"A frustrating adventure offset by a lot of charm"
Shining is one of Sega's most interesting franchises. Many remember the universally praised Shining Force series of SRPGs, but Shining has been home to a multitude of play styles throughout its life. Back when Sega was still localizing them, Shining had settled into mid-tier action RPGs on the PS2. Itís been 10 years since the last Western release in the series, and now Sega has seen fit to localize the latest one.
Shining Resonance Refrain is the latest game in the decades-old Shining franchise, a remake of 2014ís Shining Resonance that was released on the PS3. The game is largely the same now as it was in that previous form, but the enhanced version does offer some fun new interactions with characters that were stuck on the sidelines before. For those new to the title, Shining Resonance Refrain is an action-RPG that shares some similarities with Bandai Namcoís Tales series, but it never quite reaches the general mechanical excellence for which that other property is known.
The adventure begins with a focus on Yuma, a boy held in captivity by an empire that currently is invading the continent of Alfheim. He is quickly rescued, however, by a young knight named Sonia, who is working with one of the kingdoms resisting the invasion. As it turns out, Yuma is the vessel for the legendary Shining Dragon. His power is key to tipping the balance in favor of the resistance.
Shining Resonance Refrain spins a largely standard JRPG yarn of ancient power, evil deities and friendship overpowering the forces of evil. However, the narrative did a good job of dropping some genuinely interesting moments at enough of a pace to keep my interest high. Like most JRPGs, the real highlight is the way the characters develop and interact. The cast is likeable throughout, and it was a pleasure getting to know each of them.
One of the core narrative elements, and easily the gameís best aspect, is its date system. Upon returning to the hub town from which all the playerís adventures start, Yuma can ask any of his party members to meet him at night. These interactions play out like a visual novel, with the player having to choose the right dialog option to raise each characterís affinity. After a number of nights out, Yuma and another character can go out on a date. Itís through these dates that players really get to know the ins and outs of each party member. The interactions are well-written, heartwarming, and really add a lot to the gameís personality.
As for the combat, Shining Resonance Refrain is similar to Tales in that four characters venture out into the world to beat up monsters in action-RPG combat. Each character has access to a normal and strong attack, and four skills called Forces. What helps Shining stand out is the break gauge, B.A.N.D. and dragon transformation. When hit with enough strong or elementally effective attacks, monsters will enter a break state that stuns them momentarily while reducing their defense. B.A.N.D. (Battle Anthem of the Noble Dragoneers) is similar to an overlimit in Tales, in that it bestows buffs on the whole party for its duration. What sets B.A.N.D. apart is that those buffs change depending on the song thatís played, as well as the character set at the center of the performance.
The dragon transformation is easily the most interesting aspect of combat. Yuma, being the vessel of the Shining Dragon, can transform into the beast during battle to increase his damage output exponentially. There is, however, a catch. Battling as the Shining Dragon drains Yumaís MP constantly. If his MP hits zero, the Shining Dragon will go berserk, attacking friend and foe alike. Itís an interesting tradeoff that requires players to know they will win the battle before their MP is gone.
Unfortunately, Shining Resonance suffers from boneheaded design decisions that would have been better left in the 90s where they belong. First, party members not currently being used donít gain experience and level up. If you are having trouble on a boss and think another party member might have a better skill set available, you had better been leveling them up alongside the rest of the party. Secondly, each party member can only have four assigned skills. This wouldnít be a problem if the party members would use all their skills while being controlled by the AI. Instead, they only have access to the four the player equips them with, often requiring constant tweaking during battle and leaving AI combatants sometimes ineffective in certain scenarios. Third, Shining Resonance is at its heart a pure numbers game. Tales evolved over the years to become a mechanically verbose series that allows skilled players to use all the tools at their disposal to punch far above their weight. Shining Resonance, on the other hand, treats every battle as the players' stats versus the enemy's stats. There is no real reliance on skill involved. This is a real problem in the last third of the game. Enemy levels hit a huge spike, and normal grunt soldiers can suddenly one-shot party members, simply because their numbers are higher.
I donít want to be too harsh on Shining Resonance, however, as it presents some really great ideas. For starters, there is no equipment in the game, but rather little orbs that slot into weapons called aspects that bestow a variety of stat buffs and abilities onto characters. This setup allows for way more customization, instead of forcing a pattern where one simply buys a new sword every time a new town becomes available. The other neat idea is weapon tuning, a mechanic that lets each character further enhance their stats. An NPC in town will equip weapons with musical scores that level up independently of the character in question. Upon reaching new levels, each score bestows better stats and more aspect slots to each party member. The only downside is that players canít change their currently equipped score until they return to town and speak with the weapon tuner.
Shining Resonance Refrain can be a really annoying game, but it can also be a really charming adventure. Itís aesthetically pleasing enough despite not hiding its PS3 origins, and it has a soundtrack better than most Tales games can boast. If players keep the archaic design decisions in mind as they make their way through the game, theyíre going to have a perfectly good time. Just donít repeat my mistake of ignoring one of the better characters because he wasnít a cute girl. Youíll regret it if you do...
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (July 19, 2018)
Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.
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