Shining Resonance Refrain (Switch) Review
Shining Resonance is an action RPG developed by Media.Vision, ported by O-Two, and published by Sega. When it was first released on the PS3 back in 2014, it was Japan-only, and it remained that way for quite some time — until now. Unlike the initial release, which featured a heap of paid DLC to fill out the game, the Switch version of the game comes with all the goodies included already for free, along with a few other adjustments and additions. With the game now more accessible than ever, available worldwide and fully contained, it’s time to take a look at how it holds up.
The main character in Shining Resonance is Yuma; imprisoned and experimented on by the Lombardian Empire and the Church (when isn’t the church evil in RPGs), Yuma holds the power of the Shining Dragon, the most powerful dragon and one whose power is hard to control. He’s rescued by Sonia, a princess and powerful knight, and Kirika, a Dragoneer and Diva Magica who is trained to be able to communicate with the Shining Dragon. Yuma finds himself caught between two warring nations; the ‘evil’ Lombardian Empire that’s claimed much of the land and the people of Astoria who have been pushed back to the city capital of Marga that is fighting back.
While building up friendships (and relationships) as the party of dragoneers grows, Yuma is also learning and struggling to contain the power of the Shining Dragon. There’s a bunch of Dragons, betrayal, and twisted experiments carried out by a creepy looking guy, and so much more. Really, it’s better to experience it first-hand. If you’ve played any action RPGs like this there will be little surprise for you here as you go through the motions. Most plot points are set up enough you can see any ‘twist’ coming a mile away, and all the characters fit into pretty common tropes for games (and anime) in a fantasy setting. Even when I did find myself mentally ticking off the clichés throughout the story I was still invested. I wanted to see where things went and more importantly see more of the characters.
If you’re familiar with the ‘Tales of’ or Star Ocean series, you’ll feel right at home here. As a fan of the ‘Tales of’ games, there was plenty to like with the combat system. You can set any party member as the leader and, therefore, the one you will control in combat. This gives you a fair bit of variety to choose your style of play. There’s two basic attacks: a simple attack and a ‘break’ attack. The break attack hits heavier but also increases the risk of causing the enemy to break their defences and be open to extra damage. Attacking and dodging around takes up stamina/AP and can only be spammed so much until you need to let it recover a little. There’s also MP — Magic Points — that power your ‘force’ moves, magical attacks or bigger and flashier attacks.
Fortunately, these points can be recovered by landing normal attacks. The group of dragoneers that accompany Yuma all carry ‘armonics’. These weapons also double as musical instruments and can be used as a B.A.N.D team move. In battle you can choose a song you want the team to play which will buff your team for as long as you have the B.A.N.D meter filled up. It’s a neat addition to battles and can make all the difference when you accidentally get into a battle you’re not quite ready for. Lastly, there is the Shining Dragon. Yuma can summon the power of the Shining Dragon in battle, as long as he has the meter to do so. Controlling the dragon gives you harder hitting attacks, although this comes with a risk. Yuma can lose control and the dragon will begin to attack your party as well, turning the Shining Dragon into a huge liability.
One of the unfortunate things about re-releasing this game years later is that it is a product of its time, and it shows. The immediate thing that will stand out is the visuals. Walking around the town — or any of the areas really — the areas are big, but the buildings and environments are flat. Nothing feels lively. The capital city Marga suffers the most; there are two sizable areas to run around here and very little to do within them. In fact, it’s an issue that permeates through most of the game. Around the town are people who will give you quests to take on in return for an item. The quests are all simple fetch or hunt quests. Once you complete them, you must return to them and turn it in and then you’ll get the item. After a rest they’ll often give you the same quest until you hit another chapter in the story. In the end I just didn’t want to bother with this part, the citizens of Marga don’t offer anything else in the way of personality or world building.
There’s a lot of running across the spacious areas to talk to other members of your party, either for short skits or engaging in the dating side content. But I did enjoy whatever moments the party members had together. While the characters all feel like familiar tropes, the game makes them likeable enough it didn’t matter so much. There are story moments, and skits that help flesh out a character, which can range from serious to outright silly and worth a smile at least. Yuma starts off as a teen with a hazy memory and doesn’t believe in himself. He grows throughout the game, as all the characters do. Overall, I couldn’t help but be interested in seeing more moments where the party all interacts with each other, but the visual novel style talking heads can get on the heavy side. Fair enough when there’s a conversation, but when there’s a big action-filled moment all portrayed in the same style, it’s a disappointment. Big dramatic sword fights lose a lot of their impact if all you get is blade slashes in the darkness and then more talking heads describing what’s going on instead of showing it.
The world is smaller than the usual RPG. There’s no overworld between locations. It’s a smaller affair where you’ll be running and fighting through the same areas over and over. Over the course of the story you do go further away from the capital city, but in the end, you’re going to have to go all the way back the Marga and then back out again as soon as you have a new main quest. As a result of spending all this time in familiar places, the game feels repetitive fast. When new areas are introduced it should be exciting, but then you remember all the areas you have to trek back through to get there and it’s just deflating. It’s not just the traversing, it’s fighting the same kind of enemy each time you go back through, it’s the same music as you’re traipsing around the city, and even the B.A.N.D songs can get a bit tired when you’ve heard them a few times.
One problem I had accidentally created was that I was so used to fighting every battle I could, and hopping into the Grimoire to help bring new party members up to a useful level, I found that I was overlevelled throughout the majority of the story. It was nice not being stuck having to repeat boss fights over and over, but it also meant that heaps of side things like ‘tuning’ your armonics to change the properties of your attacks or creating ‘aspects’ for increasing stats just didn’t matter. Why buy all these healing and buffing items if my party had a healer that could and did heal the party often enough? Now, I haven’t actually gone into what the Grimoire is, but essentially it is a series of dungeons you can select from. The dungeons have appropriately levelled enemies and a few bigger tougher ones. Not only can you get extra items, but it’s a great way to get a decent amount of XP when the enemies out in the field give so little. If those dungeons aren’t hard enough, you can add extra conditions, enemies, obstacles, or assistance. It’s much more ideal using this method instead of spending time trying to eke out XP from low level enemies on the field.
With the main game, you’re looking at 35-40 hours to get through the story and some of the side content. There is also post-game content if you really want to get the most out of the game. Then there is also the ‘Refrain’ part of the game. This new mode makes two of the antagonists playable characters within the party. It’s recommended that you play this after playing the main story. It’s great for those who want to keep playing the game and if they like those characters in the original mode. Between the original game, the Refrain and the post-game content there is a heap of content here. There is also a surprising amount of voiced dialogue in this game given the time it originally came from. Included is the English voices and there is the option for the Japanese voices in the form of free DLC. While this game is out on multiple platforms, the Switch is hands down the best version. Like most games on the Switch, the portability makes it ideal. Shining Resonance plays perfectly fine when docked and just as well in handheld, but with the addition of being able to play it when a TV isn’t available.
Shining Resonance Refrain is a decent action RPG. While the story doesn’t really tread any new ground, the characters are likeable enough to want to see it through. The combat gameplay is fun if you enjoy a fast-paced battle, and the musical elements add a neat feature on top of the usual mechanics. And it’s all playable on a portable device. While it’s harder to recommend this over more recent games of this genre, If you can’t get enough of action RPG’s then Shining Resonance has something to offer.
- Likable characters
- Fun and accessible fighting
- Neat worldbuilding based around musical weapons and B.A.N.D
- Empty world
- Constant backtracking
- Tired story