You can be forgiven for not having heard of the Shining series. You may be surprised though, at the number of titles in the franchise; more than 15.
Beginning with Shining in the Darkness on Mega Drive back in 1991 which was a turn-based strategy RPG, the Shining series has evolved over the years.
There have been many sequels and spin-off which resulted in Shining Resonance on the PS3 back in 2014. Shining Resonance was the last primary title released for the series and was never released outside of Japan. It’s this last game that has been remastered and translated for PlayStation 4 as Shining Resonance Refrain.
Shining Resonance Refrain Review
I hadn’t played any of the previous games myself, so this was new for me. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that the story is tied to any previous game in the series, so you can consider Shining Resonance Refrain as self-contained.
Think of it much like the games in the Final Fantasy series.
The story plays out in a land with a sprawling history, involving dragons (obviously), humans, elves, and a god-like creature referred to as Deus. Very briefly, there was an old war between the World Dragons and Deus, who had some lesser dragons of its own.
The war was ultimately won by the World Dragons but at the loss of everything else. The souls of all dragons were spread out across the land, while the Shining Dragon — the most powerful of the World Dragons — worked with the elves to break its own body apart into seven pieces.
Each of these seven pieces was crafted into a musical instrument/weapon called an Armonic, which could be used to commune with the dragons and magic itself.
You know, standard everyday stuff.
Good vs Evil
This led to smaller wars between factions of humans and elves, resulting in an Imperial army (the bad guys) and the smaller kingdom of Astoria (the good guys).
You play as a character called Yuma Ilvern, who just so happens to contain the soul of the Shining Dragon itself within him. The Imperial army has Armonics that can control a few of the lesser dragons, while the Astorians have some dragoneers — wielders of the Armonics — of their own, but no dragons.
Thus, the story is essentially one of good versus bad in a battle to control the most dragons. Well it’s actually far more complicated than that, but that’s really not what you’re here for.
Shining Resonance Refrain is the kind of game you would play for two reasons. Firstly, you want a story-driven Japanese role-playing game that feels like anime. If that’s the case, Shining Resonance Refrain will suit your needs well.
It has a complex story that twists and turns and plays out as a melodramatic epic. In addition, there are plenty of little side stories to flesh out the core storyline. Not to mention the romantic substories that you can kick off between the main characters.
It’s a JRPG
The second reason to want to play this game? You like Japanese role-playing games.
While Shining Resonance Refrain is an action RPG, it is very much a JRPG. This means that you will need to heavily rely on potions, learn a bunch of complex systems, and you will need to GRIND.
The game puts you in control of a party of four and you directly control one character but can switch between the others via the menu. There’s no quick method to switch on the fly unless your character dies.
Each character has a specific role within the group — magic wielder, damage dealer, healer, support — and it’s up to you to decide how to balance these. Further, you can provide basic commands to determine how the party reacts in battle (heal first, for example) or you can provide individual commands on the fly; “heal me now”.
This provides flexible control over the team, and once I found a combination I was happy with, I didn’t feel that I needed to make many commands.
Take me to your leader
Who becomes the party leader is also up to you. It doesn’t matter who you use, the story still plays the same. Everyone comes along for the ride from a story-telling perspective, regardless of who is in battle. That means you can play a mage if you prefer, or you can get up in the enemy’s face with your sword.
Each character has a standard attack, a break attack, a block, and a dash bound to the face buttons on the controller. The break attack is slow to wield but can break enemy defences, resulting in high damage for a short period.
In addition, you can equip up to four special attacks, which use either MP or stamina. MP depletes through use of magic and can only be restored via potions or augments, while stamina refreshes itself over time. In this way, you can build a character to your preference, but note that the special attacks — force abilities — are specific to a character, so you can’t exactly create your own mix of traits.
The game plays out very simply. You begin in the town of Astoria, which is essentially your main hub, as well as being the place to progress side stories and collect sidequests.
Fetch me a quest
Sidequests are basically fetch-quests that you complete passively while pursuing story quests. Once the story progresses, you leave the town and move along a larger map. This larger map is split into smaller components, each with a local map of its own.
You then move your party from the start of the local map to the exit, continuing until you reach the target location which can be found on the larger map. Along the way, you will bump into the odd enemy, kicking off an encounter.
It’s really just a case of kicking off the story, making your way to the target fighting battles along the way, and kicking off a boss battle.
The issue, though, is the discrepancy between standard world battles, and bosses. This is generally a JRPG trait. You need to grind hard between boss battles. But it’s jarring at times.
You might just be playing your way through the story, completely smashing through enemies, and suddenly you can barely make a scratch on the boss. Thankfully, the game provides an alternative to simply running around the world setting off battles; the Grimoire.
