Shiness’ combination of exploration, platforming, and combat makes for a fun, nostalgia-filled adventure
I was excited to be given the chance to review Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom. I had known of its development for a while, and had checked on it several times to see how things were going. It looked like it was going to be a pretty neat RPG, and I appreciated how many different genres it was drawing from. I wanted the game to be fun, and to be successful with what it was doing, and, despite running into a few hiccups here and there, I would say that it came through for the most part.
Shiness begins with protagonist Chado and his friend Poky soaring through space as they head toward a nearby Meteora (a fragmented piece of a once-whole world known as “Mahera”). Guided by a mystical being known as a Shiness, Chado was sent on a quest to find the Lands of Life – in hopes of both fulfilling his destiny, and seeing his deceased mother one last time. Just as they enter the Meteora’s atmosphere, they find themselves in the midst of a thunderstorm. Knowing that a smooth landing is impossible, Chado frantically begins trying to brace for impact as best he can (while Poky jumps ship). Though Chado manages to land without injury, he finds himself alone, confused, and with a broken ship – completely unaware just how much his newfound destiny will challenge him.
Before delving into gameplay specifics, I’d like to mention something. Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom has a very familiar feel to it, and I would even go so far as to call the game “retro” – but not in the way that usually comes to mind when that term is thrown out. Rather attempting to showcase 8 and 16-bit gameplay, Shiness plays like a game from the early 2000’s. Not too many titles draw inspiration from that particular time in gaming history, and I found it refreshing that Shiness did. After all, who doesn’t love a good PS2 or GameCube game?
Gameplay is split up into two major parts – the first being exploration. Players will spend much of their time in Shiness traversing its many unique environments – ranging anywhere from calm grassy fields, to flying cities, to forgotten kingdoms – and it was the time that I spent adventuring through these areas that really evoked that oh-so-rare early-2000’s nostalgia. Each new area was like its own little world, containing plenty of things to do like hunting for wildlife (which you can then trade with local merchants) and completing side-quests. Areas also had plenty of hidden secrets – places that you didn’t have to explore, but would benefit you if you did. I always found myself wanting to explore every little nook and cranny of wherever I happened to be, just to make sure that I didn’t miss anything good.
Are you a fan of puzzles? Hopefully the answer is yes, because this game will be throwing a healthy amount of them at you. There isn’t any need to worry if puzzle-solving isn’t your thing, though; puzzle mechanics themselves aren’t overly-complicated. There isn’t a need to memorize complex patterns, and you shouldn’t run into anything so obscure that you find yourself stonewalled. Rather, puzzle-solving takes a more “show what you know” approach. Each character in Shiness has a special ability – such as Chado’s ability to summon large rocks, or Kayenne’s telekinesis – that players can make use of as they encounter different situations. Many of the puzzles, or the areas surrounding them, will give vague hints on how to approach solving them and, by keeping each character’s abilities in mind, it usually isn’t too hard to figure out what to do. The puzzles are just right for a game like this – enough to make you stop and think for a moment, but never the core focus of your adventure.
Shiness also throws platforming into the mix. Platforming segments are pretty unobtrusive, even less so than the puzzles, often requiring players to do little more than jump across a gap or a selection of floating rocks in order to proceed. Personally, I’m a big fan of platformers, but if I’m honest it’s probably a good thing that it was never the focus of the game. Floating platforms, especially seemed the smaller ones, seemed to have disproportional hitboxes, meaning that they were actually bigger or smaller than they appeared. Jumping was also frustrating. Your direction and speed are locked in once your feet leave the ground, meaning that you had better be sure of things before you jump. Neither of these problems were bad on their own, but the combination of the two made for some mildly irritating platforming experiences (certainly nothing gamebreaking, though).
We’ve talked about puzzles and platforming so far, so you might be wondering if this RPG borrows mechanics from any other genre. Well, it does! Rather than using traditional RPG mechanics to handle the countless skirmishes that you’ll find yourself in, Shiness handles combat as though it were a fighting game. Battles take place in a series of one-on-one fights, that will have players needing to carefully time their offense and defense in order to guard against oncoming attacks and counter with a flurry of punches and kicks. Each character even has their own set of special moves that require input commands from the player. Commands are never so complicated as anything that you’d find in games like Street Fighter (far from it, actually), but it still doesn’t fail to infuse some of that authentic fighting game feel into combat.
