Japan first got Shining Resonance exclusively on the PlayStation 3 back in 2014 but was never translated for other regions. Luckily for everyone, however, SEGA decided to release an expanded version of the original game with polished visuals and more content onto the PlayStation 4. Shining Resonance Refrain is the complete original experience with all of the previously available downloadable content, as well as a new Refrain mode that adds more playable characters and new dialogue to story events. Though this is a definitive version of Shining Resonance, some poor design choices, a mediocre story, and harsh difficulty spikes roughen up an otherwise fun role-playing game.
The story of Shining Resonance is your standard “save the world” plot with a number of tropes and cheesy anime bullet points, with a heavy emphasis on music being the core theme throughout. The hero of the story Yuma has an uncontrollable force inside him tied to the fate of the world but also happens to be surrounded by beautiful women that are knights, priestesses, and mages. It’s the same kind of fanfare you would find in any trope-filled haram anime, where at various points you can be intimate with the heroines of the story in some way. But does the big plot-related events of Shining Resonance help string along all of this with an interesting story to keep you invested? Only if you’re willing to look past a lot of shallow dialogue and predictably bland plot twists. You’re not getting an intricate story here whatsoever.
The Refrain Mode in this new version of Shining Resonance only adds so much to the original game’s story. With the two new playable characters added, the Imperial Princess Excella and Dragonslayer Jinas, you get new dialogue and off-hand events to see. These offer a bit more insight into some of the game’s larger events, as well as a few humorous moments here and there. But their addition to the casts of playable characters you meet doesn’t change the main plot or give enough to make your subsequent playthroughs that much different. There isn’t any new story paths or alternate versions of the same events for them. At times you’ll be forced into a battle with these same characters and have a very awkward moment where they’ll be in your party fighting themselves.
The battle system is a mix of real-time combat and the active battle style system you find in most Japanese role-playing games. Controlling your party’s leader can feel stiff in some moments, regardless of whether you’re in or out of battle. Moving around and attacking is done in real time, but you also have an action meter that must be full in order to execute normal attacks against enemies. Every character in your party has their own attacks and special abilities, which can be leveled up and expanded upon as they level up.
Each character can be swapped out when not in battle, but you can’t switch control between party members fighting without going into the menu and making them the party leader. This can be annoying in most battles when you have to stop the action, heal whoever you need to, and then switch control over to them. Combat would flow a lot smoother if there was an ability to switch between characters in battle via the shoulder buttons on the controller.
At some point during the story, all of your party members are able to use a special ability called B.A.N.D, which grants everyone a series of boosts for a short period of time. This helps a bit during some fights, but may not do enough in areas with incredibly hard battles with enemies that are powerful.
The harsh difficulty spikes throughout Shining Resonance Refrain are a major hurdle that force you to grind for experience and level up very early on. Many of the big plot related battles have a huge gap in levels between the smaller enemies and bosses. You’ll be fighting enemies within the level 20 range, only to be stopped dead in your tracks by a boss fight that is nearly 20 levels higher than everything else in the area. Some fights get you locked into battles with enemies that have nearly one-hit kills on your entire party without warning, which can lead to you needing to go far back to previous areas to grind for more experience or items. This becomes a major problem when you aren’t given enough leeway to know when a major boss fight is coming, which locks you into a battle you can’t win or escape without reloading an earlier save.
Another issue comes from the lack of save points placed around environments and their lack of healing your party when using them. You’ll navigate through a difficult series of battles to reach a save point, only to not be able to regroup before a major upcoming battle. This makes already difficult areas much harder if you don’t have enough healing items on hand or if you haven’t grinded enough experience to continue. It’s a poor design choice that pads out the difficulty of every area you visit through the game’s eight main chapters.
Even though most of Shining Resonance’s environments are large spaces with a lot of enemies lurking around, it can be a chore navigating through them. The overall world is small and consist of one main town you constantly return to throughout the story. For the majority of the game, you’ll have to walk through most of the same areas you previously visit in order to reach newer areas, mostly due to the lack of any kind of fast travel between points. Constantly having to walk past the same grass fields and caverns just to get to the next bullet point on the world map becomes a dull repetitive chore, one that could’ve been solved easily by giving the option to warp to areas you already visited.
While there are campfires and checkpoints between certain places with save points, they aren’t used for fast travel and only offer a spot to recover your party’s health. A significant portion of the extra time you spend playing Shining Resonance could’ve been cut from all the walking you have to do between areas. It’s a real shame that Refrain version of the game couldn’t add this feature to do so.
Shining Resonance Refrain may be the definitive version of the original game we never got to play on PlayStation 3, it has a number of flaws that should’ve been addressed and fixed up for the PlayStation 4. Having all of the original game’s downloadable content is great, but the new content in Refrain Mode doesn’t add enough to the overall experience beyond a few mild changes. If you’re able to ignore how shallow the story can be, as well as all of the typical anime tropes littered throughout, then you may find some enjoyment playing through Shining Resonance. However, the poor choices made for navigating the world and the very harsh difficulty spikes in most battles make Shining Resonance Refrain a game that won’t resonate too well with those who aren’t already JRPG enthusiast.
This review was based on a digital review code for Shining Resonance Refrain for the PlayStation 4, provided by SEGA.