Shining Resonance Refrain

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of JRPG’s, but I really don’t have any reasons why. Growing up I loved watching the Shogun Warrior feature length cartoons and I’m a huge fan of RPG’s in general, so you’d think they’d be right up my alley. I’ve tried and tried to figure out why I have such a hard time sinking into them, and while I have never completed a Final Fantasy game, I continue to buy them in the hopes that one of these days I’ll just get it. So, I’m probably not the first person that would come to mind to review a game like Shining Resonance Refrain, a game that was released exclusively in Japan on PS3 back in 2014. Yet here we are, 4 years later, with a version released for the PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch, with updated graphics and English voice acting.
Shining Resonance Refrain has you take on the role of a young man named Yuma who has been held captive and experimented on by the main antagonists of the game, the Lombardian Empire. Yuma possesses the soul of the Shining Dragon, the most powerful dragon in the land of Alfheim. The Lombardian Empire is attempting to gather all the souls of the long-forgotten dragons in an effort to break a stalemate between the waring countries of Astoria and the Lombardian Empire. The only thing standing in their way are Yuma, his dragon soul and a powerful set of weapons known as the Armonics.
Quests and exploration are key to moving the story along, with the main quests involving attempts to hinder the Lombardian Empire’s search for the remaining dragon souls. There are also side quests that help you earn money and experience for your characters. The quests are either your typical fetch type quests or the type where you go to this area, fight this major boss, and then return to the castle. The world is broken up into much smaller zones, representing numerous landmarks on the map. Traveling to a particular spot on the map means going from zone to zone until you reach your final destination. The zones are very small, so traveling between them isn’t a huge problem, but not being able to use fast-travel between the zones you have already explored means you will spend a lot of time going back and forth between your castle and your next quest. It isn’t a huge deal breaker in the game, but the areas aren’t always very interesting, and going back and forth amongst the same areas over and over can get old the further you get in the game.

Combat is a mixed bag as well. During your quests, you will encounter various creatures wandering the zones. The battles take place in real time and each character has a set of action points that are used for physical attacks and magic points used for your special abilities and “breaker” moves. As your character levels up, you gain access to different magical attacks, which you can swap out as you choose, but most of the time your battles are simply button mashing your way through them with little strategy involved. The battles are also extremely inconsistent, as battling the various creatures is almost too easy (even at standard difficulty) but battling the boss monsters is almost entirely too hard. There is a HUGE difficulty curve when fighting the boss monsters, to a point where I sometimes had to drop the difficulty to casual and still had to fight a boss 3-4 times to beat them. On standard difficulty, I’d typically give up after succumbing to the same boss repeatedly. Even in the later stages of the games the boss battles do not let up, but the normal battles are practically a cake walk.

In addition to your standard and magical attacks there is also a B.A.N.D special attack where you get additional powers depending on the character who initiates it. Some B.A.N.D attacks provide guaranteed hits, while others increase the damage of your magical attacks. On the left-hand side of the screen there is a bar with three levels that fills while you battle your way through the enemies. Each level increases the longevity that the B.A.N.D lasts, so it’s almost always preferable to save these special attacks for the boss battles. Yuma also has the ability to turn into the Shining Dragon who can release devastating attacks, however if your magic points drop too low the dragon goes into a berserker attack and will throw damage at friends and enemies alike. This is never good, so when playing as the Shining Dragon it’s key to turn back into Yuma before losing control.

Graphically the game is beautiful, and if anime or JRPG’s are your thing you will definitely appreciate the update to the original graphics. The graphics do stick closely to the standard JRPG tropes of ridiculously large weapons and warriors in short skirts, etc. so it looks like many of the other JRPGs on the market today. That’s not necessarily bad, it has just worn out its originality over the years. The sound can get extremely repetitive as well, especially in battle where your characters repeat the same catch phrases over and over again. Once again, that’s not to say that the sound is bad, but it gets old quickly. There are some other technical idiosyncrasies that were also particularly jarring. For example, if Yuma is killed in combat, you can run back to town with whichever character has taken over the “leader” role, but the minute you enter town, Yuma reappears as the controlling character. I get that he’s the main character and it doesn’t make much sense for the other characters to run around asking for quests, but his sudden reappearance even though you know he’s dead takes some getting used to.

So, is Shining Resonance Refrain a game that made me take another look at JRPGs? Well, yes and no if I’m being completely honest. It’s around 30+ hours for the main story and side quests and I’ll admit that the more time I spent with the game the more I enjoyed it. After about an hour of my mental block on JRPG games in general, I was able to get into the groove of things and power my way through it. That being said, I still felt the story was a little bit ridiculous and some of the characters really started to grate on my nerves. Even the main character Yuma tended to be a bit too wimpy for me. He can turn himself into the mightiest of dragons but doesn’t know if he can handle it, I often had the feeling that he should get over himself and embrace this incredible power. In the end, I really did enjoy it, once I overlooked a lot of it, and it actually did put me in the mood to go back and try one of the Final Fantasy games. I can’t say that Shining Resonance Refrain converted me to a diehard JRPG fan, but it certainly made me want to give them another try and that is a win in my book.

What I liked: Unique Characters, General feel of combat
What I liked less: Inconsistent difficulty, Repetitive phrases and sound effects
3.5 out of 5 stars