Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is yet another product of a successful Kickstarter run, however when this very path has seen a mixture of both terrible and fantastic games churned out, where does this one sit? Somewhere between both would probably be the best way to sum this up. It’s an adventure that manages to get so much right, the gameplay, the visuals, the functionalities of each system, but it’s unfortunately pulled short of greatness due to some lingering problems that cannot be overlooked.
Shiness is pitched as an action RPG that sees you joining protagonist Chado and his companions as you journey across a universe that’s on the verge of collapsing. You’ll get to travel to a wide range of different celestial islands on your way through, and face off against a shed load of nasty foes in the process. The game starts out following a crash landing on a hostile island, and before long you find yourselves stuck in the middle of a conflict that spans across several kingdoms.
Initially you start the game with just Chado but it’s not long before you’re reunited with Poki, both of whom are members of the Waki, which is to say a race of dog-like creatures that can walk, talk, and fight just as well as anyone else. However, thanks to Chado’s newfound ability to communicate with the Shiness, a mysterious spirit imbued with magic, this sticky situation may well just have a positive and peaceful outcome after all. I don’t want to push the story too far onto your lap, but what I will say is that the talents behind this game have clearly woven some intriguing plot threads together for fans to soak up.
It’s a shame on the other hand that much of what you’ll encounter in terms of the back story and the legacy as such, is so weakly presented that you feel as though you’re playing a sequel rather than a fresh entry. I often felt like I was that guy at a party that just butts in half way through a conversation and tries to get involved with the gossip, only to leave feeling like the third wheel. It wouldn’t be so bad if Shiness tried harder to get you involved with the lore but most of the conversations that take place, and even the comic-strip like cutscenes just come across as far too simplistic and empty. The same can be said about the main cast as well. Not only are they flat (especially Chado and Poki) but they don’t do much to drive the story to the heights that the game is clearly trying to deliver. Don’t get me wrong, certain characters are far more interesting than others, but even then it doesn’t feel completely immersive.
What I will commend Shiness for is its gorgeous cel-shaded visuals. I can only describe this game to be like one of the DragonBall Xenoverse titles, only much more in-depth. Every single environment is fresh, inviting, and extremely well designed. No two places feel the same and although some locations are more captivating than others, I cant praise Enigami enough for how well crafted this adventure looks. Surprisingly, and I was almost expecting this to be an issue, there are no frame rate problems throughout the entirety of play. The developers have certainly optimised this perfectly for console.
Gameplay consists of journeying around whilst either following the main events of the story or taking yourselves off the beaten path and engaging in some side activities via contracts or side-quests. It’s not hard to stay on track regardless as to what you are pursuing, but that’s not to say that the game isn’t challenging. During the initial phases of play, Shiness holds your hand for a great deal of time. In fact even two hours into the game I was still being subject to the occasional tutorial here and there. Tasks that you and your party take on are usually run of the mill, such as fetching items for specific characters, hunting creatures, locating lost patrol soldiers, obtaining goods from plants and wildlife, and so on and so forth. There’s a good blend of things to do and on that note, Shiness definitely delivers on the promise of beefy content.
Combat is much different to what I was expecting. Shiness dishes up a combo-based real-time fighting system. Much like when you’re roaming the world, you’re able to quick swap between your party members at any given time. This allows for some very interesting scenarios as each character comes with their own unique skills and traits. Furthermore, your foes are also gifted with the same fluid concept. During combat you’re able to utilise a wide range of different moves, attacks, and magical abilities. The interesting feature is that to recharge your magic, you have to channel it from the boundaries of the combat. Whenever you enter a fight you will automatically be confined within a magical barrier that changes colour throughout the fray. So if you wanted to channel water based magic, you would wait until the barrier turned blue and withdraw its power.
With that being said, Shiness can become stale and grindy in the long run. Enemies several levels below you will eventually stop handing out XP, which inadvertently forces you to stay on par with enemies of your current level. This wouldn’t be so terrible if most of the enemies were not almost identical and group locked in specific locations. In essence, it pays off to fight every enemy you come across to stay one step ahead. The downside however is that if you do this, the intriguing combat system wears thin long before the end game. Nevertheless, combat plays a massive part in Shiness. How much you pull from the game will undoubtedly depend on how well you bond with the combat.
Boss fights on the other hand come with their own clever gimmicks and these help to break up the pace of play magnificently. I wont spoil them for you seeing as your first “real” boss fight isn’t until a few hours into the game, but you’ll appreciate the breath of fresh air as much as I did. When you’re not fighting or participating in side quests, you’ll be attending to your gear and skill unlocks. Shiness does a really good job at giving players a good selection of tools to take to, as well as a decent gear system to stay on point with your progression. These systems are not always very well explained to you, but they’re simple enough to understand once you play around with the options available.
It goes without saying that (for me) the best parts of this game are the puzzles. There’s easily hundreds of brain twisters crammed into the game that range from super easy, to super tough. Most of the time you’ll need to use several characters to overcome the problem at hand, such as Poki and his mystical wrench, or Kayenne and his powers of telekinesis. There isn’t a huge learning curve or even a difficulty curve for you to lean on when you’re face to face with these puzzles, but they’re all well crafted nonetheless and the game wouldn’t be nearly as lengthy without them present.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is a good RPG that comes with several innovative and interesting functionalities. There’s a nice big gorgeous realm for players to traverse, presented via a wide collection of fun and inviting locations. The combat system is interesting at first and does impress with some cool features, but it will eventually wear thin regardless of the upgrades and new abilities you can earn later into the experience. My biggest gripe with the game however is with the lore and back-story explanation. The cast members are flat for the most part and do very little to hand over the unfolding events. Had Enigami spent more time carefully feeding the narrative to the game’s audience, we may have had a big hit on our hands.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.