Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is another game that I had the pleasure of playing at E3 last year. This game hearkens back to PS2 adventure games, so if you are feeling nostalgic for that era, but want to play something modern, Shiness has the perfect combination of snappy and fun combat mixed into a fantastical world with human and animal races.
The game begins with a two-fold issue: Chado and Poky are separated after their ship crashes onto Meteora of Gendys, but that is a minor event; the two Wakis find themselves in the middle of a power struggle between the fragmented celestial islands. Unable to turn down a good fight and adventure, Chado takes it upon himself to help save the planet after he encounters Terra, a mystical Shiness creature unseen by most, who asks him to help restore balance to the elements.
The story of Shiness is fully-realized and layered with intricacies. It deals with heavy issues such as racism and familial betrayal, but presents those issues in a light manner, often in a comedic way with a smidgen of seriousness. While the characters aren’t super three-dimensional, they each have their own distinct personalities that come across clearly through their dialogue options and animations: Chado is portrayed as a confident, outspoken Waki who always holds his head high; Poky, Chado’s best friend, leans on the nervous-Nelly side, but is a quick-witted mechanic, and has the most adorable running animation I’ve ever seen. Kayenne is a no-nonsense warrior-type; Rosalya is fiercely loyal, as well as a crucial character to the overall story; and Askel is an intimidating mercenary. The five of them together create a dynamic force to be reckoned with.
Each of these characters become playable at some point during the game, and each come with their own special ability that players will often need to use as they progress through Shiness to solve mini puzzles. (These mini puzzles are often really easy and don’t require much more effort than selecting the appropriate character to help you solve it.)
Unfortunately, the story progresses in a choppy manner, especially in places like the Gromiz lair. Players can expect to dive into heavy combat for anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes, but then the pace of the game comes to a grinding halt once players are introduced to new characters – the more important the character, the greater the quantity of dialogue you an expect to hear from them.
Generally speaking, each instance of a conversation provides players with relevant details to the plot and story, but most of the time the characters go on a rambling monologue of sorts – much of which is cheeky in tone, but with the overall tone of the game having that same quality, most of the antagonists or other NPCs end up having no distinguishing qualities. In addition, each bit of dialogue that isn’t presented in the cinematic cutscenes you’ll have to literally click through, sentence by sentence, which can get irritating. Thankfully, the fully-voiced cinematics break up the monotony, and the voice overs are well-done.
The scenery of Shiness is a lush, magical environment, with many different regions to explore for a small map. While Gendys is a beautiful world on its own, traveling to Mantara proves to be the most beautiful. It’s in a unique location, too – on the back of a giant mantis, a flying purple creature that looks similar to an ocean dwelling mammal in the real world. Hearing Irys talk about calling Mantara might not make much sense until you see it in person, but I’m glad the developers put this location in the game.
The mechanics of the game are far more complex than the story, and while the combat is relatively easy to get the hang of, playing Shiness on PC will have a much different feel than playing it on console, so much so that the game recommends you play it with a controller. I am a strictly PC-gal, because I find modern console controllers cumbersome, but I imagine that navigating the inventory system and parts of the combat system would be much easier with a controller. To change screens in the inventory on a PC, you use different keys depending on which screen is active – and there are several layers of screens, to boot. Because of how complex the inventory system is, navigating it wasn’t entirely intuitive, even with reminders about which keys did what.
When you are in the equipment screen, for example, navigating the top portion is with the Q and E keys, while navigating the bottom portion uses the Tab key. Other portions, like the main quest, secondary quest, and contract tabs, you navigate with the mouse wheel, while navigating through the main categories you can only use WASD/arrow keys and enter, not the mouse. You can also navigate the same options while in the main screen, which was easier, although I’m not sure about the reasoning behind the duality of this option. Greater consistency among these interactions, or letting the player point and click on anything in their inventory screens, would have been more fluid.
The combat system is complex, yet more intuitive in some instances, albeit I kept forgetting the combo to a few moves. (Shiness does keep a running tally of all the tutorials you come across, so that helps tremendously.) Poky’s ability to harness the power of elements through his wrench, for instance, uses both the left and right mouse buttons; using each character’s special ability requires pressing the same buttons, so that is easy to remember when you need to switch characters to open up a sealed area or activate a bridge. Activating your hyper ability results in a brief, gorgeous cut-scene, making the move feel all the more epic.
Even if you were to strip Shiness of its story, the combat could still carry the game because of how well it has been designed. There is a lot going on – what with selection of various disciplines for each character, clothing, how much Shi is available to use – and the game doesn’t present a straight forward way of learning it, so players will be left to explore it on their own. I found it overwhelming at first, but I gradually came to understand how it all worked together.
One of the great things about the combat system is that you can rotate characters in and out of arena fights, as well as equip anyone with support moves that provide buffs to the active character, like healing them when their health falls below 50%, for example. There were many times I was glad that I had equipped my characters with this ability, because I often found myself zoomed in on my character or behind a rock in the middle of combat, due to the wonky nature of the camera, and got the snot beat out of me. The combat is fun until you can’t kick straight because of weird camera angles.
Overall, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is a pretty solid experience, even with its little annoyances.
PUBLISHER – Focus Home Interactive| DEVELOPER – Enigami | ESRB – T | PLATFORMS – PC / PS4 / Xbox One
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Consider – Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is a nostalgic, PS2-era game with some modern twists. Fans of early JRPGs should whole-heartily enjoy this game, especially for its combat mechanics. Others who are new to this genre or who are looking for a well-paced story that doesn’t take many hours to complete might find themselves slogging through at points. Even still, there are many elements of Shiness that can be appreciated.