Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom, developed by independent French games studio Enigami, is an action RPG that aims to capture the wonder and magic presented in older, PS2-era JRPGs such as Dragon Quest 7 and Dark Cloud – The game takes an inherent inspiration from classic, cel-shaded titles, most notably titles like Ni No Kuni and again Dragon Quest, and sets players into a large world filled to the brim with charismatic characters, intimidating, colorful enemies, and bustling, brilliant landscapes.
Shiness follows the story of titular protagonist Chado, travelling across a land known as the Celestial Islands, formed from the fragmentation of the world of Mahera; aided by the Shiness, a mystical spirit that only Chado can see, you and your party of five playable characters head off in a bid to remedy the power struggle plaguing the Celestial Islands, borne from several warring kingdoms.
The main drawing point of the title lies within it’s use of the five playable characters mentioned earlier – Chado, Poky, Kayenne, Askel and Rosalya; each commanding use of Earth, Machinery, Telekinetics, Thievery and Fire, being quite the departure from the standard “Earth, Wind, Fire and Water” elemental quadrilogy of old, your party can make greater use of the environment around them, and uncover secrets hidden throughout the world exclusive to their abilities – For instance, say you find yourself in a pitch-black cave with a large, sealed, mechanical door; use Rosalya to light up the environment using her flames, and send Poky to go and investigate the door!
Gameplay takes two distinct turns within Shiness from the get-go – The first of which being exploration and navigation, searching the busy overworld filled with huntable prey, looming monsters, puzzles and activities abundant; the battle system, however, is where I start to see a few cracks in the works – The battle system takes an inherent inspiration from the Tales franchise, and Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm titles, being more of a 3rd person tactical beat’em’up, fit with dodging, parrying, combos and special abilities – Whilst the core battle system is solid, I did find myself more often than not being stunlocked by enemy combos, being hit instantly upon entering battle, and failing to parry (Although admittedly, it’s probably because I suck at these types of battle system!).
The camera too is another major niggle of mine with this title, as is natural with nearly every 3rd person title in this pseudo-platformer format – Every title like this, be it a major budget production like Yooka Laylee, to smaller projects such as this, have an unfortunate bugbear that all suffer from. I just haven’t noticed it quite as much as I did with Shiness.
The world itself, as mentioned before, is full of character, with differing NPCs, activities, locales and even huntable animals to my surprise – Areas look wonderful with a brilliant blend of cel-shaded graphics, and the blend of comic-bookish, cartoony colour that a title such as this really needs. Early seascapes wowed me and deeper forests had me exploring every inch just to see more of the environment.
It’s surprising, but I’m always impressed with how low-budget titles such as this always find some way of retaining graphical fidelity, be it Dust: An Elysian Tale, or Shiness. For once, I’m actually saddened I was limited to PS4, and couldn’t experience this at max settings on PC.
Animated comic sections too take an special charm and fit the tone of the game, complimented by the distinct visual style presented – I just wish there was a way to revisit these sections as part of an index or anthology of sorts; music, however, is slightly more hit-and-miss; I couldn’t really pick out any part of the OST that I would call “exemplary” or “astounding”, but it was just…Good. Good ol’ fashioned JRPG-fare goodness, really.
It’s annoying since I know that a lot of these issues can’t be helped, given that the game was created on a budget of roughly £100,000 (Compare that to the £3,000,000+ Yooka Laylee got.), however I feel that my opinions may be tainted, given my love of Dust: An Elysian Tale, which was raised on a budget of £40,000 and has became one of my favourite indie titles of all time – Given that, though, I feel that Shiness just falls short of this; a bit more time in the cooker, metaphorically, and a bit more work on some of the minor visual defects, and this title would’ve been brilliant.
Finally, perhaps most interesting of all, Shiness is one of the rare exceptions in gaming where the title was directly inspired through a manga adaptation; Shiness currently has (At time of writing) a 2 chapter manga which is, admittedly, rather well drawn and written – Definitely check this out if you’re a fan of game-to-manga adaptations like the Kingdom Hearts manga novels (You can read it here, as provided by Enigami: http://manga.shiness-game.com/chapter_1/ENG/#page/1)!
I want to love Shiness, I really do, however little things here and there keep pushing me back more and more; it annoys me, since this game has the sort of charm and love that I look for in games, just graphical and battle-system based issues keep it locked behind a low score.
Shiness gets a 6.5 / 10. I REALLY want to give this title a 7 / 10, but for the reasons above, I feel like it needs a little more work to achieve this vision.