Old gamers, or at least those who loved their Genesis will fondly remember Shining Force. Those who loved SEGA completely will remember Shining Wisdom, and those who loved the GBA will remember Shining Soul. The Shining series has been a mainstay in JRPGS since the early 90s, but it’s never enjoyed the success of Final Fantasy or even the Tales of games from Bandai Namco. Part of the reason for that is that the Shining games seem to so seldom come Stateside these days. Well, SEGA has seen fit to put an end to that with the release of Shining Resonance: Refrain, a fancy remake of the 2014 Japan-only PlayStation 3 release. It’s not without its share of annoying JRPG cliches, but Shining Resonance: Refrain is a solid and meaty game that deserves to be played by any fan of the genre. This is our review of Shining Resonance: Refrain on the Nintendo Switch. It is also out today on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Developed by Media.Vision, the same folks behind the classic Wild Arms and Chaos Rings games, Shining Resonance: Refrain tells the story of Yuma, a young man with the soul of the world’s most ancient and powerful dragon locked away inside him. The “Refrain” part of the game is pretty unique, in that it’s a whole different “What If” telling of the game’s story from different points of view. It’s not necessary to play the main game first, as it’s unlocked at the main menu, but it will make a whole lot more sense if you play through the base game first. Yuma is part of a world called Alfheim, as Shining Resonance borrows quite a bit from Norse Myth. It’s a rather typical tale of a large powerful Imperial Army facing down a noble Camelot-esque nation-state. It’s got a fair few surprises though, and some great (if cliche) characters. I dare you all not to like Agnum, as he quickly became the preferred playable character for me.
Battles happen in the third-person, and you can control one party member at a time. There’s no switching mid-battle, but at any time outside of battle, you can change who you’re controlling. As the characters level, they get new Forces (spells), and yes – you can even use pop songs in the middle of fights to give you different buffs for battle. It’s a little goofy, but it works. I mean, we’re talking about a melodramatic anime here. Combat felt a little slow to me at first, as each character has a regular attack, a break attack, and up to four Force spells available at a time. As you lock onto mobs, you can wear down their armor, and then use break attacks to “break” them and make them vulnerable for a short time. Enemies have strengths and weaknesses, and each character has spells and weapons that have specific affinities to help take down foes. Yuma, being the Shining Dragon incarnate, can also turn into the dragon and wreak havoc when needed. But if he runs out of mana while doing so, he’s rendered useless for a bit. It’s sort of an “only when absolutely necessary” skill.
There’s plenty of JP and EN voiceover, and I chose to keep the English, as it actually sounds pretty dang good, all things considered. And that’s saying something, considering there’s so much talking in Shining Resonance. JRPGs are often known for going a little heavy on the exposition, and Shining Resonance is no different. For the most part, the writing and localization are fantastic, but there are some definite cringe moments when Yuma tries to romance the female cast members. He’s the “main” character of the game, and ergo, he’s the one you can use to build relationships with – there’s Rinna for example, who basically lusts after Yuma from the beginning. Their interactions are funny, if overbearing. But those odd relationship building bits aside, the writing is A-OK. Nothing incredible, but memorable all the same with some real heart.
All told, even without the Refrain option, Shining Resonance is a fantastic JRPG, especially for those who love the more action-oriented series like Tales of, or even FFXV. I found it far more engaging than say, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, another epic JRPG to hit the Switch recently. And if you’re without the handy little Nintendo console, the port should be identical on the PS4, XB1, and PC as well.