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Nintendo,  PC,  PS4,  XBOX

Shining Resonance Refrain Review

Today we’re taking a look at Shining Resonance Refrain, which was developed for the Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC. It’s actually a remaster of the original that came out on the PS3 in Japan, so now we’re getting it here overseas. It’s also out in the EU as well. It’s developed and published by Sega and the North American release includes English and Japanese voiceovers as well as the original DLC as part of what they call this “Original Mode.” Then there’s this other mode called “Refrain,” which, hence the title, which unlocks two previously unplayable characters for the party. However, the game will recommend to you right away that you should play the Original Mode first and use the Refrain Mode as a secondary thing on your second playthrough, because it may contain spoilers.

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Now, I want to set the stage a little bit before we get into the story. To all you young’uns out there, the first I knew of the Shining Force series was around 1992? I remember seeing the box art and feeling quite envious of those who had a Sega Genesis just because of the screenshots alone. It seemed almost like you were watching a cartoon, which may seem laughable now to some, but at the age of 10 or so, it was just mesmerizing. So this is a continuation of that particular series, albeit very different in terms of gameplay. So this is more of an action RPG and the early entries that I just gushed about were strategy and turn-based. So let’s get to the story. You play as Yuma of Astoria, a young man who has the soul of a dragon living within him. This dragon soul gives Yuma the ability to periodically transform into this ancient beast of destruction.

So this power alone is noted by this evil empire known as the Lombardian Empire. And they want to use his powers against the fellow Astorians in a war. So the Lombardian Empire captures Yuma and then they attempt to weaponize him for their benefit. So a rescue attempt is then made by this group of people known as the Dragoneers, who also happens to have the ability to communicate with dragons. And this is essentially where the story begins. As far as controls and elements, Shining Resonance Refrain is this open-world action RPG where you’re basically in complete control of one character while exploring.

Now through your explorations, you’re gonna run into different enemies and engage in battles when you touch one another on the screen. Once you touch an enemy, this brings up a circular battle arena where you’re gonna be able to control one character directly while still dictating commands to three other party members to either attack, heal, et cetera. You can also switch to any other party member on the fly at any time. The first thing you’re gonna notice initially is how quick some of these battles are.

Some quite literally take only seconds, which is nice for continual gameplay, but it can seem a bit chaotic at times. Then there are some battles, especially with larger, higher leveled enemies, that seem horribly slow. For instance, this portion of the video where my main character turned into a dragon. You notice how plodding that is? It turns the battle system into something more akin to a strategy game, where one has to run for their lives, recuperate, and then go back on the attack. Now, my initial reaction was negative and I honestly wasn’t having a positive outlook for the battle system because of these slower battles, but it began to grow on me over time, especially as the characters progressed. That’s mainly because of the difficulty spikes, which we’ll get into a bit here later. In short, there’s always a risk of having your team wiped out rather quickly if you take too many aggressive or foolish decisions.

That even holds true after leveling up your character significantly, because you can’t hold a large amount of healing items at any time. Your Dragoneer party is the typical fare you see in RPG’s. You’ve got your fighters, offensive/defensive magic users, healers, tanks, debuffers, et cetera, all of these people who gain abilities known as what the game calls “Forces” as they level up. These abilities are simply given to the player and there is no customization, other than the 4 ability/spell shortcuts that you attach to each character.

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And those are all mapped to the control pad itself. Which that’s a big gripe of mine, that there are so many different abilities to choose from, yet I always have to pause the game, grab an ability, and then remap it to my control pad in order to use it quickly. And you know I would have liked some better – either a toggle, like an LB or – LT/RT, LB/RB, something like that, that you could hit and maybe see a whole list of your abilities and be able to use them quickly. It’s honestly agitating because you really want to utilize other things, but I just found myself using the same 3 or 4 abilities over and over again until I leveled up to the point where it maybe was in my best interest to use a different skill altogether.

