Japanese Role Playing Games have been a staple in my gaming collection for a long time simply because of the sheer amount of total gameplay that is offered for the price of admission. See, back in the day, my gaming budget wasn’t what it is today so I would try to find games that would allow me to take a long time to get through all of the content. JRPGs seemed to fit the bill immediately as they provided all the gameplay I could stand while allowing me the time to save for my next adventure. Still to this day, a good JRPG will catch my eye and I will be instantaneously drawn into what will hopefully be a great story with even better game mechanics. Such is the case with the latest release from SEGA in the Shining game series, Shining Resonance Refrain.
The Shining series has been around since 1991 and has spawned close to 40 entries that offer a handful of different playing styles like dungeon crawlers with rogue-like elements, traditional turn-based interaction and other Japanese role-playing game styles. Shining Resonance Refrain falls into the action-oriented RPG battle system category which allows for fast and fierce combat action against a plethora of curious and fantastical creatures all bent on taking you down.
This entry in the series is new to western markets as it is the first Shining game to be released here in over ten years. It was originally released on the PlayStation 3 back in 2014 in Japan and SEGA has “souped it up,” so to speak, by improving the visuals to 1080p and has included all of the DLC into one package. Oh, and don’t let me forget to mention that the Refrain part of the title refers to the option to play with two new playable characters, characters that are critical to the story-line, that were not playable in the original game.
The game has you taking on the role of teenager and possessor of the soul of the Shining Dragon, Yuma Ilvern. In this reality where elves and dragons live alongside humans and other creatures on an island called Alfheim, two factions are formed between the high elves with one side aligning itself with the dragons and the other side becoming followers of a divine force known as Deus. As wars are wont to go in video games, almost everything was destroyed; the event became known as Ragnarok.
Most of the dragons were destroyed and those elves who managed to survive the battle fled to safety away from the place they knew as home. As the centuries passed and the blood-soaked ground would be reclaimed by the vegetation, Alfheim would be re-birthed by humans looking to claim it’s now fertile lands and to create a new kingdom called Astoria. Old threats soon raise their heads and Yuma will need to use the powers of the Shining Dragon to keep the realm safe from those that wish to conquer it again.
The one thing that I love about JRPGs is that you know what you are getting even before you slide the disc into the console, however, what you get is not going to be for everyone. If you can’t tell from the short synopsis I give about the story, this game is dialogue heavy and I think that you need to know this going in. That part of the game doesn’t bother me because it is what I am used to, but if you want to get in and just hack-and-slash your way into the game right from the jump, it’s not going to happen. When you first start the game, you get a short overview of the basic mechanics for the battle system and get to try it out briefly, however that is short-lived and you will find yourself being introduced to the characters that are pertinent to the story at this point.
Of the first six hours of my playthrough, almost half of that was spent reading dialogue and getting information on the characters, places and events that drive the story forward. If you can get through the story-heavy part of the game, you will experience a game that is really accessible, fun and very smartly crafted in its battle system and the overall mechanics of the game. This game ultimately is an almost eleven year old adventure but the controls don’t seem like that once you get used to how to use your available arsenal to the best of its abilities.
Your journey begins with you teaming up with The Lightening Princess, Sonia Blanche, and The Diva of Nature, Kirika Towa Alma, who fill the slots of warrior and mage, respectively, to repel the oncoming threat of The Dragon Princess of the Holy Dirge, Excella Noa Aura, who is seeking to capture the Shining Dragon and make him do her bidding. As you travel, you will meet up with new individuals who will round out your available team members and you will need to balance their levels so that they will be able to conquer any challenge that you end up facing.
The game is set up in adjoining areas that are anchored by the Seaside Capital of Alfheim called Marga. These areas are usually only so large with a set number of NPCs, in the case of cities and towns, and creatures and enemies when you are roaming the paths between them. When on these paths, you will be able to see the enemies that are present and can choose to engage them in battle or run past them to the particular exit that you need to go to. Every time you go through that area, those same enemy encounters will be there giving you the option to grind or not, but you need to keep in mind that the later chapters in the game will present some very difficult enemy encounters so you need to keep your team strong or you wont succeed. In addition, there will be glow-y spots on the ground that are items that you can use to assist you on your journey and just like the enemy encounters, these items are repopulated by the game every time you enter that particular area.
