I’ve said it countless times before, but the beauty of Kickstarter is that people can make projects they’re passionate about that might not have been possible without the financial support of the community. We’ve seen countless releases over the years that have benefited from crowd funding, and now we’ve got another one to add to the list – Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom, the vibrant action RPG from developers Engami. It doesn’t play like your typical action RPG though, instead offering an experience that mixes up multiple genres into one. It works perfectly though, with the game both really unique and also a lot of fun to play.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom’s narrative opens with furry heroes Chado and Poky separated after their airship crashes into a luscious jungle. What begins as a simple quest to find one another turns into a grand adventure though, with Chado able to speak to the spirits of nature known as the ‘Shiness’ who warn him of a dark energy sweeping across the land. The nations of the world are in the middle of a power struggle too, with political differences playing their part in the tale. It’s up to Chado to bring an end to this disarray and bring harmony to the world once more.
Admittedly the story isn’t really Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom’s strongest point, with nothing really standing out that you wouldn’t have seen across countless ‘grand adventures’ before. This doesn’t make the game bad though, but rather a little forgettable from a narrative standpoint. There’s a lot of lore that’s dived into from the get go too, with it a little difficult to keep up with all the different character races and nations that are mentioned. The game is based on a manga though, so perhaps those who have read it will feel a lot more at home.
At first glance it’d be easy to see Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom’s combat mechanics as that of an action RPG such as the ‘Tales of’ or ‘Star Ocean’ series, but closer inspection will reveal that it’s a fair bit different. Whilst there are certainly a few similarities to be found, combat actually felt more like a one on one brawler as opposed to an action RPG. It’s a good thing though and gives the game its own sense of identity; I’ve never played a game that manages to mix up the elements of two totally different genres so effectively before, and it makes Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom a real joy to play.
Battles are initiated seamlessly, with combat situations kicking off whenever you make physical contact with an enemy. Even if you encounter a group of enemies it’ll only ever be one on one combat, with other members of the enemy party getting their turn after their vicious allies have been defeated. Once in combat you’ll be mashing buttons for the most part, with standard combos assigned to different face buttons. Other actions are easily performed too, with defensive manoeuvres such as blocks, dodge rolls, and parries only requiring the well-timed press of a button.
Of course, RPGs are known to give the player big parties of characters to adventure with so the one on one aspect of combat is a big change, but Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom offers a variety of ways to utilise your allies. You can either use them as support with each party member able to follow a string of pre-set instructions to assist you in the heat of battle, or alternatively you can switch between the active party member mid-fight; this works well on a tactical basis too, with certain characters proving to be more effective against specific enemies.
You’ll use a lot of magic in-game too, which is cleverly implemented in a way that doesn’t only offer you the chance to choose with element each character uses but also take advantage of how the environment affects it. Each combat arena is restricted by a circular field of energy, with the colour of this energy constantly changing in a way that determines its element – red is fire, blue is water… you get the point. When the element that corresponds with your character’s chosen element is active, their spells become more effective and dish out more damage to your opponent. Not only that, but you’ll be able to channel the environment’s energy too – there aren’t MP bars of the conventional sense in Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom, but rather a counter that can recharge directly from the environment. It’s a clever mechanic that rewards environmental awareness in-game with the ability to get the upper hand on your foes, offering another imaginative way in which the game’s combat manages to stand out.
Besides magic and basic attacks, you also have things like the hyper attacks that essentially acts like a limit break to deal out heavy damage upon your foe. You’ll also constantly learn new combos, ensuring you always feel this sense of empowerment that comes with your character’s capabilities improving the further you progress in the game.
Despite getting a lot of things right with its combat mechanics though, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom does suffer from a few balance issues. Whilst I never expect an easy ride in video games (and that’s what I thought I might have been in for initially after winning early battles by simply mashing attacks), the game’s difficulty could get pretty nasty. I love a challenge in a video game, but a lot of it felt unfair this time around.
There were times when I’d attempt to block an enemy’s attack, only to constantly see them breaking through my defence and dealing a ton of damage. On the flip side, enemies seemed to be able to evade my attacks with minimal fuss, in turn giving me a further beating on the counter-attack. It wasn’t always the case, but some enemies could easily wreak hell upon your HP bar regardless of the difference in levels.
Enemies had a few too many windows of invulnerability too. I don’t like to cheese my way through an encounter by any means, but trying to nail a follow up on a downed enemy could be a difficult process when they didn’t take damage straight away. Sure, they should get an opportunity to recover, but not being able to keep your combos flowing took away from the quick pace of combat – add in the fact that enemies can easily counter-attack you too and you’ll quickly find a few frustrating instances in Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom’s combat.
Despite these downsides, combat typically stays entertaining throughout the game. Sure, the flaws are there, but they never ruin the experience but rather make it a bit tougher on the player. At least the developers have done a good job of giving players combat mechanics that feel familiar from the get go though, whilst also having their own unique features that ensure things feel fresh. There are a lot of great ideas on show and combat manages to maintain a high level of quality from start to finish – even if it can feel a little too punishing at times…
Whilst it’d be easy to just treat Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom as an RPG, it actually shares a lot of similarities with the open-world platformers that graced the Playstation 2. You’ll be travelling across luscious environments that are full to the brim with tricky jumps and countless puzzles to solve – the game certainly keeps you busy. The platforming feels good too, with controls that are fluid and never make it a struggle to make your way across all the tricky jumping segments. Of course, the fact that the game isn’t focused entirely around platforming means there isn’t a lot of depth to it, but the mere presence of it (and the fact it’s not simply a case of pressing a button at a specific point to jump a la most RPGs) is appreciated. The puzzles are a nice touch too, with each character of the game having their own unique abilities that need to be utilised in a variety of different ways in order to progress.
The environments of the game are well designed and fantastic to explore too, with some stunning landscapes on show. There’s a cel-shaded style to the aesthetic that really captures the essence of the manga origins of the game, with the bright and vibrant visuals giving the impression you’re flicking through the colourful pages of a graphic novel. Each area you visit is simply oozing with wildlife and characters to meet, as well as offering a ton of variety in their look – you never know where you’re going to end up next, with each location managing to trump the last in creativity and size. It’s an impressive feat that will consistently keep the player in awe.
These worlds always feel occupied too, with plenty of different things to do and see. Whether it’s the abundance of side quests to complete, items to uncover, enemies to conquer, or wildlife to capture (one of the game’s most surprisingly enjoyable elements), you’ll never be short of things to keep you entertained during your roughly sixteen hour journey.
I could tell from the moment I first saw the game that a lot of love has been poured into the creation of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom, and it really tells in the final product – it’s a thoroughly entertaining adventure that mixes up exciting battling with the exploration of luscious worlds. The combination of combat, platforming, and puzzling will keep you hooked from start to end.
It does stutter a little with some balance issues in combat and a story that never grips you in, but the fact that the game is so much fun trumps these issues. It’s a great effort that brings together a multitude of different genres into one fantastic package – here’s hoping we’ll see more from the awe-inspiring world of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom soon.
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: 18/04/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC