This week, the gaming world is abuzz with talk of Octopath Traveler, a new JRPG published by Square Enix. I admit that it looked fantastic to me but there was a snag: a new Shining game was published in the west this week as well. There's no hiding my love of Sega. And I adore the Shining games on Genesis and Saturn. Shining Resonance: Refrain would be the first new Shining game to reach this continent in well over a decade. It's kind of a big deal. So as awesome as Octopath Traveler looks, my allegiance is with Sega and the Shining series. I HAD to play this first.
The first couple of hours were rough. And you have to put this into perspective: I'm a dude who is thrilled that a new Sega published JPRG exists. I'm a dude who is ecstatic to even be saying that I'm playing a new Shining game. So I feel like I'm probably more forgiving to Shining Resonance than say, just a JRPG fan who is casually interested in playing this one. But then again, there's a flip to all this - I'm not the biggest JRPG fan in the world. I like them. I love some of them. I've been playing them since Dragon Warrior/Quest and Final Fantasy on the NES. I have lots of favorites. But it's not my top tier genre of choice. So then again, maybe I'm possibly LESS patient that JRPG fanatics. Maybe.
That said, I did play through Final Fantasy Type-0 earlier this year. I hurled a laundry list of complaints and criticisms at that game, but I still found it enjoyable enough to see it through to the end. I'm ten hours into Shining Resonance right now and I'm already feeling like I'm ready to put it on the backburner and get started with Octopath Traveler. Maybe it's just unfair timing.
But stop! I don't want you to think I hate this game. I don't hate this game. At all. There's actually lots of stuff that I'm enjoying about it. It's just that the story and dialogue is blah. There's some interesting stuff, mind. The main character is Yuma who can turn into the Shining Dragon. And all of this plays out as sort of an Incredible Hulk type trope. Like, Yuma wants to suppress the dragon, but sometimes it's needed in battle. The problem is that the more time he spends as the dragon, the more he seems to lose himself; the harder it becomes to control it. So yeah, there's that. It's pretty cool. And I'd probably enjoy this story more if there wasn't so MUCH of it. But, O-M-G there's just so so so much TALKING in this game. Between quests you're subjected to this never-ending visual novel type sections that just drive me nuts. I've gotten to the point where I don't care and I'm just spamming the A-button to get on with it already. I'm sorry but I just don't need this much story.
The game structure also suffers from that Final Fantasy XIII thing where you're often just following what are effectively hallways. There's not a lot of exploring to be done outside of the central hub. Often sections of map are blocked off. And the overworld map is confusing to begin with. After a while it just starts to feel like you're so limited; it's so linear, and that feels detrimental.
I think you're supposed to start with positives before delving into the criticisms, but whatever. There ARE positives for sure. Even though the battle system is action oriented, there's some fun nuances here. There's the break system which allows you to disrupt enemy attacks if done properly, but your break attacks deplete so you need to switch to main attacks to let the gauge refill. In a way the battle system feels like a bit of a rhythm game when done properly. It's kind of cool. There's also the switching Yuma into a dragon thing, which feels like a game of chance as the lower is MP gets, the higher the chance of him going into an uncontrollable rage. When that happens, the Shining Dragon is just as likely to attack your own party as the enemy. So you're gambling. It seems to me like the more Yuma levels up, the easier it is to keep the dragon in check. Though maybe that just comes from higher MP? Also there's (ugh) B-A-N-D mode which synchronizes attacks and buffs between a group of party members and has its own gauge to determine how long it lasts. All of these things - along with the "Tuning" system which lets you tweak attacks as well as loadouts of buffs and skills can lead to some interesting and strategic gameplay. So I dig all that.
Honestly, I think if there was way more action and way less talking then I'd probably be much more jazzed about this game. It does a fairly good job of juggling all of these different systems even if doesn't always do a great job of explaining them to you. Certainly it has the edge of Final Fantasy Type-0 in that department. But I wish I hadn't played that game so recently because I'm getting flashbacks. The big thing is just how little this game seems to care about the player's time. I don't want to backtrack to the inn or castle after every quest to discuss our feelings. I don't need long-winded exposition between enemies. It's frustrating to get through a boss fight and start to feel some momentum and then just FEEL it all come crashing to a halt so that you can press A over and over again while silhouettes talk about what's going on. Where I am right now in the story? I had to guide Yuma around with his Diva Magica (seriously... this is what she's called) as they go on a date in the main town. I mean, ugh. Just going from one point marked on the map to the next to then tap A through their conversation which was super awkward. Ugh.
If it's not clear, my frustrations are not because the game is bad. Not at all. My frustrations are because the things I don't like about this game are starting to disrupt the things I do like about it. I just want to get out there and play and make some progress, but GAME, You are slowing me down! It just starts to come off as bloated. There's so much fat I'd have preferred trimmed. And speaking of, what is with RPG fans and the need for overly long games these days? Why are so many fans upset if a game lasts less than a season of a TV show? But I'm going off on a tangent here, and I know I'm often in the minority on this. And it doesn't even matter because my complaint is exactly that Shining Resonance is too long. My complaint is that the pacing is bad. There's a lot of good stuff but the pacing just makes you feel exhausted especially when you're ten hours in and realize that you're not out of the fourth chapter yet - and there are apparently EIGHT chapters. Or rather "Ops." It says "Op. 4" which I don't get. Is it short for Opera? I don't know.
I think that I'm being slightly unfair though. I think that if there were a drought of new games right now I'd be loving this and not complaining. If this had dropped in January I'd been just as likely to play this in a binge rather than Type-0. But we are not in a drought, and Octopath Traveler is showing up in my mailbox tomorrow. So here I am saying that after ten hours I'm ecstatic that a new Shining game exists in 2018 in the west. I just don't particularly feel like continuing to play it right now. Maybe I'll get back to it during the next drought.