Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Shining Resonance Refrain Review (XONE)

That Shining Resonance Refrain exists at all is kind of a miracle, but the fact that SEGA went far above and beyond to add all sorts of bells and whistles to this remaster of a previously Japan-only PS3 RPG is absolutely incredible. Not only does it get the expected visual bump, but they also added new playable characters, a (great) English audio track, and all of the previously released DLC costumes are available right from the start. Oh, and they actually bothered to release it on Xbox One (along with PS4 and Switch), which is easily the craziest thing of all. Even if it is a little on the vanilla side when it comes to story, presentation, and combat compared to some other recent action JRPGs, desperate Xbox One fans don't see games like this very often which ups the appeal quite a bit. See all of the details in our full Shining Resonance Refrain Xbox one review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Developer: SEGA
  • ESRB Rating: "T" for Teen
  • Genre: RPG
  • Pros: Fun combat; solid voice cast; dragons; loads of costumes
  • Cons: Ho-hum quests; lots of grinding
  • MSRP: $50
Buy Shining Resonance
Refrain at
Shining Resonance Refrain is a remaster of a 2014 Japan-only PS3 game. It features improved visuals along with a brand new English dub featuring a cast of recognizable anime voice actors. It also has a brand new gameplay mode called Refrain mode that lets you play through the game with two additional characters (who are actually the villains in the story but it all works out) which acts as a sort of New Game Plus if you want to play again after you beat the normal mode, though you can play Refrain mode first if you wish. The game also has all of the DLC costumes that were released for the original game available from the start, which is both awesome and a little weird. I say weird because you can dress up the girls in skimpy swimsuits or maid costumes and it just seems kind of out of place.

The story takes place in a medieval world of dragons and specially trained humans called Dragoneers who commune with them through magical musical instruments. The main character is a frail bishonen who holds the soul of the great Shining Dragon (the dragon that rules all other dragons) inside him. Naturally, with such a powerful force inside him he would be a valuable asset to any of the warring nations of the world, but he settles on fighting alongside a small nation under siege by a powerful Empire. He is joined by an ensemble of mostly busty females and together they fight to stop the Empire while keeping the power inside of him in check.

The story itself is solid enough - not spectacular but not awful - but Shining Resonance Refrain throws another wrinkle at you since it is actually a sort of dating sim underneath the serious RPG story. Your party's ability in battle changes depending on your relationships with the other characters - both male and female. By choosing traits (personality options that grant different stats and abilities) for each character that compliment each other as well as talking to characters (and going on dates) between missions, you build relationships that greatly impact your combat abilities. I like this system quite a lot, to be honest. I like the characters individually better than the overall story, so going on dates and doing fun harem anime trope-y stuff has a definite appeal to me.

Gameplay in Shining Resonance Refrain is fairly standard for action RPGs. Enemies appear on the map with you and you initiate combat by touching them. Combat feels very much like a Bandai Namco Tales game where you can mash out attacks and use magic all in real time and it works well. Each character has unique weapons and abilities and they all feel pretty different to play as. There is some added depth, though, as each enemy type can be staggered or their guard broken (for super extra massive damage for a brief period) through different combinations of attacks and magic, so finding the right sequence of moves to turn battles to your favor is the key to winning battles. I also like that there is very little pomp and circumstance around battles. Aside from a brief half-second pause when you enter and exit combat mode, the game just flows along smoothly with the only results screens appearing after major boss battles. The pacing when you're out in the world and fighting enemies is very brisk, and I really like that. 

One negative issue with Shining Resonance Refrain, however, is that it can start to feel pretty repetitive. Side missions are almost always just fetch quests and their rewards are usually just some generic item you can find out in the world anyway so they don't typically feel worth doing. There are also only a handful of enemy types and you just fight the same creatures - with different colors for different elements! - over and over again. The game also requires a lot more grinding than most other RPGs I've played lately - not just in the four years since Shining Resonance first released but for the last 10-15 years - which makes the feeling of repetition even worse. Not only does the game have difficulty spikes you'll have to grind levels to overcome, but you also have to level up everyone in your party equally (because the game requires specific characters at certain points) which means swapping characters out and grinding even more. I don't necessarily dislike grinding in RPGs, especially when the combat is decently fun like it is here, but it does feel pretty outdated compared to where most of the genre has gone over the last couple of generations.

There are some other slight annoyances as well. There is no fast-travel except for an item that instantly teleports you back to the main city so there is a lot of running around through previously thoroughly explored areas to get anywhere. I suppose since you have to grind so much you can get some work done on the way, though. Also, in a weird quirk, your character skids to a stop every time you let go of the run button rather than just slowing down. This brief hitch in your movement gets really annoying, really fast.

The presentation in Shining Resonance Refrain is solid all around. The characters look great but some of the environments have a bland and distinctly last-gen look to them. As I mentioned, the game has a full English dub and the cast of instantly recognizable voice actors does a lot to get you engrossed in the game as they all do a great job. I know some folks prefer Japanese voices (which are also available if you want) but I'm not one of those folks. The music is also appropriate and well done, though not particularly memorable.

For the most part, Shining Resonance Refrain is pretty enjoyable. The combat is solid, there are lots and lots of dragons with cool designs, and the characters are generally quite likeable and well done. The little issues definitely do add up, though, which take it from being potentially great to just good. Considering that there aren’t very many JRPGs on Xbox One, however, makes the flaws easier to overlook. If you're in the mood for an anime-inspired JRPG on Xbox One, Shining Resonance Refrain is definitely worth a look.
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.