Itís rare to see a first time studio tackle an RPG project, especially one that aims for lofty heights. So have debut studio Enigami
bit off more than they can chew, or is Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom your next must-play, role-playing adventure title?
As a furious storm rages, two Wakiís - a race of animal creatures of a short stature - aboard a floating - scratch that, now crashing - ship, are fearing for
their lives, with the cowardly Poky in particular preparing to jump overboard, leaving his friend Chado behind.
Meanwhile on the forest floor below, their situation has not gone
unnoticed, with the ship streaking across the night sky. But Rosalya and Kayenne - a human and Shelk - have more pressing matters to deal with, namely wouldbe
captors that are right on their tail.
As you progress through Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom, all the various characters on diverging paths will eventually converge into an
adventure that weaves in and out of every role-playing trope we have come to expect and have experienced since the burgeoning of the genre; from evil empires,
hidden powers, lands of legend and more recently - in Ni no Kuni for example - aiming to reunite with a deceased loved one.
In terms of story, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom offers nothing you havenít seen before, but it does entice with an intriguing world
of four races with a long, storied history at odds with one another, along with racist - or speciest I should say - undertones that guide their every decision, not
at all what I initially expected with the more cutesy, cel shaded aesthetic on display.
What also surprised me was the way in which itís all told.
Much like the recent Yakuza 0, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom seems to conjure up every manner of visual storytelling apparatus, never seemingly quite
sure which style suits their objective best and merely throws them all at the wall to see what sticks - a decision that seems to permeate all facets of the
title. From full on animated cutscenes, voiced manga and finally in-game cutscenes that are absent of voices completely.
And whilst each method has its own strengths and weaknesses, with the manga especially conveying comedy far better than either of the latter - a decision I
wished they would have pursued with all story elements - I have to assume this storytelling decision is down to budget rather than mere creative choice.
Initially pitched as a successful Kickstarter project, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom was funded to a tune of nearly $140k before
being picked up by now publisher Focus Home Interactive. And a lot of those promises have turned into constraints, carrying themselves over into the
final product, with the varied storytelling methods coming across as haphazard rather than a concise vision of work.
Thereís definitely some gems within the storytelling mind you, with a handful of optional side quests and monster contracts breaking up the main litany of
story - which all also employ the same user-driven dialog system - that every now and then breaks from its linearity, and gives you an impactful choice that
can affect non-mainline story events.
But if thereís one area where Shiness truly erm, shines, itís in the beautiful 3D world itself.
Venturing through the fantasy lands of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom brought back vivid memories of my days on the PlayStation 2, playing
titles like Dark Cloud or Rogue Galaxy and anticipating the hours of adventure still yet to come. And whilst the large swathe of open-areas that youíll mainly be
traversing within Shiness consist of greenery, slowly - as you progress through the main quest - youíll come to unlock various offshoots and
even entirely new lands all together, that expand those thematics further; from dimly lit mines, castles and beyond.
Within the world of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom youíll also be tasked with completing various environmental puzzles using each of the
unique abilities of the characters within your party - all activated through a push of R1 on the PlayStation 4 controller. Whilst most of these
puzzles are required to progress - and quite the simple affair - such as creating energy circuits with Poky, or levitating objects as Kayenne, some are
entirely optional and reward you with money (Uzu as itís called) or even beneficial equipment that may grant you extra magical abilities - so if youíre a fan
of exploring every nook and cranny youíre going to be rewarded for it.
The land itself is also densely packed with wildlife - that flee upon your sight - to capture for items, and obviously a myriad of enemies seeking your
blood - well if youíre a lower level than them at least.
The role-playing mechanics in Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom are also fairly straightforward, with you being able to acquire through spoils,
exploration, purchasing and even bartering - which is basically Shinessí version of crafting - equipment to increase your stats. But itís in
the Discipline system that things begin to diverge, as youíre given the ability to assign both a melee and magic Discipline to each character and
learn its corresponding attack - if one is available. The great aspect of the system is once you have mastered that particular skill - such as a water spell -
it becomes yours forever, and you can then assign that same Discipline to another character in your party for them to learn, and so on.
