Sega has long been a leader in my world for role-playing games and the Shining series has been no exception. From Shining in the Darkness to Shining Force to the most current release, it has had no less than 10 different developers and 5 publishers. Shining in the Darkness debuted in 1991 on the Sega Genesis and was not a title that I personally had played. Since then we have seen, according to Wikipedia, titles like Shining the Holy Ark, Shining Force, Shining Force Gaiden, Shining Force II, Shining Force III (my favorite), and many others that never made it to the west. Shining Resonance, originally crafted for the PlayStation 3, never made it stateside. This travesty has finally been rectified this week by releasing Shining Resonance Refrain on all of the major consoles, but honestly… which one is better to play it on than the Switch? I mean, you can take it with you on an airplane and continue your story and cut the perceived travel time by a huge margin.
I would like to take this opportunity to ask, nay… beg Sega to do this with the Shining Force series, since I never have been able to complete the story line of Shining Force III. I am figuratively on my hands and knees, Sega, please do this for your fans here in North America. You can even release it for our Canadian brethren who would also like to continue. In fact, it would be good to just release the entire series, updated to PlayStation 3 plus graphics and sound and really wow the population with this epic strategy role-playing series. Enough groveling, what did we get with their latest gift?
A little history lesson for you as we explore the journey from the Japanese release to the U.S. Originally announced in May of 2014, Shining Resonance released later that year on November 17. Sega sold approximately 67,000 copies according to Gematsu. So, what do we get with the “Refrain” version that has just released for the Switch? We get over 150 pieces of DLC, which I assume are items like the different costumes you can dress your characters in. What kinds of costumes? Well, it’s a Japanese RPG so swimsuits are a given. Plus many others that show off the, ahem… generous features of the female characters.
If you love a game that explains everything while playing, Shining Resonance Refrain will most definitely not disappoint you. Everything you need to know is carefully laid out for you by embedded tutorials, which are available to you later if you need a refresher course. Honestly, there is so much to learn that it was information overload at some points. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for me to go back and look at these tutorials for a refresher on specific features. As a point of reference, you are able to craft items that you can attach to your weapons, which are called Armonics. You can power up your Armonics by placing Aspect Pieces in the slots of your Tuning. These Aspect Pieces can be created by items you pick up during battles or by exploring areas where you can find them on the ground or within treasure chests.
Beyond Armonics and Armonic Pieces are several other facets of gameplay that are numerous and deep. They can be explored more deeply as you play and will help you in battle if you can master them. I spent a lot of time doing so and delving deep into understanding features like Tuning, Conducting, B.A.N.D. Sessions, Dragonshift, BPM (Battle Performance Mana), and many more. This all adds to the learning curve created by cramming in so many features, but more than keeps this game interesting even though the story itself is excellent. By giving us so many options it can feel a little overwhelming at first, but those of us who play these types of games often have become accustomed to this and welcome this layering of gameplays systems with open arms.
The characters you meet are colorful in physical ways, but they become even more so when they start to show off their personalities, revealing their own agendas and how they fit in with the overall theme of the warring factions. I will not go into detail about the story, but early on, we are on a rescue mission of a boy that is being held captive. If you download the free demo that’s available right now on the eShop you’ll play this section. From there the story explores the tale of Alfheim under the domain of a divine force known as Deus. Each character has as much backstory as you wish to explore. Included is the option of playing with characters not available in the default mode, named Excella and Jinas. There’s even a dating simulation with Bond Diagrams where you can ask characters to join you in personal sessions that will affect the bonding. It truly is a huge undertaking should you choose to explore everything Shining Resonance Refrain offers.
The graphics are obviously more in tune with the last generation than our current one no matter what system you choose to play it on. With that in mind, as I said, the portable version just makes sense to me and may push gamers to choose the Switch version for that reason alone. The characters are very much the typical Japanese anime style and are beautifully detailed. The monsters and dragons you encounter are also cool looking and animate very nicely during battles. Pair this with some great music and voice acting and you have a complete RPG experience that should not disappoint.
The battle system is in real time, so if you were looking for a traditional turn-based affair this one won’t be for you. Even with the tutorials I struggled at times to understand how specific events were triggered in combat. For example, there’s a Dragonshift option that let’s you deal more attack, but if you use it too much or go “too far” you’d risk activating berserk mode, where the attacks would hurt everyone, including members in your party. The thing is this felt somewhat random and I wasn’t sure exactly when I was going to go berserk, which made me use it sparingly. It seemed like such a fine line between a successful use and one where it went horribly wrong, so you will want to test it out in battles and maybe only use it on bosses or really tough battles.
Overall, this is a huge game that you can invest a lot of time in and find new ways to enjoy it on any level. There is a great deal of level grinding if you would like the battles to be easier later on. I started early on trying to talk to as many people as I could, but grew tired of that quickly. Many of the interactions that you can have are not necessarily interactions that you should have. The relationships between the main characters are deep, but the general townsfolk are very shallow pretty much making it easy to ignore. Whether that is good or bad for your experience will have to be left up to you. I can wholeheartedly recommend this as an excellent investment of your gaming time and well worth the price of admission.
Shining Resonance Refrain was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.
Jay has been an avid gamer since the Intellivision days. His hobbies include building PCs, 3D modeling and printing, and spending time with his children and dog.