The problem with describing Shining Resonance Refrain, is that it plays and feels like a “best of” compilation of other releases. You have ideas, mechanics and characters which are all but openly lifted from other titles, meaning that it can be hard to pick out just where it succeeds and fails on its own merits.
The game is ultimately extremely derivative in its mechanics, but it’s easy to see where it has picked and chosen the best parts of other successes. Influences from Eternal Sonata and Ar Tonelico are both evident in the use of music as a method of buffing and debuffing enemies, while the relationship links system seems like something straight out of Persona. However, it does these well enough that it’s difficult to fully hold it against the game, while the core combat system is dynamic and fast paced enough to easily disguise some of its more derivative core elements.
Another major point in its favour is the artistic direction, which is bright and extremely vibrant. It has every anime element you would expect from the big eyes to the superpowered attacks, but it’s so carefully crafted that there’s a distinct charm to it. It manages to walk a very careful line between traditional and overly generic which repeats many older inspirations and designs, but still manages to retain its own identity. There’s rarely a level or boss which doesn’t help visually build upon the world in some way, and that’s definitely to its benefit.
Shining Resonance Refrain’s greatest failing lies largely with its lore. The setting and overall concept is as stock as it comes, often playing and feeling like a SNES era Final Fantasy clone. It consists of stock characters, stereotypes, and generic overplayed concepts we have seen too many times before. Having the evil Empire hunting an ancient power that the protagonist is tied to is bad enough, but when that links into dragon lore and an extremely weak protagonist, it’s difficult to become engaged. It’s only made worse by how the game continually tries to keep the player engaged through dating sim elements and embracing relationship cliches. Combine that with the overly long cutscenes, and the experience it offers can be downright soulless at times.
Ultimately, Shining Resonance Refrain is a game of extremes. The combat system is solid, art direction is beautiful to the point of overcoming its poor graphics, and the Persona style bonding system works well. Yet, with a boring story and forgettable characters it can become a chore to force yourself through the experience. If you value mechanics over storytelling you might get a kick out of this one, but JRPG fanatics should look elsewhere for their next big hit.