Y’know, Sega, you’re an odd publisher when it comes to games.
When you’re not busy making another questionable Sonic game, you’re on the prowl looking to make obscure IPs that, while great, are played by about 50 people. Alpha Protocol, Resonance of Fate, Anarchy Reigns, so on and so forth. Maybe you should remaster games you made more often, like Binary Domain, Binary Domain… maybe Binary Domain as well and, oh! Binary Domai–
Alright, let’s get back on topic: Shining Resonance Refrain. This here is a remastering/port of the 2014 PS3 JRPG that was only released in Japan, selling moderately well over there. Not one to turn down a profit, however, Sega saw fit to release this to Western audiences, and if the game is good, maybe we’ll get the other 7,987 Japan-exclusive Shining titles as well.
Shining Resonance tells the story of Yuma Irven, the effeminate snot-nosed protagonist who has the power of the ancient dragon Irvan within, and because of that, he’s been held captive in the Imperial Empire’s dungeon for some time. He believes that all is lost until a pincer attack takes place, spearheaded by the King’s Daughter Sonia, and the Dragoneer Diva Kirika. From there, the trio must take back what’s rightfully theirs, with the help of various other people and the power within Yuma.
Now you might be thinking that the plot described above sounds surprisingly simple for a JRPG, but I’ve only given you a Cliff Notes version. There’s a can of worms within this can of worms, and underneath that? A can of Fanta Fruit Plot Twists. You’ve got it all, political espionage, turmoil, mysterious third parties, and a lot of red herrings.
Speaking of red herrings, the first few hours of the game feel like a big one. You load it up, see that the “bonus content” is mostly swimsuits and French Maid outfits for the female characters, and you’d turn off the game in disgust. Keep those eyes on this review however, as Shining Resonance isn’t just a good game, but it’s also one of the best JRPGs of the year. No seriously, this game put the socks on my feet, just so it could blow them off.
It is off to see Resonance turn out so good, especially when the first few hours are spent looking for the reason behind this games existence. First impressions are more important for RPGs than any other genre, since you’re putting more of your time in. You don’t know whether you want to spend the next 40 hours listening to Yuma set up pity parties, and it’s fair to believe that Resonance doesn’t pick up from beyond the 3-hour mark. Let us delve deeper.
Gameplay is in real-timet: You run within enemy proximity and boom, you’re in a little arena fighting the monster you came across, along with a few others picked at random. You have a very tiny combo system to work with, along with a few special abilities and attacks that range from offensive to passive to defensive. In truth, the combat iiiiiiiiiiiis kind of lame. At first, at least.
A few of the characters you play as do feel a bit stiff and jerky. Sonia and Yuma feel like actual warriors, but when you play Kirika and Rinna? Man, all bets are off, they’re so awkward to control, their attacks are as lethal as a butter knife on Lurpak, and trying to heal someone in the heat of the battle is hard to do with no smooth transitions to do it. Your best bets are to let the AI take over support duties, they usually do a better job than you could ever do.
A gimmick of Resonance is that since Yuma holds the soul of an undying dragon within him, he can freely transform into said dragon whenever the battle either gets too tough or tiresome. Sounds cool in theory, but you’re only going to use the fast attacks, or at least what counts as “fast”, and you need to be fast, otherwise you have a chance of making Yuma go berserk.
While Yuma is in dragon form, if you push him to a certain limit (that varies with the amount of MP you have left), there’s a chance that he’ll disregard what’s right or wrong and destroy everything in his path. This includes you and your teammates. It’s a good mechanic to have, even if its random nature does lead to some annoying friendly fire, but it’s still a great execution of making sure the player doesn’t rely on it too much.
All of this comes to a head when you find a dragon in a cave, ready to snack on this little girl… well, it came to a head for me, anyway. This dragon kicked my ass several times, and no matter who I played as or how I played, this dragon was always ready to turn Yuma and company into new doormats.
Oh, what’s this? A small tactical sub-menu that allows my characters to play to their advantages? Well that’s neat, and despite the simple nature of the 3 tactics available, the tactics in question are optimized well. Still, it’s still not helping you with this massive ass dragon. Damn, guess you might have to actually grind in order to progress a bit further, but that’s fine, the combat is starting to become really fluid.
Well, since you’re here, you might as well play other characters as well, and see which combos work best for each character. Even Kirika and Rinna are fun to use now, and– actually, I’m also getting a ton of crafting materials I can use in order to make potions, temporary and permanent buff items as well, and they’re also helping me with the side-quests!
All of a sudden, boom. 40 hours have passed and you’re on the Missing Persons List. Combat quickly becomes these hectic engagements of fire and fury, crafty tricks and tricky crafts, and every once in a while, you decide to turn into a dragon for shits ‘n’ giggles. The cliche of “it gets better later” has never been more appropriate, and while it’s a phrase you always have to take with a grain of salt, there’s no other way to describe it.
It’s incredible to see such a switch in quality; A game going from 0-100 in the space of an hour or so. It’s more than likely, given the fact that everything seems simplified in order to appeal to all audiences. That being said, there’s still enough mechanics here that can make even the most hardcore RPG fans come over to watch the sparks fly. The gameplay has been casualized, but the overall structure has been modernized, if you catch my drift.