Also, these Force abilities do level up as you use them or as your character levels up, I’m not sure which, because every now and then you’ll get a prompt that a Force ability has leveled up, but you’re never really sure how much, because there are no levels – or there are no numbers associated with it. So that’s a little frustrating, but they are fun to use, though. Speaking of abilities, one unique thing about Resonance Refrain is what’s known as the B.A.N.D. system. This is essentially a meter that slowly builds throughout battles. Once the meter reaches a certain level, it can be activated by the party, which grants specific beneficial effects. I didn’t usually need to use the B.A.N.D. system for random battles, but I definitely needed it for boss battles. The last main ability you’ll use is Yuma’s Shining Dragon transformation, which allows for devastating amounts of damage to your enemies.

This can make some fights rather trivial, so you’re gonna want to use it sparingly if you want a challenge because there were some points where I decided to use it and I just spammed the same button over and again. The boss was done. So just something to keep in mind there. Now, what makes Resonance Refrain different is their weapon system. They use these things known as “Harmonics” And Harmonics are ancient weapons or instruments that a party member can equip in order to not only gain stat bonuses, but also additional powers. So for example, some Harmonics make the wielder attack faster, whereas others add paralyzing status effects to their attacks. So each Armonic is gonna start at level 1 and the proficiency can be leveled up with use. This is completely independent of the actual level of the user, which is problematic for me when you want to try out a new weapon and/or gain a new character because your stats will dip significantly.

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Not to mention that these Harmonics can only be changed while in town, which is, honestly, ridiculous. So while there are plenty of choices to unlock, it’s going to cost you a significant amount of time to make them usable when they are at such a low level, to begin with. As a little side note, the party members do not require armor of any kind, and that’s because of this Aspect system that we’re about to get into. So just one less thing you have to manage, which is probably good for this game. Aspects are a component of Harmonics. They have basically dedicated slots, usually 3 or 4, where you can add additional buffs to your weaponry.

These buffs range anywhere from raw attack stats, defense bonuses, elemental attack increases, all the way to gaining additional gold after each battle. While very useful, the organization system for them needs a bit of work. And as you go through your list of Aspects, they are categorized by types such as dragon, beast, aquatic, et cetera. The problem with that is these vague terms make it difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for. So by the end of the game, you may even have hundreds of Aspects to choose from, where you literally have to select one at a time and read the bonuses before deciding whether or not you want to attach it to your Armonic.

In fact, from the Aspect screen, I can’t actually see the individual stat numbers for the character I’m wanting to upgrade. After equipping said Aspect, I have to back out of the screen and then go back in. So that’s very time-consuming and irritating. Because of this, I opted to use mainly the same Aspects for each party member for a majority of the game. The central hub in the world is known as Marga. It’s basically a castle town.

You’re gonna spend a lot of time here, as you won’t be visiting any other cities or towns in the game. This is where you’ll receive your quests, do all of your equipment buying, and flesh out the background stories of characters within the game. I initially wasn’t thrilled with the idea of only one town, as that seemed a bit myopic, but I had enough gameplay variety at the end to make me thankful that there weren’t other cities to traverse. It would be daunting, otherwise. There are some flaws in the design of Marga, though, one of which is the quest lines. There are many, many times in which I simply wanted to turn in a quest to receive some rewards, but not before being forced to go through a series of conversations completely unrelated to the quest itself. That wouldn’t be a problem if it was just a few quests, but I had this happen all the time, time and time again.

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Of course, one could skip it, I suppose, but they may be missing out on some background story. Related to that is how the quests reset. Once you turn one in, the same character will have another one for you. The problem is they don’t want to give it to you until you go rest for the night at the inn, which just takes more time. It could take a minute or two just to do that. It’s very cumbersome and inefficient. Again, this seems like a time-consuming activity just for the sake of a reset, which is further exasperated by the long conversations you have to read before turning in your quest.

I don’t really understand why that mechanic plays out that way. I think they could have altered that a little bit and made it much more palatable. Another thing you’ll find yourself doing is these mini “dates,” we’ll call them. These are usually given by conversing periodically with various characters in your party. You ask them to hang out and it thereby increases your level of friendship. If these conversations or dates go well, then you are periodically rewarded with traits that can be used to further gel your party together.

