Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom takes an homage-heavy approach to its look and feel and also brings interesting innovations to its action-RPG roots. Most games that look like Shiness are pretty easy to sum up; they're games that are trying to capture the nostalgia of the PlayStation 2-era. More often than not, these games aren’t all that interesting because we aren’t that far removed from the PS2-era, so it’s odd to see games hearken back to that design when it feels clumsy and old. Shiness certainly has its moments of clumsiness and there are some design choices that seem like head scratchers, but there are also some surprises once you get into the game.
Shiness is first and foremost an action-RPG. You start the game playing as Chado and Poky, two characters who have crash-landed on a new, hostile planet. The entirety of Shiness’ story and atmosphere comes from a manga, a fact I didn’t know until after I had completed the game, which made the game a bit confusing at first. There’s a sense that you're already supposed to know these characters and understand their motivations. And, of course, I knew none of this. Still, the introduction is simple enough to get the gist from. There are bad guys doing bad things and you need to stop them.
Shiness certainly comes across as ambitious from its first couple of hours. I don’t mean this in a positive way necessarily, more of a realistic observation. There are a lot of systems in Shiness and some are clearly more polished than others. While the combat is interesting and fresh, the inventory and character systems are stale and old. While the art style and world around you look bright and beautiful, cutscenes feel like they fell out of old JRPG games with strange pacing and sometimes awful voice acting. In what can be seen as both a blessing and a curse, the game is pretty text heavy. If you really care what everyone thinks, you’ll be reading a lot of chat bubbles. For those that don’t mind skimming that text, you’ll be just fine.
The main arc has to do with Chado and his Shiness, a fairy that only he can see, needing to save this planet from a darkness that inhabits it. As you venture out into the open world, the game asks you to collect plants and animals, complete quests, get better gear, fight monsters, and solve fairly simple puzzles. The puzzles can be mind-numbingly easy at times, requiring nothing but time to complete as you weigh down switches or connect stones of the same color. When you’re not solving puzzles, you’ll be fighting or exploring.
I was actually surprised at the game’s differentiated locations and visuals. From monster villages to mountains to dungeons, your heroes explore a fair amount of unique locales in their journey. More often than not, a quest will give you an obvious area on the map to go to in order to complete the quest. There were a few times when, like in many MMOs, the game was telling me to go to the quest giver but the actual quest text told me where to go or what to do first. I never felt stuck and all-in-all the game took about 15 hours to beat.
Aside from exploring, you’ll spend a lot of time fighting in Shiness, and there’s a lot of fighting to learn. While Chado and Poky are the first two characters you play as, you will eventually get five total characters to switch between. Combat feels akin to Jade Empire with a focus on punches, kicks, dodges, blocks, parries, and magic attacks. Fights take place in a small circular arena that pops up when you initiate combat. The color of the circle matters as it allows certain characters to recharge their magic based on the color of the circle: blue for water magic or green for earth magic and so on. While this system is interesting, I didn’t use it much in practice because there are tons of save points in between fights that recharge your health and magic instantly.
Players are limited to three of the five characters at any time but can switch between the three at any point in a fight. At times it felt like a slow Marvel vs. Capcom fight as I attacked with Chado’s flurry of punches and kicks to then tag in Poky and go full water mage on my enemies. I felt like a badass at times, but then I came upon the bosses.
Most bosses in Shiness are multi-phase bosses and boy are they tough. Bosses constantly stun locked me and made it difficult to dodge or block their assaults as I lost health quickly. I found myself stocking up on healing items and just eking out a victory on a second or third try. The balancing here was a bit frustrating because the normal fights felt pretty fair and balanced. The constant spamming from bosses or difficult enemies meant I couldn’t enjoy the combat system and had to make sure I had a ton of healing items on me at all times.
If you’re a main story-focused person, Shiness will be a breeze for you, but the side quests are there if you want to partake in them. Most side quests are the typical “kill this” or “fetch that” style of quest and are mostly boring and forgettable. In fact, aside from the combat and art style I had a hard time latching onto any piece of Shiness. It’s not that the game was bad; it’s just very middle of the road. A lot of that has to do with the outdated character animations that make you feel like you’re playing a PS2 game versus a PS4 game. While the combat system is great, the animations feel stilted and uneven, as do walking animations. That’s probably the best adjective for Shiness, uneven.
I enjoyed my time with Shiness but it’s not hard to see the faults in the game’s façade. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to the game but the dozen or so hours I spent with it were enjoyable in a Saturday cartoon kind of way. Shiness is a serviceable action-RPG with a distinct look that will probably make any fan of the manga or PS2 action-RPGs smile.