REVIEW: RefRain -Prism Memories-

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

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RefRain | Title Screen
Title RefRain -Prism Memories-
Developer RebRank
Publisher Degica
Release Date May 12, 2016
Genre Bullet Hell Shooter
Platform PC Steam
Age Rating All Ages
Official Website

In case you have not noticed yet, Steam is space shooter heaven right now. It is a really great time to be a fan of this genre, and while I don’t have firsthand experience, I would bet that they are developing many new fans as well. Even as a fan of the genre, I had not heard of this one until I saw a trailer for it, but I wanted to jump right in as soon as I did. I have told a couple people this quip, and I think it is very apropos – this game is the Melty Blood of the bullet hell shooter genre. That can also be a positive or negative thing, though, depending on your mileage. What that means is that there are cute anime girl characters with a fascinating and complex world story, but also brutally difficult with relatively complex systems. However, both of those things are my idea of a good time.

RefRain | Tee's Desktop

This is Tee’s Desktop screen, all three girls have a very different style.

There are three characters in the game to choose from, however there is only one of them initially until you start defeating some bosses to unlock the other two. You start the game with Miria who uses the Must Viper, then you unlock Tee who uses the Blitz Lester, and finally you will obtain Mews with the Bronx Terror. The girls have their own personalities, which is expressed with their Desktop screens when you Log In with the character of your choice. And their personality also comes out through dialogue in the Log Archive, which is basically their email accounts, and provides most of the story for the game. Basically these three girls are trying to dive into a computer system (M.R.S.) to get it under their control before it destroys them all. Diving into this computer system takes the form of a bullet hell shooter.

RefRain | Tee Diving In

The cute Japanese Trinity waifu diving in to hack the system.

I have one strong recommendation for anyone who truly wants to get into this game. If you have a fighting stick, such as MadCatz or Hori, you may want to consider plugging it in and configuring it for use with this game. One of the primary reasons for this is that this shooter does not use just one or two buttons, like most modern shooters, it uses four buttons. And on top of that, you will need to be able to routinely press two of the buttons at the same time because there is a modifier button that focuses the fire of your drones on one target. Possible to do on a controller, better to do on an arcade stick. Like most bullet hell shooters, the effective damage area of your ship is much smaller than the size of the ship itself, being only about a spherical pixel or two in size, and you will need to make use of that with the sheer number and size of bullets and lasers that will be filling the screen.

RefRain | Hell of Bullets

Putting the bullets in bullet hell shooter.

There are three status bars that you will need to manage, and that is a major reason for the Melty Blood comparison. Managing these bars is not optional. If you are even going to beat it on Normal you will need to get used to how to build them and when to use them. Your life and shield bars surround your ship so that when you are concentrating on avoiding the barrage of bullets you don’t have to take your eyes off your ship, this is quite a welcome addition to the genre. Meanwhile, there are two more bars in the lower left of the screen with a large number next to one and 3 tick marks next to the other bar. The larger bar with the number is your bomb meter. There are no bomb or weapon upgrades that you can pick up in this game. Instead you have to build up your bomb supply by shooting enemies and bullets (more on shooting bullets in a moment). As your bomb bar fills up, the number will increase next to it and will max out at 6. However, it is not meant to be used as 6 separate bomb uses. You can use them like that, but they are far less effective. The most effective use of them is to combo bomb uses together, that turns the blast into a much more powerful and effective blast, even changing the visual representation. It does also clear all enemy shots from the screen and makes you temporarily invincible (although that doesn’t last very long). This game is built to require your frequent bomb usage, and there are several enemy types (and one boss) that cannot be damaged by anything but bomb blasts. All three characters have different bomb types, and for bosses you will want to use that focus button in combination with the bomb buttons in order for the most efficient and devastating strikes (hold down the focus and then press the bomb button six times in rapid succession for the most powerful one).

RefRain | Concept Reactor

Building up that Concept Reactor before you reach the next boss.

The second, and smaller, bar is called the Concept Reactor. You build this up slowly over time, or more rapidly by collecting coin looking items that drop from killed enemies. When the bar is full, you will receive a yellow tick mark above the bar and there are three of them total that you can gain. Using the Concept Reactor button (the fourth button mentioned) uses one of those three tick marks, which changes every bullet on the screen into a passive object that you can shoot and won’t damage you. You basically phase them out of existence. This would seem, at first, to just be a way of effectively freezing time and get you out of tight situations, although lasers cannot be phased out. But really, the bombs also save your hide, so why would you need both? The answer is that by shooting those frozen bullets your bomb bar fills up insanely fast, it fills up about 5 times faster for killing a bullet as it does for killing an enemy. Because you will need to use bombs so much in this game, it becomes the most important task (other than avoiding damage) of your play time to manage these two bars accordingly. Especially for the higher difficulties you will need to use your Concept Reactor to gain bomb uses to either kill an invulnerable enemy or to get yourself out of very tight boss situations. There is definitely an art to playing this game, but once you get into the groove, it becomes very enjoyable.

RefRain | Laser Show

More lasers than a European Dance Club, but with 100% more death.

Speaking of groove, I definitely want to call out the music for this game. This one features one of the best soundtracks for a shooter that I’ve ever played. It even compares favorably to Einhander, not only with quality, but also with the style of the music. You can also use the Media Players on the girl’s Desktop screens to switch between the songs to just listen to them while you do something else. Other than that, there are no other special features such as a gallery mode or anything. It’s a pretty bare bones translation, but it was still well done and not buggy at all. The graphics options are pretty minimal, but at least you do have a configuration menu before you even open up the game that allows you to set your screen resolution and to configure a controller. This is especially nice if you take my advice and use an arcade stick. My only real complaint with the game itself is that there are only 5 stages (4 if you play Easy mode) and a tutorial. But the stages are long enough and with enough variety that this isn’t a huge concern, you can expect to play for a good hour or so from start to completion per run. And if this game was very long people might complain about it being too brutal, so I’m not going to hold it against the game too much. But even with only 5 stages this one is a very difficult example of the shooter genre. You are only ever given two continues, so don’t plan on being able to just continue infinitely just to bull rush your way through the game like you can with Cave shooters. And on the last boss if you don’t perform well enough and focus just on not dying, you won’t even see it’s second form and have a chance at getting the good ending. Overall this is one of the best shooters I’ve ever played and a true classic, and the fact that it is only going for $14.99 MSRP makes this a great value. Yes, there are no special features or anything, which would be nice, but in the end the game itself is what matters the most. And that is where this game shines.

Review Score

Review Copy Provided By Publisher

About William Haderlie

Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.