Shining Resonance Refrain is a return of an established series. Since Shining in the Darkness in 1991, strategy and RPG games falling under that label has appeared. But this is not just the return of a line of games, it is also something of a return to form. Shining Resonance Refrain may not be exactly old, as it appeared on the PlayStation 3 in Japan in 2014 originally, but it does pay tribute to older games RPGs in its themes and gameplay.
In Shining Resonance Refrain, we have a number of familiar elements brought together to create a story that feels similar to the sorts of RPGs we saw back on the PlayStation and PlayStation 2. Yuma is a young man who has the power of the Shining Dragon inside of him, but he is reluctant to use its power. After being rescued from an Imperial prison by Sonia, princess of Alfheim, and a Dragoneer elf named Kirika, he has an opportunity to use his abilities for the greater good and defend a “good” kingdom against a seemingly power-hungry one with multiple Machina-Dragons. There are some twists here, usually rather well telegraphed, but it has the same sort of feeling as older RPGs where you have a good idea of who you can and can not trust, are presented with a hero who will grow into his role and get to see some fanservice that is goofy or romantic along the way. In terms of story, I feel like it calls to mind some of the earlier Tales games with maybe with a hint of Breath of Fire.
The look of Shining Resonance Refrain reminds me of older RPGs as well. The fashion choices mark a return to high collars, lots of belts, bright fabrics, flashy jackets for any male character and any excuse to have female characters in Asian-inspired or gothic lolita clothing. Fanciful is a good word to describe the look of not only major characters, but also enemies and environments. Even when things seem rather depressing or dire, there is this sort of optimism this RPG exudes. Also, it can look a bit dated if you are not playing in Handheld mode on the Nintendo Switch, due to resolutions and the general age of the game. If it is in Handheld mode, then it feels like some of the flaws and imperfections are hidden.
The nature of the game also means there are times when Shining Resonance Refrain can feel a little typical or tedious. The battles are typical action-RPG fare. Once you run into an enemy, a fight immediately begins right there. Button-mashing is one way to win, though you can use different sorts of attacks and special moves to break an enemy’s defense and wear them down. Once you reach a certain point, a gauge is on screen that allows you to use a B.A.N.D. attack that gives everyone a certain buff for a temporary period, depending on which character is in the “center.” But for the most part, I found button-mashing on most foes and having Yuma immediately turn into the Shining Dragon for miniboss or boss fights made it possible to win any encounter.
Which you may have to deal with a lot if you bother with the supplemental quests from people hanging around the hub city, as they usually involve “gathering X items” or “fighting X enemies” then returning for some items you might not actually need. Shining Resonance Refrain can fall into the trap of offering up a lot of busywork in the hopes of making grinding a little more interesting by heaping fetch quests on top of it.
But for the most part, I felt like I was returning to a simpler time when playing Shining Resonance Refrain. It reminded me of the days when I would pop a disc into my system, be introduced to a creation story where benevolent and malevolent dragons might be involved, have a chance to fight against a foe who was 100% evil and enjoy a game that sometimes had characters or situations that could feel just plain goofy. Agnum and his guitar-staff will never not make me smile and I am fond of the “cheesy” conductor-penguin-mascot.
Shining Resonance Refrain knows what people enjoyed about classic RPGs. It remembers how important overwhelming odds, dragons, elves, mystical forces, unknown pasts and camaraderie can be. While there are times when it can feel like story twists are too heavily telegraphed and things can be a bit tedious, but this can also be comforting. Especially if you happen to be playing on the Nintendo Switch, where it looks a little less dated and can be enjoyed in smaller doses in handheld mode. It has moments where it can be entertaining, especially if you do not take it too seriously.
Shining Resonance Refrain will come to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on July 10, 2018.