Most of the time, I spend a lot of time and effort investigating a game before investing in it, as I try to avoid buyer’s regret in almost all circumstances. After years of experience in selling through my mom’s old business, I’ve learned that getting rid of stuff you aren’t interested in keeping, without a loss, is actually quite difficult. Just because seller A is offering their item for price X doesn’t mean you’ll get even a fraction of that.
This is one of the reasons why I have a strict rule about how much I’ll pay for used games, and why I almost never pay full price. So I’m not stuck with a room full of games I don’t like, where Gamestop will only be willing to pay 5 bucks for a game I spent 60 on, or going through the hassle of Craigslist/Ebay/Whathaveyou. It’s why I stick to games from publishers, developers or studios I already know and like, and get good recommendations from people whose taste I share. But even so, once in a blue moon, I’ll get a game on pure impulse, which is the case with Shining Resonance Refrain. I didn’t have many Switch games at the time, and Best Buy had it during Black Friday, and it had a lot of the features I like in JRPGs: pretty character designs, an option to go on dates with characters and plot points around music. It’s why I love the Ar Tonelico series, and had such a fun time with Stella Glow.
Shining Resonance Refrain is an HD port of the PS3 game Shining Resonance from Sega. The port has additional date scenarios and characters, as well as having all the costumes available. It’s an action JRPG, where a leader with a team of three combat monsters and bosses, and with the BAND system, the musically themed weapons upgrade with various affects. The story takes places in the country of Alfeim, a holy land once belonging to the World Dragons, and their worshipers, the High Elves. After Ragnorok, a war between the Dragons and the dark god Deus, the world was saved but the dragons were killed off. In the present, a modern threat in the form of the all-conquering Lombardian Empire, is attempting to rule the world with the power of the magic from the past.
There to stop them are the Kingdom of Astoria, human settlers, and Wellant, the less powerful descendants of the High Elves. The game starts out on a mission to sabotage the Empire by breaking into one of their fortresses. It’s there that we find the main character Yuma, who turns out to be the reincarnation of the Shining Dragon, the most powerful of the World Dragons and the one who has the chance to not just stop the Empire, but save the world from the plots of the Sanguine Church, a shadowy force propping the Empire’s claim to power from behind the scenes. The problem is, my description is WAY cooler than the game actually is.
The plot and its characters are a checklist of almost every generic Fantasy and JRPG trope in the book. Yuma has a serious case of Generic Main Character Disorder, which would be fine as he’s a decent enough bloke, but usually in a case like this the game is held up by the characters around him, and unfortunately, they’re all as dull as he is. Sonia is the Tomboy one, Kirika is the Ladylike one, Marion is the Loli, Rinna is the Horny one and Agnum is Big Bro type. Even though the game has a dating system where you can invite the characters out for the night and go on dates while healing at the inn, none of the characters are compelling enough to really bother with them. I kept going, hoping these characters will grow on me, but only Sonia and Agnum have anything even mildly appealing about them (Kirika’s biggest defining characteristic besides being devoted to the Shining Dragon is that she gasp! Hates carrots). These dates are also necessarily to unlock more favorable traits in the Bond System, which allow beneficial stat boosts during battle, but with how generic these characters are, make it kind of a grind. The only interesting character is Excella, the Princess of the Empire, who is actually a fairly fascinating politician, seeking conquest not just with brute force or bloodshed, but through pragmatic strategies that will keep her kingdom in tact and out of the cross hairs of the political rivals in her family. But she’s only dateable if you go with the updated version. If you play Original Mode, like I had, you don’t even get that much interaction with her. Otherwise, if you’ve played any game where a ragtag group of rebels unite behind a chosen one to stop an all-consuming Empire who is being duped by a seemingly helpful religious organization that is actually working for an entity that will destroy the world, well, you don’t really need to play Shining Resonance since it doesn’t do a single new or interesting thing with the concept. They try to include some lore to give the countries and characters some context, but even in the dictionary section it doesn’t go deep enough or expand enough to make me care about the world, and while eventually you get some more history when you go on the dates, like Lestin knew Yuma’s mom before she died, there are too many scenarios of Oh no! Carrots! Before you even get to any of that stuff. The game also has costumes, but those are dull too since the majority of the ones are swimsuits for the female characters. And it’s not handled with any kind of humor or sense of irony. It’s just straight up Weeb Wank Bait.
That being said, this game isn’t terrible, just unoriginal. It does look beautiful, and the non-bikini costumes are actually very pretty. The armor designs, dragon designs and backgrounds are all stellar. The music is great, and where the game does shine is combat. In addition to carefully balancing the relationships between the characters, the BAND system allows for strategic use of buffs and debuffs, and the coolest feature is that in combat, you can actually transform Yuma INTO a dragon. This is a double-edged sword, as being in Dragon Mode powers up yourself and your teammates, but you can also go berserk and actually end up killing your own party. So sometimes, even against a very tough boss, it makes more sense to hold off on using the BAND or Dragon Mode and just focus on finding weaknesses and staggering your opponents. I actually spent more time going on Sidequests (which I very rarely do in JRPGs) than bothering with the plot whose plot twists were telecast a million miles away.
I don’t regret buying the game, and don’t feel like I wasted shelf space by owning it, but if you read my Gamer Diaries because we share tastes and you want to avoid buying unnecessary games, Shining Resonance is a pretty but shallow game you can safely skip. If you end up with a cheap copy, you can do worse, but in the ever expanding library of JRPGS for the Switch, you can also do a lot better.