Whilst it does create a lot of needless busywork - in order to make all of your characters well-rounded in the magic department - it fills a void that
Shiness has ordinarily lost - being able to endlessly farm for experience points - with Enigami purposefully crafting the levelling
system so enemies just a few levels below you, reward you with zero experience for dispatching them - meaning youíll always be pushing forward and fighting
monsters your own level or above to get anywhere. That battle system though is where the kitchen sink approach to game design once again rears its head.
Aiming to flip genres upon their head, once you initiate contact with an enemy roaming around the adventurous world - whether you sneak up behind them or they
attack you - combat is instantly initiated. Juxtaposed against said enemy, youíll find the game transforming from a 3D role-playing adventure to full on
beat 'em up, with an enclosed arena encircling the two combatants (Shiness only allows one versus one combat) and two opposing health bars at
the top of the screen - sadly combat is where Shiness: The Lighting Kingdom shows off its weaknesses.
With finite magic on hand - accessible via a holding of R2 in conjunction with a press of a face button - consumable items at the ready via the
directional pad, melee attacks on both Cross and Square, or guarding coupled with evasion on Circle youíd think an element of
strategy would come into play, unfortunately it doesn't. Everything Shiness throws at you in its combat scenarios usually resorts to
button-mashing and frantic displays of either trying to parry attacks via Triangle - when you become stuck in a seemingly endless combo that sucks
away your life - or heal what's left of it.
The first glaring problem with combat is that thereís simply too much going on. With spells, character switching (via L1), magic degradation - and
accumulation based upon the current arena colour via the holding of R2 - a tension meter used for evasion and hyper melee attacks, dodging, guarding,
support attacks, status effects and the list goes on and on. Thereís simply so much on offer that any form of strategy goes out the window, with the enemy
either charging you from the offset - and your guard putting up little defense before you're completely locked out with a stun status effect - or firing magic
at you from a distance. Battles within Shiness instead only become manageable through mindless offense, and youíll find yourself foregoing many abilities at hand,
forgetting to check any challenges currently available in the battle and mindlessly hitting the enemy with combos or magic blasts to get the done and over
with so you can move on.
What also doesnít help proceedings is the switch of camera perspective; normally in the free-roam adventure portion of Shiness, the camera is
fully controllable on the second analog stick, but when battle ensues the camera instead becomes fixed, and depending on what obstacles are in the vicinity
can even block your view of battle entirely.
Thereís also the matter of auto lock-on, as youíll regularly find your character whiffing air - stuck in an animation loop - of a ghost of an enemy that was
once there which has now teleported beside you, with you unable to do much of anything from the oncoming barrage. Itís clear the developers were aiming for a
battle system akin to the Ninja Storm range of titles, sadly thereís just so much plastered on top that the balance is broken.
The technical hiccups donít stop there either, with some minor slowdown in certain situations - such as heavy animation or the loading of large areas - and
screen tearing apparent. Thereís also the curious case of missing environmental and character sounds throughout the overworld, cutscenes and battle situations that once
again emphasise that Engiami likely had a little too much on their plates for their first ever title.
For a first time, small studio, especially one tackling a role-playing title that is as ambitious as Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom aims to
be, I felt Enigami did a fantastic job, but theyíve clearly bitten off a little more than they can chew in their persuit of role-playing stardom,
opting to throw everything including the kitchen sink into a title that instead needed to be pruned and polished.
With elements of an intriguing story under its surface, and a beautiful world - that impresses from sheer volume alone coming from an indie studio -
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom packs a lot into its role-playing package, but sadly thatís also its biggest flaw. With a lack of focus in its
combat system and desire to seemingly include every role-playing trope and mechanic from the past decade, detracting from the overall experience.
But if youíre in need of a meaty role-playing game - that even sometimes manages to harken
back to those PlayStation 2 glory days - then Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom might be right up your alley.
Review copy of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom provided by the publisher for the PlayStation 4.
18th April 2017
- 3 Out of 5 Stars
Too many mechanics
Some technical problems
Vast 3D worlds
Aims for lofty heights