The element of musical combat is also used in gameplay as well, reminiscent of recent South Korean RPG Masquerada: Songs and Shadows. Kirika, Rinna and others are all shown to be skilled players of the instruments that they’re given, being told that they “resonate” with said instruments/weapons. All of this culminates in the “B.A.N.D System”, where your combos and attacks can fill up a bar which gives a massive bonus within one battle, and can be a pinch in any kind of fight you’re in.
There’s also a crafting system, and congratulations, you finally put a crafting system into the last genre that didn’t have one yet. Enemies will drop various supplies relating to your daily grind hustle, which can be used to make various potions or permanent weapon buffs you can switch between on your characters weapons. While it helps to break the monotony of grinding, the locations where you can craft are sparsely dotted around the map, and it never feels like you’re creating anything worth your while.
Except the “Pico Feet” upgrade to your weapons. That was definitely worth it.
It’s not all JRPG perfection, since JRPGs can never be perfect, and there are a few design hiccups along the way. Grinding gameplay to a halt just so you can open the main menu to use a potion or Phoenix Do– I mean, revive potion throws the pacing of the fight out of the window. The tutorial notes only being available in one place in the entire game world is also a bit of a pisser. Even though it doesn’t take an IQ of 200 to understand the mechanics involved, it’s still annoying to have to go all the way back to double check the rules.
It also would’ve been superb to see the game approach more of a Dynasty Warriors vibe with the combat engagements. Getting into fights with Elder-Dragon Gods and random blobs of paste is fine and dandy, but to see the battlefield expand and turn into true warzones over time? Not only would it be a spectacle to behold, since there can be a mixture of different enemies in fights, but it would’ve also been a great way of showing our characters evolving over time. That’s something that the writing can do for us, however.
Yes, despite the combat getting fantastic over time, it’s still not the best part of the game. You could have the finest combat system that man would ever see, but it won’t mean anything if the characters you’re controlling are insufferable batty creases. Thankfully, not only does Shining Resonance provide, but it gives you a virtual smorgasbord of varying characters that all exude charisma.
The game’s narrative elements are eerily reminiscent of Earthbound. Before I’m heckled out of the internet chat rooms for making such a statement, allow me to explain. There’s this odd childlike tone to the entire thing, and the feeling that either sooner or later, things are going to get truly deeply messed up. Although that tone isn’t necessarily helped when they bring out some white-haired Sasuke Uchiha-type character, Zest, and he screams throughout all of his scenes.
Nevertheless, there’s still this surprisingly human engagement throughout. There are genuine arcs for a lot of characters, with growth, character moments, and motivations that fail to shift or change on a dime. Hell, even Rinna and Zest, people who seem like they’re going to be the worst of the worst, manage to be people with depths, dreams, and desires behind them.
There’s a sense of childlike imagination behind it, a life and story dreamt up by creative kids who defeat evil with the power of friendship. Cringey as it may sound, and as cringey as it is in other JRPGs, there’s an honesty to it in Resonance, and that’s probably down to the fact that it doesn’t patronize the player with a theme like what I described above. It’s still approached in an adult manner.
Hell, the day-to-day life of these people is more down-to-earth than your average JRPG, or even normal RPGs. Between questing and dungeon crawling, Yuma can find little events surrounding recurring characters in the story where they’re simply making ends meet. Doing grocery shopping, cleaning up the house, hanging out with your squad-mates in the city; These are places and chances to see your characters react to the fire brewing around them, and it’s kinda realistic… Well, realistic in comparison with everything else.
The friendships you can gain with your characters can also tie in with gameplay. In some fights, the connections you’ve made with certain characters can cause you to resonate with them, resulting in various bonuses ranging from healing, to offensive bonuses. It’s another layer of humanity that helps punctuate the whole “not just party members, but friends” angle.
The visual design of the cast and world is also remarkably great at setting the scene. Not too over-the-top with set pieces or character design, with the worst of it coming down to Princess Excela’s MASSIVE dress. Most of the characters dress appropriately and neatly in accordance with the world, and it helps ease you into the world at large. It’s refreshing to see characters that don’t look like they fell into a vat of melting Skittles, that’s all I’m saying.
Given that this was a JRPG that was only released in Japan, there are a few… Odd moments when it comes to the translations. Certain dialogue between characters and in the lorebook are confusing at times, with one joke between Yuma and a merchant sounding like a reference to paedophilia. I’m not saying that’s what it’s supposed to be, but the translation of it was uncomfortable, to say the least. Said moments are rare however, and it’s not enough to completely nullify the writing’s qualities altogether.
Finally, the bonus content needs to be addressed. While the female characters get err… *RETCH* five to seven swimsuits each, the male characters also get bonus outfits too! Yeah, it might only be one solitary Idol outfit, but hey, it counts. There’s also bonus dungeons that your squad will be able to crawl through for rewards, and a whole new “what-if” story arc involving certain characters that you weren’t able to play as in the main story. Sega recommends that you play this story arc after you’ve completed the normal story, and I do too, as there’s a lot of details involved that might confuse you.
In the end, it’s rare to see a JRPG so accessible to any audience. Shining Resonance Refrain, despite what it might have had to sacrifice in order to appeal to such a wide audience, still manages to have the potential to not only be one of the best JRPGs of the year; it also has the potential to be a Game of The Year altogether. Whether you’re looking for a gateway title to get you into JRPGs, or you’re just looking for a good game to play, you owe it to yourself to play Shining Resonance Refrain.
This review of Shining Resonance Refrain is based on the Xbox One version of the game. A review copy was provided.
An incredibly solid JRPG that can last you for days, leaving you wondering where the time went.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.