"RefRain -prism memories-" is the most engaging bullet hell style shoot 'em up I've ever played.
Granted, I've only played one other true bullet hell series, the Touhou Project titles, which I call the most mesmerizing in the genre. Either way I'm a crazy person. This genre occupies the same type of niche as golf does in sports. It nearly takes precision control to the human limit, so it appeals to players as a conduit of ridiculous skill. RefRain is on a lower side of the scale, and gives the player more control over the screen.
By control, I mean the player is given a more versatile version of the classic shoot 'em up bomb. There's actually two special attacks to activate, and I enjoyed using both. One is a character-specific blast which basically cuts through obstacles like butter, and sort of stuns boss type enemies. The better I was at shooting and destroying, the more often I could blast things away even faster. It turned into an exhilarating power loop. The other was more of a standard bomb, except it functioned by turning all the bullets on the screen into destroyable bits. The two special attacks can actually be used in a combo for massive score spikes. Turn a engorged and lethal screen of bullets into a resource that's cleared with the blast.
The specialized blast is definitely one of the big pulls. Choosing when to use them to advance through the level is a test of optimization. The blast is also charged in stages, and activating it multiple times in succession makes it into a fireworks display of destruction. Considering how fast the blasts can be charged, I'm sure that it's a required mechanic to advance. It's always available if it isn't spammed to oblivion. There were several deaths that I don't think I could avoid with bullet hell dodging skills alone. It isn't like the power-ups you'd normally see, you can always recharge the ability by attacking enough.
The shooting portion of RefRain is pretty similar what you expect. There are two firing modes, one is long distance and lets you maneuver quickly, while the other is slow and powerful. How each one works is different between the characters, but I can handle most of a level with the slow option. The enemies are more durable than cardboard, so it's better to destroy them with the high damage. I also find it easier to squeeze through bullet hell storms when I move slower.
Where it counts, everything is cohesive.
I found the controls comfortable and easy to adapt to. Shoot 'em up reflexes were transferred right onto this platform. It's all very familiar, but executed well. I'd say it does an excellent job of sticking to its genre and decorating classic features with a little innovation. I know this isn't a brand new game, and actually a broad release of an old gem from Japan, but it held up over the years. It's an example of not fixing what isn't broken. The additional control over clearing the screen makes it a worthy introduction to the bullet hell genre for anyone interested.
Like the mechanics and gimmicks, I also reveled in the environment. The music that plays throughout the different levels kept me alert. It has that exciting climatic heightening like from an intense battle. The backdrop wasn't exactly very complicated, but its color palette never clashed with the enemies or bullets. I never lost track of where I was or what I was fighting. The brief transition scenes at different points of the levels were pretty interesting.
Now, the story didn't really appeal to me as much. The characters had their quirks and developments, but I couldn't access those while playing. Files that contain plot developments were only available after finishing a session, so the story wasn't integrated in a way that I'd be able to use as motivation. Vying for high scores is not my favorite encouragement. Numbers mean a lot less to me than getting closure and achieving goals.
That brings me to the replay value. As challenging as it is to replay levels for bigger numbers, it doesn't hold my attention for long. When I finish weaving through certain death and shooting down an army, I'd want more than a representation of how much I demolished. Trying each character out on every level is best source of variety to replay. Since there are five levels and three characters, that puts it at fifteen separate experiences. I'm not pitted against other players in live competition that encourages optimizing scores. RefRain stops for me when the last unique perspective is conquered.
RefRain stands as a compilation of great shoot 'em up features and mechanics. It doesn't show us anything extraordinarily new, but it is simultaneously fun and challenging. Pretty visuals and charming music let me enter into the groove of the experience with ease. It doesn't attract me with how the story is structured and unlocked, but it's an experience worth taking on.
Liking RefRain -prism memories- means you'll have the potential to take on the brutal existence of bullet hells. For everything it does great, "RefRain -prism memories-" gets a thick 8 out of 10 from me.