Thank goodness for the Grimoire
Put simply, the Grimoire is just a place to access procedurally-generated Dungeons. Choose a location, apply some augments — which are collected as drops from enemy battles — and fight your way across three floors to the end boss.
Rinse and repeat.
Each dungeon takes about 15 minutes, so they are quick and easy to do, and a good way to level your characters.
“But you said this was a Japanese RPG, and this doesn’t sound very complicated,” I hear you ask. Well, I’m not finished. You may recall I referred to the weapons as ‘Armonics’. Not only are they weapons of destruction, but they are also musical instruments.
One is a harp that doubles as a bow, another is a guitar that doubles as an axe, naturally. Each Armonic can be tuned, which essentially gives it a slight augment to suit your playstyle. Do you want better agility? Tune your weapon.
Want to increase the damage of Agnum’s fire-based attacks? Tune his weapon. It’s all very straightforward. As is B.A.N.D.
B.A.N.D. certainly stands for something, but I can’t for the life of me remember what. As your party battles, you will gain BPM — Battle Performance Mana — on a sidebar. Once you have collected enough, you can kick off a B.A.N.D. session.
After a short musical interlude during which your team will rock out with their Armonics, you will be thrown back into battle. Who you choose as the centre of your B.A.N.D session will provide one boon while the song that is played will result in another.
While it is a silly name and a strange addition, you’ll find yourself relying on this in every boss battle, so it does provide a useful function.
There be Dragons
Further, let’s not forget that Yuma has a dragon inside him, which can be released at any time during battle. Yuma essentially turns into a dragon, which is cool. Attacks with the Shining Dragon use mana, and once this is depleted, you turn back into little old Yuma.
Earlier in the game, once a certain amount of mana is used, Yuma loses control of the dragon, which limits your ability to abuse the dragon in early battles, but not so much in later battles, hint hint.
All of this combined leads to a very full-featured and enjoyable JRPG. There are so many component pieces that it’s not easy to keep across it all, but somehow it all just works so well. At first glance, the button layout seems unnecessarily complex, but it becomes second nature over time.
For those that may have already played the game? There’s a new mode — Refrain — in which players can take control of two previously non-playable characters, Excella and Jinas, and play the story from a different perspective.
I Hope You Like Reading
All of that said, it’s far from perfect. The story is heavily text-based, which means lots of reading and button pressing. I got to a point where I just wanted to get to the end, so I began to ignore the side stories.
The romance side stories, which are kicked off by selecting a target at camps along your travels feel heavily scripted. Too often it felt like they simply rely on players making the right choice of response during a conversation.
Of course, it’s still fun to pursue and you do then take that person on dates in the town during downtime, but it didn’t really grab me as an enjoyable use of my time.
Graphically, Shining Resonance Refrain is hit and miss. Character design is fantastic and of anime quality, but most of these images are static during chat scenes. Menus are extremely well designed and look very modern for a remake, so it has to be said that much of the game is gorgeous.
Still, given this was a PS3 title, the in-game art is somewhat dated. The team has done their best to improve frame rates and clean up textures, but overall it all still looks very simplistic when viewed in comparison to modern titles. The music is similar — some of it is absolutely mind-blowing — until you realise that this same overture is used every single time you encounter the Imperials.
More work was put into the J-Pop B.A.N.D songs than was put into other aspects of the game, which is slightly disappointing.
A game for fans
The fact this is a PS3 remake is apparent in other aspects of the game too, which also makes it feel dated. For example – the need to manually save at save points, which then impacts the flow of the game directly by throwing players out to save slots which are no longer a staple for game saves in the modern era.
And lastly, for my complaints, at least, the amount of grind required between bosses far exceeded the amount I wanted to play.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a great game, with some really original battle mechanics and a story that I really wanted to follow. However, I wanted to follow at my own pace and I simply wanted to slowly move through the story content, with a few of the side stories along the way.
But by the time I reached the halfway point at around act 5, I simply wanted to push through. This came down to knowing I’d have to spend a few hours just grinding levels. There are plenty of people out there that would enjoy this, but not me.
Grinding just to be able to beat a boss that is specifically designed to be at a certain level is not enjoyable to me. Grinding for a real purpose, for a specific weapon/armour piece or to increase overall power is something I actually enjoy. I play a lot of Warframe and Destiny, for reference.
This felt like grinding simply for grinding’s sake.
Overall, Shining Resonance Refrain is somewhat of an anomaly. In some ways, I can understand the desire to port this game to PS4. It was never localised and it’s a hugely popular series.
There are some wonderful aspects to the game that I would wholeheartedly recommend. However, I’d really only recommend the game to JRPG fans, primarily for it’s dated approach to story-telling and world design.
Shining Resonance Refrain was reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: Shining Resonance Refrain
Interesting Battle Systems - 8/10
So much Grinding - 4/10
Great story, anime quality - 7.5/10