Shining Resonance Refrain Review – Shining through its Flaws
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release: 10th June 2018
I don´t know why but I have an enormous love for music in my JRPGs. In form of integrated songs or fighting systems literally revolving around music … even if the rest is somehow mediocre I can still manage to put up with it, as long as there´s some sort of music integration. So, Shining Resonance Refrain wasn´t only a no-brainer due to its name but also because it´s one of those titles SEGA never brought to the west, despite some clear fan outcry … until now.
What´s most striking about Shining Resonance Refrain are its giant amounts of clichés thrown at you during the first few minutes. Starting out with a prologue that explains you barely anything except introducing Yuma, the main protagonist. Not only is he your typical, low self-esteem anime protagonist, but also inherited the power to control the power of the strongest dragon in existence. Along with his saviour, the princess of Astoria, he now has to fight on their side against the invading Lombardian Empire and their battle princess.
Sounds confusing at first? It is and only poorly explained in the following minute-long intro cutscene. Though, once you got a grasp of the whole century old lore behind this land called Alfheim, it will all begin to seem exceptionally cliché. Nearly every character is another anime trope, every line resembles already heard dialogue. During pretty much the whole game there´s never a moment without yet another trope or foreseeable twist. However, why Shining Resonance Refrain´s plot still works is exactly because of that. Even though dialogues feel stretched out and characters are never truly anything more than walking clichés (even undergoing the same development), there´s a lot of fun to be had here. Simply by being entertained by the sheer dedication this game brings to the table at following those templates. At least I could always chuckle about this story which may or may not have been written like this intentionally.
What could appeal to more people is the quite good world-building presented to us. As previously said, it takes a whole lot of time to introduce even the most fundamental aspects of the world, so it naturally takes more time to further dive into its rich lore. While not entirely unique, the massive amount of information about dragons presented here is just something to behold and at least more unique than the main plotline. Though you will need to bring some dedication to reading along, as most of it can only be read in books and other side stuff.
In exchange, Shining Resonance Refrain rocks a pretty interesting combat system. The base is a classic action RPG with two types of attacks: normal ones and special attacks which deplete the enemy´s break gauge, effectively stunning them once completely empty. Additionally, there´s a vast array of skills or magic spells. Combined with the classic turn-based elements. This time displayed as an AP gauge around your character required for every attack and move. As every one of those systems, it´s fun but never really too deep. Most bosses will eventually just consists of smashing break attacks before unleashing heavy-hitting spells. Nonetheless, in particular, here, the animation and fluidity often seemed somewhat smoother than in other games.
Where it really shines are things like the B.A.N.D. mode. In theory, yet another fancy name for a generic team all out attack. In practice probably one of the best examples to show the game´s biggest appeal: The music undertone. Obviously, the name is a clear reference to a certain musical word, right? The whole things are also presented in the exact way you would imagine it, with all the team members playing their instruments in a giant band … what more could you ask? Considering how this theme is visible throughout the entire combat system, be it the weapons which are sometimes blends between instruments or later spells. Even the dragons are always accompanied by vocals required to summon them.
Where Shining Resonance Refrain truly excels, in my opinion, are the designs and levelling system. From top to bottom, the whole HUD is almost completely made up of notes or other music symbols, reinforcing the strong theme I so adore. As a result, navigating the unsurprisingly good menus is a pleasure on its own. What adds the most, much-needed depth to the game is the character growth though. Instead of solely classic levels, we´re presented with the option to assign individual “focuses”, effectively improving certain stats like defence or alike. Those can then be upgraded on their own to strengthen the bonuses further and further. On the other hand, those can also be switched on the fly, while not taking the upgrades from one stat to the other, effectively forcing you to choose high flexibility over specialities or vice versa. COmbined with the high amount of possible stats and combinations there´s a giant amount of experimenting made possible.
Unfortunately, the actual graphics can´t hide their age. Originally released on the PS3, everything from the textures to models never quite looks on par with current JRPGs on the PS4. In particular, the dragon entrances or fights tend to look lacklustre considering how powerful those mighty creatures are. Once accustomed to the mediocre visuals, Shining Resonance Refrain can also have its stylish phases where both its themes and graphics unite into one giant mix. Only the fact all dialogue sequences are using the 3D models instead of 2D art is somewhat of a letdown for me, as I generally always prefer the fancier looking hand-drawn art.
All in all, Shining Resonance Refrain isn´t a revolutionary JRPG. Be it the trope-heavy plot that won´t satisfy everyone or the classic structure of the experience. Luckily, its action combat was often just enough to keep me interested, especially combined with the greatly executed music theme. So if you´re in for a classic experience and some fast musical action then this game might just be for you.
[A Review Code was provided by Koch Media]