defence and Magic, these will differ depending on which Tuning you have. So one may give you a 20% boost in Attack but a 5% increase in both Defence and Magic. Whereas another one may be a 10% increase in Attack and a 15% in magic with a 9% increase in Defence. Not only that, once you have one selected, as you level up, it will level up as well. It means swapping to another will instantly make you weaker as it will be level one, but it could eventually be more powerful as you level it up over time. 

Tuning also holds Aspects. Think about Final Fantasy 7 with its Materia – it’s basically the same thing, only not as glamorous. Depending on your Tuning, you may have three or four Aspect slots with the common boosts being an increase in your statistics such as health, attack and defence. You can also buy or create some special ones which will allow you to auto use potions or auto block etc… 

Forces:
As you level up your characters you will gain unique ‘Force’ abilities – no, this isn’t Star Wars! You can equip up to four Forces at a time and call upon them in-battle by holding down the L1 button. These range from supporting abilities like healing yourself, to full-on special attacks which stun the enemy. 

B.A.N.D [Battle Anthem of the Noble Dragoneers]:
Shining Resonance Refrain is very focused on its whole musical aspect. So obviously, there would be some kind of musical aspect to the combat. B.A.N.D is what you would expect, you learn various songs throughout the game and you can create a ‘band’ to perform this mid-battle. You can also change who the main ‘singer/performer’ is in each song – this changes the buff you get. For example, in the Prelude of Spring, you can get buffs like Decrease the damage taken, Greatly increases evasion, or Prevent ailments. Effectively, this is purely a group buff process which is initiated by your party changing into their idol clothes and singing. 

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Being a dragon is fun – until you kill your allies.

Combat itself is straightforward enough, once you have engaged with the enemy. It works like like Star Ocean, Tales games, Akiba’s Beat etc… You bump into an enemy and depending on which way they are facing, you’ll either get an advantage, disadvantage, or neither, then the battle will instantly start as a circular barrier appears around the small arena. More enemies will also materialise, so you won’t be facing off against only the one you bumped into. Here, all the combat is in real-time and you can technically only control one person at a time. You can use the D-pad and tell each of the others one by one, or all together, what you would like them to do, but you can’t micro-manage them in Shining Resonance Refrain.

You can swap the party leader and take control of the new leader, but this is done through the menu and isn’t overly obvious. I had to google how to do this because I was looking for a button press whilst in battle. The CPU seems to help out a lot though, if you’re low on health then the healers will jump in, if you’re stepping back because you’re low on health then one of the other strong CPU allies will step in and take the focus off you. I really enjoyed the combat. Combined with all of the various Forces you can have, the different B.A.N.D.s and even the impact of the Aspects you are using, it all comes together to provide us with some really solid gameplay mechanics – and I’ve not even talked about the fun part yet…

…Yuma can turn into a dragon on command! That’s right, if you have enough MP, you can hit both L1 and R1 and instantly become the Shining Dragon mid-battle as you breathe fireballs and claw the enemies to death. There is one issue though – if you don’t turn back before your magic has run out then you will lose control and instantly begin to go berserk on everything that moves. That’s right, allies and enemies will feel the wrath of the Shining Dragon which resulted in my team being wiped out on more than one occasion. 

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Erm, Kirika – maybe you should pop on some clothes? It looks a little cloudy…

One final thing I’ve not really talked about is the dungeons, or Grimoires as they’re called in Shining Resonance Refrain. These are basically challenging dungeons which can be used as part of your grinding process (more on this next) as well as obtaining new and exciting rewards for completing them. These dungeons can also be customised with items called Sigils. Choosing this before you begin will allow you to emphasise what creatures you would like to appear, how much experience or gold you earn and other varying traits. 