It isn’t all punches and kicks, though; characters are capable of using magic (known as “Shi”), too. Each character can equip up to four different spells (stemming from seven different elemental groups) to use in fights. Spells start out similarly beginning, consisting mainly of low-level projectile and healing spells, but become more diverse as you get into more advanced magic. Learning skills, both physical and magical, is also a bit different. Rather than obtaining a skill when leveling up, they must be mastered by equipping the proper Discipline (a piece of equipment that allows you to use a specific skill) and use it repeatedly until mastering it. Skill mastery usually happens quickly, making creating a diverse team easy and fun.
Despite the 1-on-1 fights, combat is still a group effort. While you’re brawling it out with your active character, benched party members are capable of doling out a steady stream of support. Set up like Final Fantasy XII‘s Gambit system, the Support system allows you to tell each of your party members what they should be focusing on (the action) when they aren’t fighting and when they should be making their move (the condition). By setting up your team’s Support to suit you fighting style, you’re capable of gaining buffs, healing in a pinch, and more. It’s also really satisfying to be able to strategize like that.
Unfortunately, deespite its attempt to accurately mimic fighting game combat, Shiness still falls short at times. I sometimes found it hard to chain combos, even with weaker enemies, due to the AI seeming to predict my movements a little too well. I would often times only be able to land a few hits before the opponent would dodge or parry with perfect timing, only to land more hits with one chain of attacks than I had during the entire battle. Dodge rolling also felt very choppy, and I didn’t find much use for it in situations that would normally require perfect timing. Nothing ever completely broke combat for me, there was always a way to win and I almost always had fun, but constantly fighting against enemies who always seemed to know what to was frustrating.
I normally don’t talk about bugs. Most games have bugs, and they’re usually not a big deal. And the bugs in Shiness aren’t that big of a deal either, but they were frequent enough that I felt compelled to mention them. I’m not sure what exactly was going on, but a lot of the models in this game seemed to have a shaking problem. When talking to NPCs, or during certain scripted cutscenes, characters seemed to attempt to reset their animation when talking, only to transition into the appropriate animation afterward. Chado was particularly notorious for this when talking to someone much taller than himself. While this didn’t break anything mechanically-speaking, seeing characters twitch as much as they did kind of killed the immersion sometimes. I also managed to clip out-of-bounds during a handful of fights in one particular area. Normally the game would force me back in, but one time I died for no reason; can’t say that I was too happy with that.
Remember how I said that a lot of Shiness‘ gameplay gave off that whole “early 2000s” vibe? Well, its graphics did too. The world in which the game took place, as well as its inhabitants, were all very vibrant, and stylized in a way that was almost cartoony but could still be taken seriously at any given time. The art style was a perfect fit for this game, and I found it to be quite impressive. What impressed me even more, however, was the comic book-styled cutscenes. Rather than being rendered in full 3D, many of the game’s more important moments were stylized like pages from a comic book. The artwork during those parts was absolutely top-notch; that’s really all that needs to be said. The audio was pretty on-point as well, and featured a soundtrack that accompanied the overall “sometimes silly, sometimes serious” vibe quite nicely.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom was a fun experience overall, and one that I’m glad that I got to partake in. If you can manage to put its flubs aside, and they’re pretty minor overall so it isn’t hard to do, all that you’re left with is a solid RPG that boasts a good story, plenty of exploration, and a mixture of game mechanics from varying genres that, despite what you may think, come together to form a cohesive gaming experience. It’s obvious when a game is made with love, and this game is a great example of that. If you’re itching to re-live gaming culture from about 15 years ago (and honestly, it was a good time back then), Shiness is your ticket on the next nostalgia express.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Focus Home Interactive ; Developer: Enigami ; Players: 1 ; Released: April 18, 2017 ; MSRP: $29.99
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher.