One thing that gamers in the West don’t get nearly enough of are localized Japan exclusives. Shining Resonance Refrain is the latest title from SEGA to get the localization treatment. Even though it doesn’t demand attention, it does manage to display a well-crafted RPG experience that is worthy of players time, even if it doesn’t always respect it.
Previously only released in Japan as Shining Resonance, Refrain has received a great localization. I cannot stress this enough. A lot of localized titles seem a bit campy with dialogue and texts, but not Shining Resonance Refrain. At no point during my journey through Alfheim did I feel like the dialogue and text was too Eastern. This is the greatest achievement that Shining Resonance earns. SEGA has a strong history of great localization projects, like the Yakuza franchise, and seeing the bar set so high here was fantastic.
Sure, the characters definitely play into standard JRPG tropes, but everything is done to a superior level. Shining Resonance Refrain follows a young man named Yuma. Yuma has the ancient power of the Shining Dragon resonating within him. After he is taken prisoner by the Empire, the young princess Sonia rescues him with the help of a dragoneer (someone sworn to serve and protect dragons) named Kirika. After this, Yuma decides to work with the kingdom of Astoria to help curb the tyranny from the Empire.
While most of the story and characters follow standard JRPG tropes, the localization efforts really help make it feel like less of a chore than other RPGs. All of the characters in Shining Resonance Refrain feel pretty essential to the story, and no one character tends to overstay their welcome. Like other titles, Shining Resonance allows players to build relationships with all of the party members. Due to each of their unique personalities, this was something I actively pursued. Instead of just focusing on one character, I wanted to learn as much about each of them as I could. There are bonuses to be yielded as well from different characters depending on relationship level. At one point Yuma gained new traits (we’ll get to those in in a bit) from two party members just from building up their relationship. This gives players a sense of reason behind spending time with different characters, instead of just focusing on one or two.
The biggest complaint I have with Shining Resonance Refrain is a lack of meaningful things to do. Obviously I spent a lot of time bonding and building relationships, but a lot of the quests between the more important missions and side quests feel rather meaningless. Disrespecting players’ time is something Shining Resonance Refrain doesn’t hold back on. A majority of the missions involve going to a specific point on the map to engage in a battle, or traversing the terrain to fight an important beast. A lot of these don’t progress the story, and feel like they are just there to fill the time.
The world of Alfheim is definitely pretty, but it still feels like a previous generation game. The environments are bright and colorful, and each one feels unique from the other areas. The environments could’ve used the extra love that the character models got, because bland textures in the world don’t help this remaster’s case. The other big complaint I had with Shining Resonance was the lack of a fast travel system. The world isn’t on the larger side of RPGs, but walking everywhere was more obnoxious than the lack of meaningful side quests, especially with bland textures everywhere I looked. On the other side of the coin, the character models are beautiful, well animated, and similarly vibrant. Special abilities are flashy, although when too many attacks are going on on screen, I did experience very brief significant slowdown.
The core of Shining Resonance Refrain’s combat system is pretty similar to the Tales of series. There are a few differences, but when I booted it up for the first time I felt more or less at home. Combat is mostly mapped to two buttons, a lighter attack and a strong attack. All party members have a series of stronger abilities that can be mapped to different button combinations. As characters level up they also earn more of these abilities, and some are elemental which are useful against different enemies against their weak points.
Musicality plays a central theme in Shining Resonance Refrain. A lot of weapons are based on instruments, and some of the key terms are based on music references. One of the things that makes Shining Resonance stand out from other action JRPGs is the B.A.N.D system. As players attack and defeat enemies, they earn BPM or battle performance mana. After activation, party members receive various status buffs or attack buffs. Depending on party leader, different B.A.N.D songs can be activated, allowing for varying benefits. Additionally, Yuma can also utilize his hidden dragon ability, temporarily transforming into the creature. His power goes through the roof, but his MP depletes at a steady pace. If his MP gets too low before transforming back, he can go berserk and attack anyone, even allies.
There was a bit of grinding in Shining Resonance. I didn’t feel like it took me out of the experience too much though. Most of the basic enemies were easily defeated without any difficulty. As I approached new boss enemies though, it forced me to realize how under-leveled my party members were. Enemies were also pretty generous with EXP, which was a great thing, and didn’t force me to grind for too long. An hour or two of grinding goes a long way in Shining Resonance, something players might not be used to from a lot of the “grindier” JRPGs.
Shining Resonance Refrain doesn’t reinvent any RPG tropes players are used to, but a great localization really sets it apart from the pack. A strong combat system isn’t overshadowed by any of my big complaints, but there was a very real issue of a disrespect of my time. Lacking meaningful tasks work against Shining Resonance, but it isn’t enough of a reason to ignore it by any means.
Shining Resonance Refrain is available now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. This review is based on a PS4 copy of the game provided by the publisher. It is available for purchase here.