SEGA’s Shining Resonance was a PlayStation 3 title launched exclusively in Japan nearly 4 years ago. Today, that title has received an enhanced remaster, Shining Resonance Refrain, and finally come West. The game comes with a full English dub (optional), and a new way to experience an old adventure.
When you go to start a new game you’ll be given two options: play the original title in all its glory, or play the new, hypothetical storyline that gives players the opportunity to play one of the 2 primary antagonists. It is recommended, by the game, that players first experience the original narrative before taking the “Refrain” option. This way it allows players to learn what’s going on before throwing two characters that should have nothing to do with the story, into the fray. Ultimately, this is sound advice, but even if you’re familiar with the story, the 2 antagonists don’t really mesh well with the overall narrative. Granted, it’s fun to play as them and use their abilities, but their place should have remained as an antagonist. Remasters, am I right?
That being said, I am sure those that enjoyed the game will love having a chance to play as two of the story’s more badass characters. Shining Resonance Refrain has a tendency to fall into the predictable “anime style” with its characters and story. These cliches tend to weigh the game down to a point where if you’re looking for something new, you may need to look elsewhere. I found myself skipping portions of dialogue because I couldn’t shake this feeling like I had seen or heard it somewhere before. Then later, when the arcs would reach their climax I’d never feel lost, even with skipping some of the scenes, I had an idea of what was going on. That being said, the characters do a decent job of at least keeping the momentum going.
The bigger issue is that the story in Shining Resonance Refrain suffers from pacing issues that really make certain moments hard to pay attention to. After 10-15 minutes, watching these characters, in all their PS3 glory, banter back and forth your eyes tend to glaze over. More than once I found myself losing interest in what was being said, I’d blink, and the scene would be over, leaving me wondering if I missed anything eventful. Thankfully, as I previously stated, the game tends to be predictable, so even if you feel your eyes getting a little glossy, you can probably put the pieces together yourself. After these long dialogue-heavy scenes you get short bursts of gameplay, which is a shame because that tends to be one of the more enjoyable aspects of this game.
The structure of the game itself tends to work pretty well. It’s your basic, usual RPG. There is the city of Marga which you’ll use as your central hub in the world. From there you venture out into a sprawling, interconnecting world much like some of the more recent Final Fantasy titles. Granted, this means you’ll be doing your fair share of backtracking, so that’s fun. At least when you go into an area the game throws some new/random enemies at you, which was a good way to keep me on my feet as I ventured forward.
Thankfully, as a compliment to the game’s structure, the gameplay and combat are pretty solid. Fans of the Tales of Xilia series will probably pick up the systems rather quickly. Shining Resonance Refrain uses an action based combat, like a more basic version of kingdom hearts. There are regular combos that can be strung together that are mapped to the circle button. If you press the triangle button, that activates the character specific attack. Each action is unique to the character you’re playing as. So some may lay out enemies, while others unleash a fast flurry of blows. You can also dodge and block which are obvious inclusions in an action RPG. The combat is deepened by the “Force Abilities”, not to be confused with Star Wars, there are no Jedi here.
You can change Forces whenever you want, and your characters will earn new skills with them as you level up. It was nice to know I had control over who did what in my party, and I probably spent more time messing with their load-outs than I care to admit. On top of this, “Aspects” can be thrown onto your weapon to enable some passive abilities, to add another layer to the combat. These are craftable items that can be assigned to whatever weapon and character you like.
To Shining Resonance Refrain‘s credit, it is probably one of the more accessible games in the genre. Everything is clean and clearly presented which makes picking it up easy for newcomers. Those that want more out of the combat will find enjoyment out of the game’s more complex systems, like Force and Aspects. So it offers a level of depth for players willing to go past what they’re scratching at the surface.
For as nice as all of this is, the combat does have a way of feeling repetitive in the game’s later hours. The same combos you use at the start of your adventure are the ones you’ll be using at the end. To add to this monotony, they’re not the coolest moves I’ve done in a game. I found myself switching between characters often so I could at least utilize everyone’s unique fighting style to break up the tedious latter fights. Putting it bluntly though, there isn’t too much thrill you’ll be getting out of the combat by the end of the game.
All of this makes it hard to come back to the game to experience the Refrain version. Yes, it’s cool to play as a more badass character, but they never blend with the story and that takes away from the immersion. Because of the predictable plot points, I think it’s plausible for a smart individual to just jump into the Refrain version and be able to sort what belongs in this story versus what the canon is.
But hey! If you get bored with all this, there are some romance options you can take advantage of. The enjoyment from that falls somewhere between the combat and the monotonous story, so it’s ok.
All of this makes for a rather bland RPG experience. There are some solid ideas here, but none of them ever feel like they reach their full potential. If you’re willing to commit to this game, fans of the genre will at least find an accessible game that somewhat comes together. The majority of this game plays on the cliches we have come to expect from titles like these. Shining Resonance Refrain is fun, to a point. It holds itself together well enough for players to at least enjoy one playthrough, but unless you truly find something that resonates with you about this game, I fear not everyone will take the plunge and come back for more.