Shining Resonance Refrain Review

By Shawn Collier on October 14, 2018

With the Shining series being relegated to Japan-only for so long, it was a surprising move to fans by SEGA when they announced that Shining Resonance would be receiving not only a current-gen remaster, but also a localization for western countries in the form of Shining Resonance Refrain. Originally released back in 2014 in Japan on the PS3, the game is now available on the PS4, Xbox One and even the Nintendo Switch. So for those long-time Shining fans, is this worth the long wait?

If you’ve played modern-day JRPGs for any length of time, the character traits & narrative will feel very familiar. You play as an amnesiac male hero, Yuma, who just so happens to have the deity-like power of the Shining Dragon inside him, which makes him a target for powers wanting to use that for their own ends. Tagging along with him are people who fit the bill for the standard JRPG tropes, including a female warrior who wants to help protect the weak among others. It’s nothing out-of-the-ordinary for the genre, but Refrain does a great job at building that out to make it seem believable instead of a laundry list of walking, talking tropes.

The various regions & races in the game feel unique from one another, and while the party members are cut from the cloth of their tropes, they have enough narrative building to feel like multi-faceted beings. Unsurprisingly, there’s a dating-sim aspect also included, and while doing these optional events does let you learn more about each character and occasionally unlocks gameplay benefits, it’s not utilized outside of this. I would have loved to see minor cutscene tweaks, for instance, but alas that’s not available.

Visually, it’s plainly evident this was originally a PS3 release, as Refrain is more of a remaster than a reworking of the original game. The cell-shaded graphics give the world a vivid color palette and uniqueness, but the town & dungeon structures feel noticeably flat compared to more recent JRPGs. This aspect is where the Nintendo Switch release edges out compared to the Xbox One, as especially in handheld mode, it’s much more of a prettier game overall due to the smaller screen. Frame rates were pretty good with some minor bumps likely due to the original PS3 engine being ported over to new platforms, although I noticed a tiny bit more of an issue in this regard with playing in docked mode on the Nintendo Switch, so owners of that platform might want to play in handheld mode because of this. The music fits the game, but oddly for a game focused around musical instruments, isn’t that memorable outside of it.

If you’ve played any of the recent Tales of releases, you’ll feel at home with the combat mechanics in Refrain. Battles take place inside a circular map where you and your party fight against enemies. Attacks are dealt in two distinct types: Basic and Break. The former is what you expect — attacks that hit the opponent directly for damage; the latter are specialized attacks that increase the enemy’s Break gauge, and will disable the enemy and doubles the damage output once filled.

Governing the above mechanics is the AP system, which is meant to restrict you from spamming certain attacks by dictating how much AP each move utilizes and forcing the player to wait for a second or two before AP is restored. Adding to this is Force Abilities which use up MP. Unlike normal attacks, these can hit multiple enemies, heal and buff/de-buff. If you end up using all of your MP, you can regain it by attacking similar to the Tales series.

Playing into the musical theme present throughout the game, as your party members each wield musical instrument-inspired weapons called Armonics, is the B.A.N.D. system. Once the gauge is filled, you can unleash a party buff where you all play on those instruments. Besides being flashy, these moments provide party-wide status buffs, with the character at the center affecting what benefits are provided to the team. While this makes things a bit overpowered in easier difficulties, it becomes a needed asset on the harder difficulties where strategy is key.

Remember earlier in the review where it was noted Yuma had access to the power of the Shining Dragon? This comes into play during battles, as you can access this power and take on the form of the dragon as long as you have MP, with it draining each second you’re in this form. This isn’t an instant-win mode, however, as Yuma can grow unstable the longer he’s in this form, with it increasing the lower his MP falls. Once in this unstable state, he’ll go berserk and even attack your own party members. While this isn’t as likely to happen on easier difficulties, it’s a nice optional mechanic for the harder difficulties, and helps to break up the pace every now and then.

Outside of battles, there’s some other unique system mechanics at play, although the game itself does a poor job of actually explaining them, leaving the player to figure out most of it through trial & error. The Armonics have a tuning mechanic which changes their benefits and are leveled separately from the character’s level. This opens up some interesting play mechanics, as you can effectively “tune” the character for fights as needed or keep leveling with a very specific tuning.

New to this version of the game is the Refrain mode, available from the initial start of the game. Certain villains from the main story become party members, although as the game warns when you have a choice of the original narrative or this mode’s alteration, it will make certain scenes odd as you’ll have essentially two “versions” of the characters on the screen. This version of the game also includes all of the 150 DLC items that were paid DLC in the original Japanese PS3 version included for free.

Final Thoughts

Shining Resonance Refrain is a solid JRPG, albeit not an outstanding one. If you’ve played some of the B-tier JRPGs back in the PS2/PS3 eras and liked them, you’ll enjoy this one. For those used to the triple-A refinements of series like Final Fantasy, this will likely be a disappointment.

Shining Resonance Refrain was reviewed using a Xbox One digital copy, and a Nintendo Switch digital copy provided by SEGA. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
While not explained well in-game, the battle and gameplay mechanics give a nice twist on the usual JRPG formula, especially on harder difficulties.
While the characters initially feel like walking tropes, the game does flesh them out as a person surprisingly well over time.
Due to game’s PS3 roots, the Switch version surprisingly enough feels like a better fit.
This is a remaster of a PS3 game, so those expecting radical changes in the graphical department are going to be disappointed.
The game does a poor job of properly explaining the battle and gameplay mechanics.
Those who expect triple-A quality in their games will be disappointed.
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