Gameplay in Shining Resonance Refrain was very easy for me to pick up and understand as the game walks you through how to use the combat system very thoroughly. You control your characters movement with the left joystick and you control the camera with the right joystick. The X button is used to pick up items or to initiate conversations with NPCs or your party members. The action-oriented battle system is where this game really shines and shows just how good an RPG can be without the painstakingly slow pace of many turn-based RPGs. Once in a battle situation, you can move around the battlefield freely while your party members do the same and choose their own targets to attack/defend. The square, triangle, circle and X buttons are used to unleash attacks that can be preset to specific attacks that you earn in the game.
Your regular attacks will do you good when you need them, but there will be times when you will need a little extra something to get your point across. Forces are special, more powerful attacks that are accessed by pressing the L1 shoulder button and then pressing the corresponding square, triangle, circle and X button for the force that you want to use. The Forces draw from your available MP gauge so the more powerful the Force is, the more MP is will need to go off. You will acquire Forces through normal gameplay and you can buy them as well from a shopkeeper. These Forces can be swapped out at your whim so that you are always using your favorite or most powerful Forces. This method removes the need to scroll through menus as in a traditional turn-based RPG and makes it faster to access your abilities on the fly.
Weapons are a big focal point in this game, of course, but you don’t just wield any old rusty sword. You and you companions wield what are called Armonics; weapon instruments forged by the Shining Dragon himself in order to channel the power of dragons and nature. These weapons can be upgraded by Tuning them in order to power them up in various ways, of which you can find in the world while playing. They come in a variety of types such as strengthening physical strikes or to power up your magic attacks and can be switched as needed. While increasing basic stats, some Tunings will also have additional effects, such as giving your character elemental attributes or increasing your maximum MP. You can also upgrade your Armonics even further by placing Aspect Pieces in the slots of your Tuning. By doing this, you can change the effects of the Aspects, which range from simple stat boosts to high-risk, high-return trade-offs.
As if all of that wasn’t enough to make your character look and feel like an absolute badass, there are a couple of other features in Shining Resonance Refrain that will definitely turn an encounter in your favor if the situation calls for it. The first is called Dragonshift, which is just what it sounds like; Yuma can change into the Shining Dragon at his command and wipe the floor with the enemies. While you are extremely powerful while in dragon form, there are some rules that you must follow in order not to have the Shining Dragon lose control and to focus on the wrong target. There is also what is called the B.A.N.D. Sessions, which will grant your team a special buff that you can use during battle to give your team a little something extra to win the fight. Depending on which character you have selected as the team leader will determine the effect that the session has so choosing the leader that has the best effect for your fighting style will be important.
The visuals in Shining Resonance Refrain look pretty good considering that this is a ten-year old game from a previous console generation. Colors are bright and fun and the character design are very detailed and help to set the theme of the game as well as to build a world that is believable and interesting to spend time in. The music is nothing short of fantastic and while I did get a little bored hearing the same music play while traveling around Marga, I was traveling so often to destinations outside of the capital that I didn’t bother me too much. You will get tired of hearing the victory fanfare but that’s just par for the course when it comes to JRPGs. The sound effects are just as awesome and made every battle feel like it was an epic struggle of good versus bad and that is what I expect from a game in this genre.
You might think that some of the features in this game would only appeal to seasoned JRPG afficionados, but I think that this game would be a perfect first JRPG for someone looking to try it out. In addition, old dogs like myself who have been playing JRPGs for some time will also be able to appreciate the exaggerated story-line and the cool battle mechanics. However, if grinding isn’t something that you enjoy, then this game will definitely not appeal to you. While there are more modern JRPGs on the market, I think that SEGA made a good choice by updating Shining Resonance and bringing it to the West. While it’s not the feature laden AAA title that we have become used to, it is a fun experience in a series that is liked by many and was simply long overdue.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
David is a native of Denver, CO who grew up at a time when the video game craze was just getting a foothold in the consciousness of young kids and teenagers all over America. His earliest exposure...