Those who were first introduced to the Shining series might remember it fondly from the 16-bit generation. It continued to get new games with the PS2 but the frequency of getting an English release for them decreased as time passed. It didn’t get any major new game for a long time and the most recent entry, Shining Resonance Refrain, wasn’t even localized for the Western markets after it was initially realized in Japan. This all changed after Sega acquired Atlus leading to a surge of localization for their Japanese developed games.
Shining Resonance Refrain is a rather dated game if we talk about its release date. It launched in December 2014 for the PS3 in the Japanese market and took almost 4 years until the eventual English localization. The long delay has allowed the developers to not just offer a simple localized version of the original game, but add new content to it as well. This content is the Refrain mode which basically shows a different point of view for the main story events. This mode is available right from the get-go so you don’t need to complete the game to play through it. It adds two new characters and while most of the content remains the same, there are some slight changes to the story that are better understood if you are playing the game a second time.
Shining Resonance Refrain is a remaster of the PS3 game that launched in Japan and while there are some minor visual enhancements for the remaster, it is still mostly the same experience. The animated art style has managed to hold up well over the course of its original release so it never looks that bad. The game fits in perfectly with the current breed of Japanese role-playing games. There are not many well-made games in the action RPG genre so it is refreshing to see that Shining Resonance Refrain is fun not just for its combat system, but it also offers a charming cast of characters and a great fantasy world full of magical creatures and mythology.
The story takes place after a great war with the threat of another one looming right around the corner. The main character is a boy called Yuma with a mysterious power who gets captured by the Empire of Lombardia. The story opens with an introduction to the Princess of Astoria, Sonia, who is on a quest to save Yuma from the experiments of the empire. What she doesn’t know is that Yuma carries the power of the Shining Dragon within him, who was a legendary dragon in the past bestowing humans the ability to wield Armonic extracted from the body of the Shining Dragon himself. They are the Dragoneers that are often considered as powerful warriors who use Armonic in combat, which doubles as a musical instrument.
Chapters divide key moments in the main story while the narrative can take a back seat during some of the optional moments. It is not exactly a good story since it focuses more on the evil Empire of Lombardia’s war with the Kingdom of Astoria and relies on typical anime tropes, but the characters are actually well written with a certain charm to them. The pacing is slow at first so you will have to struggle through the first few chapters before things start to pick up. As you play through the story mode, new characters are often introduced. Yuma is the only one who has a sacred sword as a part of his Shining Dragon that he can use in combat. The rest of the cast is mostly composed of Dragoneers who will use their Armonic to fight the enemy.
There is a main hub in the game in the Kingdom of Astoria’s city of Marga. This is where you will be spending your time around, attempting quests, getting a chance to know more about your party members or buying items. Even though it feels like a rather small city in term of exploration, you can find out a lot of optional scenes from here, often giving you a better view of the members forming your party. Their personality is more fleshed out and you get a different perspective on the story.
Combat in the game is entirely action based so you will take full control of the character in battle. It feels closer to the modern Tales of games with a focus on special attacks and abilities. Your character can do normal quick attacks and break attacks that will consume action points. There are also special skilled attacks that will use your magic points. Action points recharge with time so you will have to carefully organize your combos around them. Special attacks or magic executes with the left trigger button and it can either result in a defensive or offensive skill. You can also attempt to defend yourself or dodge around the battlefield making for an interesting combat system.
Once you are outside in the open, you can see enemies visibly walking around and approaching them triggers a battle. There is no major loading so the battles will start almost instantly. If you do a lot of break attacks and special skills on the enemy, it is possible to make them enter a special ‘break’ status that makes them completely vulnerable for a short amount of time. Yuma is the only one in the party who can transform into the Shining Dragon however you will have to carefully use it since the longer you stay active as the Dragon, the more risk you have of going berserk and damaging your own party members. The trick here is to figure out when to best use the powerful attacks of his Dragon form and avoid abusing it.
Shining Resonance Refrain mostly seems to suit the nature of the Nintendo Switch hardware. It is not exactly a demanding game, but the frame rate doesn’t remain solid in combat and can also drop during some cutscenes. Visually, it looks fine even on the big screen although you can notice the jaggies around some edges that can lead to shimmering. I didn’t really have any issue with the load times and it was nice to see how the game plays out in the portable mode. If you are looking for which version to buy here, Nintendo Switch is not a bad choice at all.
Shining Resonance Refrain Review (Switch)
Game Reviewed on: Switch
Game description: Play as Yuma Ilvern and stop the Empire from exploiting the power of the ancient dragons, including the soul of the Shining Dragon within you. With the help of your friends, realize your destiny, save Astoria, and unleash the strength you’ve always had locked away.
What I liked about Shinning Resonance Refrain was that it has a solid cast of characters that are well-written and the combat is dynamic enough that you will keep experimenting with it. It is not a flawless experience but for fans of the genre, it is one of the better games to release this generation.