Pretty on the outside.
It seems every year a smaller indie game comes along, without warning, and really blows me away. In the initial hours of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom, I thought I had found this year’s game. The world is vibrant, the characters are fun and interesting, and the systems are all in-depth and well designed. This action RPG felt great, right out of the gate, with one exception. The combat felt stiff and convoluted for the sake of complexity, but early on it didn’t matter. The further I got into the game though, the more frustrating it became.
I want to start with everything that works, which is a lot. As I mentioned already the characters and world are intoxicating. The colorful visuals paint a great backdrop to the narrative, and there is enough going on to get a feel for the entire world at large. I also really loved the design of each race of character, and the voice acting isn’t great, but it gets the point across.
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PS4, PC
Price I’d Pay: $19.99
There are also an abundance of systems woven into the game. Players start off as just one character, but along the way more and more join in, each with their own unique abilities and fighting style. Every character possesses one special tactic that is usually used to solve puzzles. For example Chado, the main character, has rocks he can create to place on pressure areas. Switching between them is easy, both in and out of combat, and as I said, each one uses unique powers and fighting styles.
Shiness also introduces each system at a great pace. Just when I was getting used to one mechanic, it would introduce another to weave into the mix. There is gear, skill trees, and much more to learn, so getting it trickled down over time is appreciated. The complexity of the systems would be useless without a good UI to keep track of it all. I loved the design of the menus in this game, although it seemed to have some weird glitch that wouldn’t save my control settings, which was annoying.
RPG elements, exploration, characters, and world all check out. Then we get to combat, and things quickly change.
I like the combat, let me get that point across first. It feels like a hybrid mix of fighting games and traditional action RPGs. Each character uses their own style, and spells that are based around elemental powers. There are also passive abilities for characters not directly in the fight. These can buff or heal players in the combat ring. Fights are broken down into 1-on-1 battles, with each character knocked out, moving on to the next.
The problems arise later on in the game, when enemies start using the more advanced tactics. Challenge is one thing, but the methods to succeed in combat do not flow properly in the game. I get what they were going for. There is a parry attack, a dodge mechanic, and more, but they all feel stiff. Players are required to hold down the B button and tap a direction to dodge. Sadly, I found it unresponsive a lot of the time. Enemies will also lock players into stun traps, meaning they cannot move while being attacked. The only option is the parry, which again only feels like it works half the time.
I love what the developers were going for, but in practice it falls apart. I failed too many battles because my dodge did not work. Enemies become way overpowered, and flawless in their tactics, far too early in the game. It became frustrating, which is disappointing as the world I was exploring and characters I was getting to know were fantastic.
Visually I love the game. The style is vibrant and beautiful. I could definitely see the budget limitations, but they accounted for them nicely. This is a great looking game, and I already sang my praise for the UI and menu system. The voice work is hit or miss, but the writing is good. I really enjoyed the world of Shiness.
The term so close, yet so far away fits perfectly here. I adore so much of what this game does, but the combat becomes its Achilles Heel. With some tweaking this could easily be a franchise action RPG I would gladly play every few years. As it sits now, the frustration kept me from enjoying the best parts of Shiness and its world.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.