By Thom Compton 18.04.2017
It is always nice when someone's dream comes choose. Whether it be to win the Olympics or open up their own bakery, seeing someone's hard work come to fruition is uplifting. Here it is, then: the moment that art director Samir Rebib has dreamed of since childhood. The release of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is upon the gaming world. Can it meet the lofty expectations it has behind it, though, or will it crumble under its own weight? Well, this review is a winner's story, though it comes with some scuffs.
Players begin Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom controlling Chado and Poky. Their air ship has crash-landed, and immediately, Poky is lost. Chado must venture out to find him - but like any good RPG, it's not as simple as that.
The game wastes no time introducing combat, and it's arguably its most unique feature. Button mashers be forewarned: it's not as easy as jamming the Square button to victory. Enemies are intuitive, and adapt to how they are assaulted. Lay into an enemy too long, and they will defend themselves, or disappear into the ground. Moments later, they are in full offensive mode, laying into the player at lightning speed.
Oh, these enemies are fast, with, as cliché as it sounds, ninja-like speed. Defence is absolutely critical. Learning when to parry both physical and magical attacks is imperative if intending to survive. Because the game is moderately open world, you may find that the enemies Chado and Poky, or any of their comrades, are facing are just too much. This is one of those aforementioned scuffs, as enemies are frequently littered around areas that can be explored freely. Many of those enemies are just too strong, and require a revisit to vanquish.
This leads to one of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom's coolest features, which is that it employs a light amount of stealth. The game introduces it as a way to sneak up on small critters, stealing their hides as resources. However, it works brilliantly in combat - or, to be more accurate, the lack thereof. If an enemy is too hard, Chado and friends can simply sneak around them. The brilliance is that the enemies in the field have patterns they patrol, and figuring those out is an unexpected surprise.
Of course, other RPGs have incorporated stealth before, but the way it is integrated here is fantastically organic. There's no pre-cut path for the player to hide and sneak, so they have to figure out the best path for themselves to follow. One thing is for sure: sneaking past an enemy in the high grass and stealing away behind a bush feels so much more natural than hiding behind a fence that doesn't feel like it should be there.
The characters who permeate this story aren't particularly interesting, sadly to say, and really fit well into RPG tropes. Chaddo has an air of Scrappy Doo to him, while Poky is the tiny scared sidekick who can handle his own in combat. Kayenne is the older one who doesn't have time for shenanigans because he's very, very serious. Other characters are present who also check other RPG trope checkboxes, but the story is still plenty endearing.
The final point to mention before the scuffs get revealed is how absolutely breath-taking the world is. There's definitely an Okami vibe at play here, and every piece of the world, and every dungeon, feels so incredibly powerful and beautiful that you'd almost never want the game to end. Fortunately, there's enough content there that it's going to take a good while before it does.
This game was hard to review and not give a perfect score. It captures the amazing scale and power of PS2 era RPGs, while feeling like something entirely new. It's important, though, to be honest, and it should be known it didn't avoid a perfect score because it has flaws. Every game to ever get a perfect score has flaws. It didn't get a perfect score because those flaws are not only hard to overlook, but make the experience worse overall.
The first of the flaws comes in the form of combat. Combat is designed around fighting games, and as previously mentioned, button mashers are going to have a rough time - which is a shame, because that's exactly how it's presented. The first few encounters can be mashed through, but not much after that. Now, the combat is spectacular to watch. However, the enemies' speed leads to some cheap shots, while fumbling with the controller to regain an edge. Many will figure it out quickly, while others will be left confused for the first few hours of the game.
Combat requires initiation, either by the player or the opponent. It's baffling how often the player will wail on an opponent and nothing happens, but the opponent turns and smacks them real good, starting off the fight. This gives the enemy an advantage, and because enemies can't be hurt when they are on the ground, waiting to get back up, they really don't need any additional advantages. Still, it's not uncommon for any random encounter to begin with Chado getting smacked like he'd asked for a kiss on the first date. What's jarring is that it's really not the player's fault. With the large environments, enemies can pop up out of nowhere, and often it feels like the player just can't win.
The next issue comes in the form of the one genre mixed in that feels tacked on, which is the platforming. The platforming is weak, not accommodating quick actions, but stopping mid-run to line one of the heroes up with the jump. Now, this isn't a platformer, so it can't be held against it too heavily. Still, platforming is definitely required, and breaks the flow of the game. Also, some jumps just don't work all the time. A good example is early on, when you can jump onto a ledge. Running back to imitate that jump may prove pointless, as Chado will end up bouncing into the wall like an idiot until, somehow, he clears the jump.
The final straw is unfortunately the very thing that makes the world so exciting. It's so big, and there's so much to explore, that getting lost is entirely too easy. The objective is highlighted on the mini-map, and getting to it often requires putting entirely too much time into running around, looking for something that's just too vague. This has its benefits, because it's possible to find things earlier than they're needed. It also means feeling hopelessly lost. It is frustrating knowing where the goal is, and having no clue how to get anywhere near it.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom just feels like it's got the wrong kind of rough edges. While imperfections often give character, here they just make enjoying the experience all that much harder. It's upsetting to see a game with so much going for it falter for clunky combat, lacklustre platforming, and being too big and too open too early. However, any action RPG fan owes it to themselves to play this one-of-a-kind adventure, because the good outweighs the bad, and this is a powerful experience Samir and the rest of Enigami should still be proud of.