Review: Shining Resonance – Refrain

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The Shi­ning series has been absent from the wes­tern gaming sce­ne for many years now. In that time the series has chan­ged a lot from what fans may remem­ber, dit­ching the old art-style and turn-based batt­le sys­tems of the clas­sic games. Shi­ning Reso­nan­ce: Refrain will likely be the first expo­sure to the Shi­ning series for many peop­le, which is a shame sin­ce this game only shows how far the series has fal­len.

Shi­ning Reso­nan­ce was ori­gi­nal­ly released in Japan for the PS3, tel­ling the sto­ry of Yuma and the soul of a power­ful dra­gon insi­de him. He fights against the Empi­re, who want to con­trol his power along with the souls of other mythi­cal dra­gons. Yuma teams up with the Dra­go­neers, war­ri­ors who can use weapon/instrument hybrids known as Armo­nics, lear­ning more about the Empi­re and the world’s mur­ky past.

The over­all sto­ry in Shi­ning Reso­nan­ce real­ly suf­fers from being too brief, rare­ly spen­ding enough time deve­lo­ping the Empi­re or the over­all con­flict in the world. In fact world buil­ding as a who­le is lack­lust­re, each area you explo­re com­ing off as bland due to a lack of back­sto­ry or land­marks. The land of Alf­heim, whe­re Shi­ning Resonance’s sto­ry takes place, is not­hing more than a series of envi­ron­ments that have no real con­nec­tion to each other or any inte­res­ting lore behind them. In fact, you never even get to see the home­land of the Empi­re that is men­tio­ned repeated­ly during the sto­ry.

Your par­ty is at least a litt­le more fle­shed out when it comes to back­sto­ry and cha­rac­ter deve­lop­ment, but it’s hand­led rather poor­ly thanks to how the game is struc­tu­red. The main cast will some­ti­mes have events while in town, whe­re you will be able to learn more about them and their moti­va­tions. If your fri­endship level is high enough you can chat to a cha­rac­ter while res­ting at the town’s inn, and some­ti­mes go on dates with them for fur­ther event unlocks. The big­gest issue with this is just how tedious it is to both trig­ger new events and increa­se your fri­endship level with a cha­rac­ter.

Once you run out of events in town, you have to sleep at the inn to make new ones appe­ar. After repea­ting this until the­re are no more events for that sec­tion of the sto­ry, you can then move onto grin­ding fri­endship. This requi­res you to take each cha­rac­ter into batt­le until they’re avail­ab­le to chat with at night, and then you have to hope that their fri­endship level is high enough to take them out on a date in town. Now, this pro­cess is alrea­dy boring when try­ing to beco­me fri­ends with one par­ty mem­ber, but doing this for every play­a­ble cha­rac­ter takes far too long. The modern Per­so­na games show that you can build up your rela­ti­ons­hips with cha­rac­ters wit­hout making the play­er grind for hours at a time.

Shi­ning Reso­nan­ce: Refrain fares just as poor­ly when it comes to game­play. You’re given the impres­si­on ear­ly on that the world of Alf­heim is vast and full of are­as to visit, but you’ll quick­ly find that this is not the case. The­re are only a small amount of dif­fe­rent are­as and you’ll have to visit them con­stant­ly due to the amount of back­tracking requi­red during the sto­ry. It doesn’t take too long to get around, but the con­stant repe­ti­ti­on gets annoy­ing fast. The world is rather lifeless too, each map being most­ly line­ar and wit­hout any real incen­ti­ve to explo­re. It doesn’t help that the game fea­tures no actu­al dun­ge­ons and only one town, said town also being small and boring to tra­vel through.

Batt­les would have been a good way to break up the tedi­um of going though the same are­as for the ump­te­enth time, but the batt­le sys­tem in Shi­ning Reso­nan­ce: Refrain has trou­ble stay­ing enga­ging past the first few hours of the game. Each cha­rac­ter has a light and hea­vy attack, plus four skills that can be set out­si­de of batt­le. Basic com­bos con­sist of a few light attacks into a hea­vy attack or skill and that’s about it. Unli­ke other action RPGs like the Tales series, the­re are no inte­res­ting com­bos that can be pul­led off. The lack of inte­res­ting skills and com­bos real­ly stops batt­les from ever being fun, sin­ce what you can do at the start of the game is pret­ty much what you’ll be doing even 30 hours in.

Yuma does have his own gim­mick, whe­re he can expend MP to trans­form in the Shi­ning Dra­gon, but this just fur­ther shows the batt­le system’s many flaws. The Shi­ning Dragon’s attacks are power­ful, can hit mul­ti­ple enemies and can done in quick suc­ces­si­on wit­hout pau­ses like nor­mal com­bos. Yuma ends up being far more power­ful than the rest of the cast thanks to this, giving you litt­le rea­son to play anyo­ne else if you want to defeat bos­ses quick­ly.

Speaking off bos­ses, they’re whe­re the game’s pacing fails com­ple­te­ly. The majo­ri­ty of Shi­ning Reso­nan­ce: Refrain is incredi­b­ly easy, allo­wing you to at least try to use other cha­rac­ters from time to time. Howe­ver, bos­ses quick­ly start to out­le­vel your par­ty great­ly once you reach the last third of the game. If you don’t want to grind for expe­ri­ence, you’re pret­ty much forced to use Yuma to stand any sort of chan­ce during boss fights. Fur­ther adding to the­se dif­fi­cul­ty spikes is the dread­ful cha­rac­ter AI that sees your par­ty run­ning around like head­less chi­ckens and quick­ly was­ting their MP. There’s a trait sys­tem that you can theo­re­ti­cal­ly use to chan­ge how your par­ty beha­ves, but it’s so obtu­se that you’re bet­ter off pre­ten­ding it doesn’t exist.

The move to cur­rent-gen con­so­les does at least bring a few bene­fits. The cha­rac­ter models look gre­at in 1080p, even if some of them don’t qui­te match their 2D art­work. Envi­ron­ments are less impres­si­ve, some wouldn’t look out of place in a PS2 game let alo­ne a late PS3 one. Frame­ra­tes are sta­ble for the most part, though the­re is the occa­sio­nal slow­down during cer­tain batt­les that real­ly should not be pre­sent.

The big­ger chan­ge is the inclu­si­on of all DLC that the ori­gi­nal game recei­ved, plus the addi­ti­on of a Refrain mode that can be selec­ted when star­ting a new play­th­rough. This mode inclu­des two new cha­rac­ters, both of which are important to the sto­ry, and a small amount of extra post­ga­me con­tent. The cha­rac­ters do help bump up the game’s meag­re amount of par­ty mem­bers, but the lack of any chan­ges to the main sto­ry to accom­mo­da­te the­se new cha­rac­ters is disap­poin­ting. One of said cha­rac­ters is also so weak in batt­le that there’s litt­le real incen­ti­ve to use them. Asi­de from some new cos­tu­mes, most of which are for the fema­le side of the par­ty, Refrain doesn’t add a lot to an alrea­dy fla­wed base game.


A lot of work was nee­ded to jus­ti­fy a release of this game on modern con­so­les. Unli­ke Dragon’s Crown, which was alrea­dy a gre­at game befo­re being remas­te­red and didn’t need many addi­ti­ons, Shi­ning Reso­nan­ce was an incredi­b­ly medio­cre RPG with many are­as that could be impro­ved upon. It’s a shame that Refrain does not­hing to fix any of the gla­ring issu­es in the ori­gi­nal release, lea­ving it as a game that would have been bet­ter off being for­got­ten.

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