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Shining Resonance Refrain

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Media Vision
Release Date: July 10, 2018

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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PS4 Review - 'Shining Resonance: Refrain'

by Joseph Doyle on Oct. 24, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Marking the return of the series to the West for the first time in a decade, Shining Resonance Refrain is a JPRG that tells the tale of sword-wielding Yuma and his friends as they fight the Empire.

Buy Shining Resonance: Refrain

As time progresses and the world becomes smaller due to ever-faster modes of communication, we get to see more of what our planet has to offer. Over the past 30 years, media from other countries has been more widely distributed. As a result, we get games such as Shining Resonance: Refrain, an update from the region-locked PS3 version. The action JRPG fits right into the mold of its anime art style and genre. It's dramatic, has flair, and is in your face with key details, which is fun when executed well with the gameplay and story. However, Shining Resonance: Refrain gives players too much information at once, thus leaving them confused by and disinterested about what's happening in the world, especially regarding the plot and game mechanics, with the visuals likewise being a let-down. However, the game has a saving grace in that its gameplay is an absolute blast, so the player actually wants to grind for levels.

One of the major elements of a JRPG is the story, and Shining Resonance: Refrain creates a convoluted picture with its narrative. The beginning is straightforward enough. You play as Sonia Blanche, the warrior princess, looking for the main character of the narrative, Yuma Ilburn, who was captured for his locked inner power of becoming a dragon. The beginning of the game is peppered with gratuitous character introductions, and coupled with the first hour or so of cut scenes, the player becomes bored and inundated with information. You're joined by another fighter — Kirika Towa Alma, elf dragoneer — and the three of you defeat one of the three great dragons, which are controlled by the evil empire and their leader, Excela Noa Aura.

Afterward, a more in-depth description of the world and its history are given, along with a short look into Yuma's past. The writers simply dump the exposition on the player like it's a chore rather than something that's genuinely interesting. If this had been more spaced out, so the player could really chew on it, and interspersed with more gameplay, the beginning would have been less overwhelming.

As the game continues, much of the story becomes predictable and mundane, especially the side conversations with minor characters, but it does clear up some confusion as soon as breaks for gameplay are incorporated into the storyline. One thing that's intriguing is the constant incorporation of European tales and mythology, such as Beowulf and Ragnarok, and the scenery includes castles, dales and forests. Otherwise, the plot is clunky and starts off on the wrong foot, leaving the player indifferent to the plot in a JRPG, of all genres.

As far as visuals go, nothing in the game is inspiring or garish. Everything appears fine, with anime-style, somewhat-cel-shaded 3D visuals for the models and backgrounds. Most notable is the work on the user interface, which contains flourishes reminiscent of medieval calligraphy, cementing the European motifs spelled out early on. The musical notes and instruments are also peppered throughout various energy bars and select screens. As for the weapon design, each supporting character has a musical instrument that is incorporated into the weapon they use. The characters seem rather generic, with their color schemes and demeanors dispelling any nuance to their intentions and allegiances. The level design and backgrounds are simple yet effective, and the enemies (various animals, creatures, etc.) look solid. Basically, every visual element and the general art style lack defining features or panache other than roots in Japanese art and European culture, so the title's presentation leaves a lot to be desired.

Busting through enemies quickly and easily is the name of the game in Shining Resonance: Refrain. The action JRPG elements are reminiscent of those found in Kingdom Hearts, mixing gameplay of real-time dodging and slashing with a plethora of special moves. What diverges from this system is using a stamina mechanic, as in Dark Souls or the new Legend of Zelda, to create realism and flow in the combat. This system creates a good rhythm between standard and magic spells, which use your stamina and magic points, respectively. Your stamina recharges during the magic attacks, and each successful hit from a standard attack builds up magic points, incentivizing the player to use both types of attacks.

Likewise, during conflicts, you have a few defensive maneuvers, such as dodging and putting up a shield, but the majority of enemies don't warrant such measures. The difficulty of a standard battle sometimes rivals that of a Musou game in that enemies are easily stunned, don't pack much of a punch, and can be whaled on almost indiscriminately.

Another fantastic gameplay addition is the ability to switch to any player in your party, each having substantially different play styles and special moves. Between Yuma's heavy sword, Sonia's dainty fencing maneuvers, and Kirika's bow and arrow attacks, the play styles are alluring and keep the gameplay fresh. Everything dealing with combat in this game juxtaposes the narrative and statistics by being incredibly enjoyable; it's undoubtedly the best aspect of the title.

The number of different equipment options offered is both prolific and daunting. Your weapon can be changed, and it can be imbued with different elements that affect the attack, magic, etc. Furthermore, there's a relationship skill tree that has its own elements that can be leveled up. (You and your party members can have loving, friendly, or other types of relationships.) Then there are sigils, which you collect to create a dungeon, and each piece changing the enemies, layout, levels, etc. You can also create different items from collectibles that you pick up while exploring or by defeating enemies. While including all this and more is an incredible feat that creates tons of opportunity for the player, it's likewise overwhelming, and can be incredibly unclear while trying to sort through your inventory. It seems like Media.Vision expected this to be "the game" people would be playing, so they incorporated many tiny moving parts, rather than appealing to a more casual player, but unfortunately, the gameplay is more off-putting and puzzling than alluring.

Speaking of inventory, Shining Resonance: Refrain tries to toe the line between JRPG and dating sim, as referenced previously with the relationship tree, coupled with the fact that the second story line actually includes a dating sim. Furthermore, the optional outfits for your female party members are downright degrading. Male party members have a regular outfit and an idol (pop music star) outfit, while the women have a French maid, schoolgirl, and several swimsuit outfits. The normal costumes for these characters are gratuitous enough, but the inclusion of these aspects is nothing other than pervy, and it makes it seem like they didn't believe the game would be considered on its own merits. Quite frankly, it's an extension on the poor depiction of women in the video games industry that's been established in games like this and in real life, such as at Riot Games, and it leaves a bad taste in the player's mouth.

For a game that is bursting with music motifs, the scores are decent at best and lacking otherwise. The intro song incorporates the pizzazz of an anime credits score mixed with fantasy-styled flute and harp melodies. Along with the flourishes of music heard throughout in-game events and the post-battle composition, the score is not only uninspired but repetitive. Granted, having the post-battle music change instrumentation based on the characters in your party is an interesting and intriguing concept that's appreciated, but that doesn't make the piece sound less monotonous. If you're going to develop a game where the characters have personalities and weapons that revolve around musical instruments, the progression is divided into opuses, and the game even has a musical term in the title, you have to hit the nail on the head with the music — and Shining Resonance: Refrain does not.

As an action JRPG that focuses on music and European themes, Shining Resonance: Refrain hits about half of its marks. The European aspects with gallant warriors fighting off the impending doom of dragons is incredibly fun in this game. It's the perfect amount of challenge, and it almost presents the player with a JRPG-Musou hybrid that's rewarding to play. However, music and story are largely lacking in the game, either being convoluted or unimaginative, if not both. Given the overly complex customization and sexist tones, the whole project drops from above average to lackluster. Shining Resonance: Refrain is a learning opportunity in recognizing when parts of a game are overextended or outdated.

Score: 6.0/10

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