Aside from perhaps Final Fantasy, it’s difficult to think of many RPG franchises that run the gamut of experiences quite as much as the Shining series. The early Shining Force games were proto-examples of console strategy RPGs; we can almost certainly attribute classics like the Disgaea games and Final Fantasy Tactics to Shining Force. Later adventures like Shining Force EXA and Shining Force Neo were closer to hack-and-slashers, something closer to Diablo than a strategy RPG, and the same can be said for the Shining Soul games on Game Boy Advance. Today we’re checking out Shining Resonance Refrain, a Shining take on the character-driven action of the Tales games.
DRAGONS. I hope you’re into dragons, because that’s what Shining Resonance has for you. We follow our hero Yuma, vessel for the all-powerful Shining Dragon, and his allies the Dragoneers as they drag on and on and on against an evil empire who, of course, also has evil dragons. Yuma and the Dragoneers have an ace up their sleeves, though, thanks to their Armonics, powerful instrument-weapons that can be used to channel draconic magic. Refrain offers both the story of Yuma’s crew and a somewhat-remixed Refrain scenario if you just can’t get enough dragons.
As mentioned, this is essentially a take on the Tales series of games. The story is strongly focused on fleshing out a world and the characters that exist in it; between skits and interactions you’ll engage in some action-focused combat. The former’s not bad, though it takes awhile to get going and struggles to break away from anime tropes. You’re surely familiar with the idea of using dangerous power to protect your friends, fighting even though you’re afraid and harnessing the courage of friendship, right? That’s what you’re getting here. There’s even a nice selection of Macguffins to collect.
As for the combat, it doesn’t offer a great first impression, with easy battles that end up feeling a bit too grindy for their own good. Shining Resonance layers on depth and complexity as you go, though, making for an enjoyable experience over time. Characters have basic attacks, Break attacks used to get through enemy guards and a selection of Force skills with differing effects ranging from damaging spells to healing to special combat techniques. Protagonist Yuma is also capable of transforming into dragon form to rip and tear, naturally, though this must be used with caution as this form can go berserk and become uncontrollable at a moment’s notice.
That’s basic enough, but more twists and turns just keep coming as you play. Characters can be customized using fighting styles called Tunings, for instance, which offer a variety of tweaks that can significantly change how a character plays. Yuma’s giant broadsword is a slow and cumbersome weapon, but with the right Tuning you can have him swinging that thing around with ease. Further, you can slap stat-enhancing gems called Aspects onto your weapons, helping shore up characters’ weaknesses or bolster strengths. When the chips are down, you’ve even got a super mode called B.A.N.D., the Battle Anthem of the Noble Dragoneers (yes, really) where your characters all team up to…well, play in a band, offering stat boosts and buffs when they matter most.
Shining Resonance starts easy but steadily tightens up the challenge a bit, especially when it comes to the boss battles. If that’s not enough, you can also play through an infinite array of randomly-generated dungeons. After the slow opening hours, it’s a legitimately great experience, even if there are some odd AI bugs here and there – tanky princess Sonia tends to abandon her swordfighting role to just sit around and needlessly block, for instance.
From a presentation standpoint, there’s plenty to like here. Shining Resonance’s graphics are nice but don’t really strain the console, so you’ll likely find them inoffensive if not stunning; meanwhile, this is a game that’s all about music, as the whole B.A.N.D. thing might suggest, and it delivers on that front. Composer Junpei Fujita and his group Elements Garden are at the height of their game here, from the battle theme down to the different tunes that play when you activate B.A.N.D. There’s even cute touches like the victory theme in combat changing based on who’s in your party and the instruments they use to fight.
If you’re the kind of person who listens to game music when you’re not actually playing, it’s easy to recommend Shining Resonance Refrain. In fact, it’s probably a must-have for that particular group. Otherwise, JRPG fans should still check this one out, if only for the excellent combat and gameplay. Don’t come in expecting a story that’ll blow your mind and chances are you’ll have a great time.