Shining Resonance Refrain Review
Published on July 9, 2018
Shining Resonance Refrain
Release Date: July 10, 2018
Platform: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows (Played on PS4)
Review copy provided by ATLUS
Shining Resonance was announced in 2014 as a Japanese-only release as the latest title in Sega’s Shining series, which is probably best known for the Shining Force sub-series of games. Following its release on PS3 in the Winter of that year, no announcement had ever come for a Western version. After a long four years, the PS4 remaster was revealed to be coming out to the rest of the world in 2018. The Western release comes with dual-audio out of the box, allowing the game to be played in either English or Japanese voice acting, along with all the DLC from the PS3 version. Enter Shining Resonance Refrain.
The story takes place in the realm of Alfheim and revolves around an event in history known as Ragnorak, in which Deus’ followers were attempting to destroy the world to make way for a new world created by their deity’s will. The high elves, with help from the World Dragons, were able to fight back and ultimately seal Deus away as the cost of the dragon’s lives. That is, except for the Shining Dragon. Fast forward to the present; the Lombardian Empire seeks to conquer Alfheim. The story is one that is commonly told and never attempts to diverge from what’s been heard time and time again. Any potential surprises are telegraphed well beforehand, reducing any impact they could have had. Despite the flatness of the main story, the optional conversations with party members and other town members are decent in giving them more personality and bestow traits for that character, which are an integral part of the Bonds system.
Tanaka “Tony Taka” Takayuki returns as the series character artist, resulting in a fairly diverse cast with a myriad of vibrant colors. An exception to this are the imperials, who have chosen to universally wear some combination of black, red, and purple garb in an attempt to remind us that they are evil. As a bonus, the remaster offers the “Original” and “Refrain” modes, with the Refrain mode adding two story prominent characters as additional party members and side conversations to learn more about them.
Battles take place as an Action RPG system reminiscent of what’s seen in most notably in the Tales series. Characters are free to run whichever direction they want within the battle area without cost. Fighting battles seamlessly transition from encountering the monster to establishing the engagement area. The camera avoids issues that others have had in the past, and no required loading for battles is very welcoming.
Attacks are broken up into three categories: Basic, Break, and Force attacks. Break attack are moves that fill an enemy’s gauge which will put them in a broken state once full, in which they are unable to perform actions and take increased damage. Force attacks are typically spells and attack skills that have a cast time, during which AP (Action Points) regenerates. Interestingly enough, only basic attacks, dodging, and break attacks consume AP while blocking only halts regeneration. This means that there’s a lot of potential for chaining attacks to use up as much AP as possible then using a force attack to prolong combos. The general strategy I’ve used for encounters is to break the enemy using attacks with Break properties, then using a combination of Basic and Force attacks to deal as much as damage as possible while their defenses are lowered.
The game explains how to get enemies to the break state, but it wasn’t as simple in practice and seemed incredibly random. Sometimes a break attack would do little, while at others it would increase their break gauge at an incredible rate. The inconsistency was frustrating, and my conclusion is that it may be related to the next facet of the battle system.
In battle, commands are given to the allied AI using the D-pad, either with an order that they all follow or specific directives to a character. These options are the extent of how much the AI can be manipulated and is very limiting. This is further compounded by the allied AI not being the brightest: they tend to walk into choreographed attacks, not block and are relatively slow at reacting to sudden damage that needs healing attention. Breaking bosses using multiple characters requires coordination, but unlike other games in this genre, there’s no way to command allies to use specific attacks. This becomes problematic as the bosses are immune to stuns, with breaking them the only way to stop their attacks. This leads to many situations where you have to resurrect allies repeatedly as they get hit by the endless assault of attacks, which breaks up the action gameplay since the only way I ever found to use items in battle is to go into the pause screen. Another major detractor is that while the game runs at 60 FPS the majority of the time, the game slows to a crawl during battles when a magic spell effect occurs near the camera, which can often happen if a melee character is being controlled.
Two battle support systems are at your disposal in the game: the B.A.N.D. (Battle Anthem of the Noble Dragoneers) and Bond systems. B.A.N.D. sessions are very potent partywide buffs that require BPM (Battle Performance Mana) meter to perform, which is accumulated primarily through attacking enemies. A couple of the possible performance effects could be exploited to their maximum potential by crafty players, such as granting your party’s status ailments one hundred percent chance to be applied to the enemy, allowing stun-locking with paralysis or constant reapplication of poison. Bonds make use of the trait system and have a probability of activating during battle when two or more characters “resonate,” bestowing different effects depending on the traits chosen. The opportunity to resonate in battle is entirely random, with the dots on each trait representing presumably how likely the resonance will occur. The game leaves the bond effects ambiguous, leaving it to the player to mix and match traits and experiment with the different combinations.
With all that said, the structure of the game expects a fair amount of grind to be done throughout each chapter. Even relatively early in the game, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the party’s level comfortably close to the main story bosses, which results in penalties to damage dealt, accuracy, and the ability to break. With some bosses, it was possible to beat them using unorthodox strategies while severely underleveled that couldn’t have been the intended method, but later bosses had attacks that prevented cheekiness. As part of the grind, materials from monsters need to be collected to make gems that enhance each character, and each character’s weapon needs to rank up to increase their offensive stats. To alleviate this, the game offers Grimoires, which are multi-floor dungeons that can have modifier sigils applied to them, which alter enemy contents to make the grind slightly more efficient. Despite all of this, experience rates do not scale well, and there isn’t much variation between Grimoire dungeons to make the grind feel like less of a mindless slog.
Shining Resonance Refrain prefers a plethora of systems that are either inadequately explained or only serve as a reason to include additional grind. It was difficult to stay invested in the journey when the main quest was constantly interrupted with the need to level up but no meaningful side content to do the grinding in. The seamless battle transitioning is a standout feature that I hope more development teams consider for this genre. Shining Resonance Refrain feels like it errs on the side of caution and sticks to what is familiar, creating an exceptionally average action JRPG that neglects polishing core systems into something intriguing.