If you're looking for a JRPG with an interesting setting and theme, it's worth a shot, especially given its $50 price tag.
Does anyone else think of 2007 as being only a couple years ago at most? Then you look at a calendar, realize it was 11 years ago, get terribly sad, curse the skies, and steadfastly refuse to believe in the unstoppable passage of time? No? Just me? Rats.
Regardless of my own delusional fight against time, it has indeed been 11 years since we last saw SEGA’s Shining series properly in the West, with the PlayStation 2’s Shining Force EXA being the then-apparent swan song. Since its departure from Western stores, SEGA’s classic RPG series has been prosperous in its homeland of Japan, not just as an RPG, but even dipping its toes into arcade games and fighting games. Those without the ability to import, and/or read Japanese were deprived of 12 games, despite an outcry from fans for each one of them to make the journey overseas.
However, with the current boom in Japanese games coming over that SEGA has played a huge role in, it seemed like only a matter of time before Shining, like Yakuza before it, made another attempt to break into the West, and finally that time has come.
Was Shining Resonance Refrain worth the decade-long wait?
First things first
Shining Resonance Refrain is a remaster of 2014’s Shining Resonance, coming to the West complete with a full English localization, to include voice acting, two new playable characters, a new side story, and practically all of the original game’s DLC available right from the start.
The game’s story centers around a mystical kingdom with princesses, witches, dragons and outfits and weapons that make no sense within the time period the rest of the setting draws inspiration from. Par for the course, and if you’ve ever played an RPG, you already know what to expect. The most interesting thing the setting does is tie everything to a musical theme.
The characters’ weapons double as musical instruments called “armonics” and range from a bow as a harp, all the way to the Gene Simmons’ special, an electric guitar that doubles as a battle axe. The full-party power up attack is called a B.A.N.D. Session – a buff-granting musical performance powered by a BPM gauge. The theme even factors into one of my favorite small details in the game, as the victory fanfare changes depending on who you have in your party, almost as if the characters are playing the fanfare themselves.
It can come off as hokey at first, especially if you’re like me and not exactly a fan of medieval things, but I generally enjoyed the game’s setting. Having music play such a role in the game’s theming helps a ton, as it’s not something I’m personally used to seeing outside of the rhythm genre. It also doesn’t hurt that the game has a fairly lovely cast of characters.
Let’s start a B.A.N.D.
While no one made me freak out and claim them to be the best character ever, there’s not a bad one in the bunch. They’re all mostly well written and acted, with Max Mittelman’s Agnum (pictured above) and Patrick Seitz’s King Arnold topping the list. Tony Taka’s character designs are also on point, and even mostly practical to boot! Shocking, given his … erm … typical works. Don’t search his name at work, is all I’m sayin’.
Aesthetically, Shining Resonance Refrain translates pretty well to the current generation. While screenshots don’t exactly do it much justice, due to heavy motion blur, it does look rather nice in action. There are some beautiful visuals to be seen, but it’s not exactly perfect. Most models, especially the main characters, have been bumped up quite a bit for the PS4 and look fantastic, but some of the monsters and environments have not, including some of the worst foliage I’ve ever seen in a game. Which, come to think of it, might the nitpickiest thing I’ve ever said. In any case, it can lead to some uncanny valley moments at times, but it’s not a deal breaker.
There are some performance issues as well. For the most part, the game runs at a fairly smooth framerate. However, further into the game, I experienced very noticeable framerate drops during battle, especially when using Agnum’s magic attacks. Considering this is the character I ran the most through the campaign, this got quite annoying over time. Once again, not exactly a deal breaker, and I learned to live with it, but definitely confusing considering the power of today’s hardware.
If there’s anything truly disappointing about the game’s aesthetics, it’s the music. It’s strange, given the game’s use of music as a main storytelling theme, but none of the music really stands out as memorable. It’s not particularly bad in any way, far from it actually, but it does end up becoming white noise after in even the most tense of encounters. About the only things that really stand out are the J-pop image songs for the dragons themselves, if only because of the hilarious idea that this happy, poppy music causes the most hardened of knights to lose all their composure.
But how does it play?
And that brings us to the meat of the game, how does it play? Honestly, it’s games like this that are the hardest to write about. Shining Resonance Refrain is simply a solid action RPG that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor does it botch and turn the wheel into a triangle. It feels rather similar to Valkyria Revolution in that regard. My time with that game was mostly enjoyable, but it wasn’t something I was clamoring to go back to after all was said and done. It’s the same deal here. The game is solid, inoffensive and succeeds in making each character play uniquely, but it’s ultimately forgettable when you’re done.
For those who want to jump in due to the social link aspects of the game, you won’t find a ton to work with here. It’s cool that the game allows you to pick specific character traits for each party member, turning their relationship values into several different buffs on the battlefield, but aside from that, night events, dates, and romances are as basic as you can get, and don’t really mean much once you’ve done one or two of them.
The most positive thing I can really say about the gameplay as a whole is that it’s easy to get lost in. I would sit down to play a few minutes, maybe walk around and grind some levels while waiting on a snack to cook or something, and later find myself wondering why it’s 3 a.m. and my noodles are cold. It never felt annoying to grind in like many JRPGs, and the ease of combat mixed with serene environments, interesting setting and likable characters made it a very relaxing game to play at the end of a long day.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure if Shining Resonance Refrain is the game fans of the series waited 11 years for. Its by the book gameplay mixed with a few little issues don’t particularly make it a must buy for everyone. But if you’re looking for a story with an interesting setting and theme, or you’re just into JRPGs in general, it’s worth a shot. Especially given its wallet-friendly $50 price tag.
It’s a great base to build off of. I just hope it’s not another decade before we see a Shining game in the West again.
- An interesting theme with some wonderfully written and designed characters to go with it
- Full English dub with generally quality voice acting
- Very easy to pick up and play, and easy to relax with as well
- Extra bonuses like new characters and story arcs make it worth picking up for new fans and those who imported the original alike
- Inconsistent levels of visual polish, with great character models paired with at times iffy environments and creatures
- Music is mostly forgettable, which is disappointing in a game themed around music
- Gameplay is solid, but not something that encourages much replay value after beating the game
- Relationships have no real lasting effect, for those into the dating sim aspect