I’ve explored a few of these and it’s cool being able to venture to new locations and obtain some pretty cool loot in the process. However, I mainly used them as a means to grind my characters up so they can take on the enemies beyond the wall of the city. This brings me to my negative rant…

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I encountered a few instances like this – stuck in a boss fight with little chance of winning (I did win though)

My biggest issue with the game has to be the grind. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mind grinding if it’s enjoyable and I know I’m doing it because I want to – such as in Yakuza 6 where I wanted the platinum so I was grinding the mini-game to get money and gems to boost my stats. But in Shining Resonance Refrain it feels like grinding was put in as it was on the JRGP checklist of what to include. For example, as a level 3 or 4 party, we were tasked with finding a girl in a cave. We found her but she was guarded by a dragon, a level 14 dragon. This caused me to forcefully grind for about 45-60 minutes as I levelled everyone up to a decent enough level to take on the beast. I know it may not seem like much, but if you engage the boss then you’re practically stuck if you can’t kill them. You can either restart the battle or reload a save – a few times I’ve lost a few hours of gameplay because of this as I’ve had to reload a save, grind, then take them on again. 

The moral here is save every time you can – especially before a boss battle in Shining Resonance Refrain!

I just felt that this, along with the large chunks of exposition and tonnes of information you are asked to take in, really affected the pace of the game and made it a bit of a chore to play in certain areas. I was at a point where all my characters were level 25 (thanks to an hour of grinding) but because I progressed to the next chapter, all the enemies were instantly a higher level than me and some were chewing me up like gum! I even popped the difficulty down to ‘casual’ at one point, as I was stuck in the endless loop within a boss battle – needless to say, it didn’t help as I didn’t see any difference in the damage they were taking off and my CPU allies all decided to run in and kill themselves. Great job guys! So, another case of reloading and grind I guess.

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Thank god I found out how to make the map transparent!

Graphically I really enjoy Shining Resonance Refrain. Okay, it’s not got amazing detail and you can clearly see the PS3 base framework with a lot of straight lines in the building architecture and the use of flat sprites for things like bushes and grass – but I still like it. It reminds me of how Tokyo Xanadu EX+ looks, that was a port from the PS Vita, and the various costumes and character models remind me of the Atelier Series as well. So yeah, nothing to complain about in regards to the graphics. The only issue I had was the big version of the mini-map. It was hardly transparent and you couldn’t see anything with it on the screen! But, I figured out you can adjust it’s transparency in the options, so it’s all good now!

Sound wise the game really Shines (no pun intended). The music is great, as are all JRPGs usually, with it’s subtle and jolly town music all the way to it’s intense and frantic boss battle scores. We also have both the full Japanese voice over as well as a brand new English voiceover track which actually sounds pretty good. I’ve not encountered any cringe-worthy moments like I did with Dynasty Warriors 9 yet, it’s all been perfect. Not to mention the fact the game is based around music, so various characters will use music in their attacks and the B.A.N.D. songs as well. 

Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Shining Resonance Refrain looks like your standard JRPG with all the common elements; Grinding, Anime boys/girls, Bikinis, Monsters, and Good vs Evil, but there is so much more to it if you choose to invest your time and patience into learning the various aspects. The story isn’t going to blow you away as you’ll probably guess what’s going to happen next if you’re an avid JRPG fan, but the overall enjoyment you receive whilst playing the game only gets better the more you progress and unlock.

The various combat mechanics, along with the simple in-battle combat itself, works really well and offers well presented and solid gameplay between the long stretches of dialogue (all voiced btw). Plus, the addition of the Refrain mode, all the previous 150+ items of DLC, and the new coat of paint really helps make this game even more appealing to JRPG fans and fans of the Shining Series who may, or may not, have heard of this game before now.

Developer: O-Two (@peakvox)
Publisher: SEGA (@SEGA)
Release date: 10/07/18
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Platform Reviewed on: PS4 Pro

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A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

Shining Resonance Refrain

£44.99
7.5

Final Score

7.5/10

The Good:

  • Very interesting story, even though it is a bit more dialogue heavy than I would have liked
  • Great soundtrack
  • All previous DLC (over 150 pieces) are within the game
  • Looks and runs great
  • Fun combat and you get to transform into a dragon!

The Bad:

  • Lots of grinding required
  • To much exposition and info given in long blocks of text/audio. It's too easy to miss something or zone out
  • The enemies seem to always have a level advantage over you, making boss fights a pain in some instances
  • The core structure of a lot of missions and side quests is simple goto X, kill Y, return to Z

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