I have been disappointed recently in the darker, grittier turn that fantasy worlds have taken. In a post Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones world, more fantastical worlds have been put on the back burner for more realistic, grimmer ones in many modern fantasy games. That is why Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom felt like a breath of fresh air when I first saw it.
The world of Shiness is not afraid to get creative in this unique mix of RPG, fighting game, and platformer that evokes memories of PlayStation 2-era RPGs like Dark Cloud and Rogue Galaxy. While the colorful world an ideas present are very solid, a lot of issues combine to make Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom a flawed, albeit creative adventure.
The story of Shiness focuses on a Waki named Chado, who has been called upon by a mystical being named Terra, and embarks on a large world-encompassing journey to save it. On his adventure to rid the land of dark shi (evil magic), Chado comes across a variety of people who join his quest, including his mechanic Waki friend Poky, the grizzled Kayenne, the displaced princess Rosalya, and Askel the mercenary. The characters do fall into archetypes, but they are still enjoyable enough to watch and get invested in.
Along his journey, Chado also gets caught up in many conflicts between warring factions and kingdoms. While the story does take a while to get going, it had many interesting twists and turns later on. Occasionally, players will be given a choice of what actions Chado should take — these decision have tangible results, like thrusting players into different boss battles or quest lines depending on their decisions. While the story is not anything outstanding, a lot of care was put into world-building, making the game’s world feel like a living and breathing place.
Outside of the main story of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom, players can also take part in a variety of side quests and contracts. Unlike some more recent RPG’s, the sidequests and contracts have mini stories or character arcs attached to them. This makes the world feel more alive and populated by actual people (or anthropomorphic creatures).
Unfortunately, to compensate for a lack of substantial facial animation, the characters are overly cartoony and expressive with their body motions during conversations. The game shines more during its comic-book/manga style cutscenes as opposed to its pre-rendered in in-game ones. More serious moments became a lot less engaging when characters like Poky are flailing their body around because they are scared. The subtitles also sometimes wouldn’t match what characters were saying, which is always jarring.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is just as enjoyable to look at as some of its anime and manga inspirations
Shiness is also a very colorful game. While humans do look a bit odd in this artstyle, the animal-based creatures are realized tremendously. Enemies and characters that I encountered were varied, so the visuals never got stale. The draw distance does sometimes struggle to keep up though, resulting in very notable pop-in in some of the titles more open ended areas. The frame rate also occasionally stuttered on PlayStation 4, but it was never too serious and seem like it could be easily fixed in a later patch.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom also boasts an excellent soundtrack, which was atmospheric at set the right tone for every situation or new area I encountered. Shiness is just as enjoyable to look at as some of its anime and manga inspirations, and one can tell a lot of effort and care was put in by the game’s developers to fully realize this originally-crafted world, even if the production quality can hold it back in some areas.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is super ambitious with its gameplay, but a lot of small flaws keep it from reaching its full potential. The adventure has players traverse across a wide variety of interconnected areas, solving puzzles and fighting enemies. As I mentioned before, these areas are all pleasant to look at for the most part, whether it is an open field or a dark cave.
Players partake in a variety of simple puzzles with character specific abilities, like Chado being able to throw rocks, or Kayenne being able to use telekinesis. While these puzzles are well designed, some are flawed in execution. Chado’s rocks, called Menhir, can be hard to aim, and Kayenne’s telekinesis moves objects at a snail’s pace, making simple puzzles much more time consuming than it needs to be.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom isn’t a very long adventure, and should come in for most at around 20 hours their first time through, though I feel like a chunk of that time was consumed by the more tedious puzzles. There are also occasional platforming challenges and, while the jumping is a little hard to judge, these sections were never that frustrating.
During combat, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom splices traditional RPG gameplay with 3D fighting game elements to create a real-time combat system that is truly unique to this RPG. It is very fun most of the time, although there are a couple of glaring issues, which shows that Enigami may have bitten off a bit more than they could chew with this game.
Similar to many 3D fighters, players can pull off and string together a series of punches and kicks with each character. Players also have the ability to block and dodge roll, which is necessary in order to survive. If one times a button press right, they can also parry attacks, negating its damage and sending it back at an enemy. There are even signified combos and magical abilities players can unlock by equipping certain parchments they find, allowing players to add their own custom flair to their attacks.
As for the RPG mechanics, characters level up and can be equipped with various different kinds of armor. Players can also take three of their party members into battle, as can enemies, and a battle ends after all of one’s party is wiped out. You have the ability to switch characters mid battle, which can turn the tide of a fight.
Players can equip one of several shis to gain access to magical attacks, separated into different elements. The arena’s border dynamically changes its element throughout the battle, and attacks that match the color of the arena’s border are stronger. This adds an extra layer of strategy to fights, and consistently kept them fresh.
One can also equip a variety of support skills, like buffing strength or healing the character currently in battle, to each of the party members. Parameters can also be set, so if you want a last minute heal when you go under 25% health, or want to become stronger when an enemy hits 50% health, you can do that. This added layer of strategy is extremely useful, and it saved my life multiple times. When everything runs smoothly, Shiness is a blast to play.
Unfortunately, combat does have a few issues that hold it back. After I first got into battle, I found myself able to attack before the text initiating the battle went away. While this helped me in a few situations, it also applied to enemies, so they would sometimes get cheap damage on me. It would be better if being able to do this was removed altogether to make sure fights are fair.
The camera is also unwieldy in battle. There seems to be no true lock on feature in battle, so the camera would sometimes go behind enemies or get stuck, making it hard to judge where you are hitting. The AI is unpredictable, and can be really stupid or outrageously hard within the same battle. The AI would also constantly attack in the slowed time during Hyper attacks, making them way harder to pull of than they should be. There is a lot to like about this battle system, but these flaws keep it from being all it could be.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom tries to do too much for its own good. While its world and soundtrack are wildly more fresh and colorful than many games I have played recently, the title’s scope may have been a little too large for Enigami. There are tons of minor issues with almost every part of the game that combine to make Shiness a more frustrating experience than it should be.
While creativity should be appreciated and rewarded in the gaming industry, and a very interesting world has been put on display here, the rest of the game is just not up to snuff. Shiness may be worth checking out for those who are yearning for more fantastical worlds to explore and the return of PS2-era style RPGs, as it certainly scratched that itch for me. but others should carefully consider their purchase before joining Chado on his grand adventure.