But truthfully, I didn’t see a large variance by using the different traits, but I may have been missing out on that aspect of the game. The tutorial itself didn’t really explain a lot of it, so maybe you’ll see some guides come out in the future. It did give some interesting background insights, though, but plenty of the conversations were repetitive in nature. So a game mechanic like this really depends on your love for minutiae within the game world. If you are a fan of reading, then you’re gonna love this mechanic. Some of it is voice-acted as well. Lastly, if you want to channel your inner pervert, you can do so by changing the outfits of each character. Shame on you for watching this, but you’re welcome. Graphically, I’m a big fan of the cell-shaded art style. The characters look vivid and they have a great anime aesthetic. Even little touches like birds flying through the city capture your eye.

However, you can definitely tell this is a PS3 game, though. There’s an incredible amount of pop-in in the city of Marga as well as the open world, which doesn’t necessarily ruin the experience entirely, but it may distract some players. The cut scenes are nicely drawn as well, even though I’d prefer a bit more animation, but overall it’s serviceable. There’s plenty of things I like about Shining Resonance Refrain, but I have a real issue with the pacing. The game takes place over 8 chapters, which totals about 40 hours to completion, which is reasonable for an RPG, but not quite as reasonable when you see some of the roadblocks that are put in your path. The most important one is level scaling. As you’re progressing through each chapter, the challenge feels fairly standard to what you normally experience in RPG’s: Maybe a tough battle here and there, but you can eventually progress.

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That is until you hit a boss. Suddenly, your team can be vastly overpowered and can get literally one-shotted out of nowhere because of the boss’s abnormally high levels compared to the enemies around them. So what do you have to do then? Well, so you go back and start leveling, but then you realize you need to go back to the town for quests, equipment, items, maybe even a little rest. What you quickly discover is that there is only one-way fast travel back to Marga while using a specific item. In other words, you have to manually travel the ENTIRE distance back to wherever you came from, running into the same monsters, just to make another attempt on the boss you were stuck at. It’s incredibly frustrating to not have fast travel, which is a giant flaw in my opinion, and it really throws off the pacing and your enjoyment of the game. Somewhat related to that: Typically, after a big boss battle a chapter may end.

Well, guess what happens to all the monsters in the overworld? They level up considerably without any warning, so you’re forced to grind through mostly the same enemies all over again, simply with higher levels, in order to progress. And keep in mind too you’re traversing the same areas that you’ve already been through hundreds of times. So you couple this with the grind-fest that is weapon leveling and adding new characters, then you have a recipe for frustration.

And, by the way, I have no problem with having to grind a bit in an RPG, but make it far less noticeable to the player. One last thing I want to point out about the level scaling is there is a point in chapter 7 where you find your party split at times. The problem with that is that it is incredibly likely that you have party members that haven’t scaled in levels at all because the game offers no scaling to the members that are not in your party. So to put that in perspective, I quite literally had a level 16 party member when everyone else was in the 60’s. That even caused more frustration because I had to grind for about 4 or 5 hours just to progress a bit further in the game. And I was at the end of it there. And I know I’m really beating the dead horse with this, but it’s just not fun to play when you get backed in a corner like that.

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I want to feel like the game at least respects my time. But on a more positive note, I will say that I enjoyed the majority of the cutscenes because of the stellar work by the voice actors. They can be long at times, but they really add these nuances of each character’s story arc as well as the political machinations of Lombardia & Astoria. Yes, sir. It’s the Dragoneers from Astoria. I don’t care who it is. You do realize what Gaelritz means to the Empire, don’t you? The dating simulators can also be cute at times, but they are time-consuming and do start to feel like a chore, as many of the arcs become repetitive. In fact, some of the dates are even the same exact thing over and over again. And I don’t know if that’s my mistake or if it just is the way the game is designed.

So again, this just comes down to whether or not you like this sort of thing. So is it fun? Look, I had some legitimate gripes here, but overall the game is fun. I definitely wanted to see the story out and what would happen to the characters. There’s honestly a lot of game here if you want to read and go through all the various story prompts. If that’s not alluring to you, you may find it more of a chore and want to pass on this one.

As of right now, I know they’re asking $ for it, which I think is reasonable if you have the coin and love JRPG’s. Keep in mind that there’s also the Refrain Mode, which is a nice bonus after you complete the main storyline because it’s gonna give you a bit of replayability by adding the two new characters. So that’s it, that’s my review. If you found this article useful, please commentbelow.

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