When I first reported on Shining Resonance Refrain over at Gamespace.com, it was something of a revelation to me. The hype that so many of my friends and colleagues had built up around the game seemed well placed after I got hands on the Nintendo Switch demo. Now, we can finally follow Kirita, Sonia, and Yuma on the rest of their journey as Shining Resonance refrain launches on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC.
Initially launching on the PlayStation 3 back in late 2018, it seemed that this epic tale of Dragoneers and destiny never had wings. It failed to make it out of Japan, despite pretty strong sales in its home territory and a top ten chart entry. It has taken 4 years, an entire generation of consoles, and a remastered relaunch to finally bring Yuma and his Dragon to western audiences.
Stepping into Alfheim Yuma serves as the central protagonist in this adventure. Set in the mythical land of Alfheim, this adventure takes the original Shining resonance, packs in all available DLC, and adds a brand-new Refrain mode. Things open, however, right in the middle of an epic prison break and introduces players to Yuma, Kirita, and Sonia. Yuma is boy with a tragic backstory. Bound by fate and a magical seal, he holds the power of the legendary Shining Dragon inside him. As is typical for so many male protagonists in Japanese hero stories, Yuma starts his journey as an unlikeable whelp. His apathy to act finds him imprisoned by the Empire and he is initially rescued by Sonia, a princess and Knight of the Astorian empire, and Kirita, a sylph and powerful Dragoneer.
Dragoneers and the ancient Dragons of old are central to the conflict which surrounds Shining Resonance Refrain. The world of Alfheim is in a near perpetual state of conflict with two forces, The Kingdom of Astoria and the Empire, at war. While the Kingdom of Alfheim sits on the verge of extinction, a few of these Sylph Dragoneers hold the balance of power in a stalemate that now exists. They are also incredible warriors, bringing incredible power to the battlefield through magical combat. The lore of Alfheim might already seems complicated but developer Media.Vision, rely on a fairly standard set of high fantasy tropes, interjecting a series of uniquely Japanese twists to affairs.
Like the Ys and Tales of series, Shining Resonance Refrain benefits from its relative independence to any established blockbuster franchise. JRPGs that sit in worlds like .HACK, SAO, or Naruto tend to be shackled by their need to adhere to existing canon, either creating games that have absolutely no impact on the world or putting players in the role of completely inconsequential side characters. These utterly disposable experiences are a stark contrast from Shining Resonance Refrain which manages to build a host of characters that, while ticking many of the traditional anime tropes, still feel unique and engaging. Even Excella and her cohorts, the game’s main antagonists, are engaging enough to warrant the inclusion of the Refrain mode, where you can play as Excella.
Media.Vision makes the most of the game’s chaotic opening, quickly introducing players to the basic controls and combat options that are essential to your success. The combat systems that are common to all characters throughout Shining Resonance Refrain are one of the great surprises of this PlayStation 3 port. In an age where I’ve seen far too many RPGs take turn-based strategy and alienate my interest in events, with unengaging encounters, this 4-year-old JRPG manages to build a sense of urgency with its action combat approach.
Dungeons and Dragons
Crawling through the opening dungeons of Shining Resonance Refrain, enemy encounters are clearly marked and allow players to choose how they engage, potentially giving you the jump on enemy guards. Drawing your sword is relatively straight forward and works well on a standard XBox controller for the most part. A common set of attack controls provide each character a basic action and a break skill. Both the basic attack and break skills, which will incapacitate and interrupt enemies, are resource intensive and consume Action Points. These basic actions are supplemented by a series of magical abilities, which eat their own mana bar, and a set of party-based enhancements.
Of all these, the B.A.N.D system stands out as one of the game’s most interesting, and thematic pieces. It, again, relies on a distinct resource to activate but unleashes the true power of the Dragoneers. Dragoneers are an incredibly powerful group of warriors that have held the Empire at bay for years. They possess a power handed down through generations, gifted to certain Sylph. They wield seemingly outrageous musical weapons and can channel them to unlock this B.A.N.D system. Depending on a particular party arrangement, the songs that these bards sing can change the course of combat. While Dragoneers are essentially just bards by another name, their mix of mythology, magic, and Japanese idol transformation seems to interject just the right amount of ridiculousness to ultimately make it charming.
With a range of unique characters and fighting styles, combat encounters provide a fantastic diversity of options. They also require a good head for resource management. Resource systems in Shining Resonance Refrain clearly nod towards classic tabletop RPGs and while it is easy enough to just spam attack in early scenarios, combat coordination and resource management are increasingly relevant as boss encounters become more challenging.
Mystical idol transformations and Dragon spirits might all sound a little off the wall but a number of the game’s narrative and mechanical systems are sympathetic to the way your party works together. While the B.A.N.D action is an obvious example of how the constitution and progression of a team can change the way the game plays, the underlying narrative is linked to these ties that bind us, generally described as resonance.