Shine on, you fuzzy diamond.
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Format: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed)
Released: April 18, 2017
If there’s one thing that I love most about this job, it’s getting to look at the new and wonderful creations coming out of the indie scene. Every now and then, I’ll find an indie game that’s nothing short of a hidden gem. Its story is fascinating, it’s gorgeous to look at, and it even introduces some new game mechanics to a well-trodden formula. Kickstarted by French developer Enigami, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is unfortunately not one of these kinds of games. But during my time with it, there were quite a few times that it came close. Because while it does introduce a unique twist to classic aspects of JRPGs, it unfortunately fails to deliver a cohesive narrative to make it memorable.
This is in part because the plot of Shiness doesn’t set out to break any new territory for the JRPG genre. After all, you play as a young protagonist who meets a magical creature that kicks off a grand adventure on an airship as they set out to find a legendary and mystical land, only to get tangled up with a runaway princess and kingdom-wide conflict. It’s a storyline so stock-standard that even the usual JRPG pop-band archetypes are here. You have Chado (begrudgingly pronounced “Shadow”), playing the kind-hearted hothead; Poky, the scaredy-cat comical relief; Kayenne, the gruff but responsible one; and Rosalya, the girl.
While I can understand why Shiness tells a fairly generic plot, especially considering that it’s a first-time project from a new developer, my biggest problem with the game is how it actually delivers the story. That is to say, for a plot that should be fairly predictable, it’s rather difficult to follow most of the time. For starters, the game dumps a metric fuckton of lore and world-building within its initial hours as if you’ve already got some kind of prior investment in its story and characters. It was only after I’d finished the game that I discovered this was because the game expects you to have read its pre-release promotional manga, which introduces the world and its main characters with a lot more depth.
But even if you have that knowledge going in, it can still be pretty difficult to understand the motivations and general backgrounds behind some of the game’s characters, let alone where and how the plot and its characters fit into the world. Because of this, a lot of what I assume are meant to be dramatic twists and turns don’t carry the impact that they should when my reaction ends up being “wait, who was this guy again?” As a result, the story more or less ends up fading into the background while you bop around its beautiful locales, beating up everything in sight until the credits roll.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when the game actually does manage to introduce some pretty interesting concepts. But it does so with only a few hours remaining in its fifteen-hour playtime, leaving barely any time to explore them before ending on a rather unsatisfying cliff-hanger with nary a sense of accomplishment.
Instead, Shiness is at its best when you’re fighting enemies and exploring the game’s environments. As you might expect from an RPG of this nature, most of your time is spent scampering around the map looking for treasure chests and enemies to fight, playing dress-up to improve your party, and solving the occasional puzzle dotted around the map to mix things up a little. But it’s only when you get into combat that things start to get really interesting.
Rather than sticking to the traditional turn-based battle system, combat in Shiness instead plays more like tag-team fighting game, seeing you kick, punch, block, and parry your way to victory over your opponent while using various kinds of elemental magic. It’s a surprisingly fun and challenging approach to JRPG combat that constantly keeps you on your toes, even against opponents you’ve faced off against multiple times. Especially when you take into account the game’s inclusion of “random chance” encounters that reward you with useful equipment for winning battles under specific restrictions, such as not using items.
Despite its initial button-mashy appearance, however, Shiness’s battle system does actually have quite a few layers of depth and strategy involved. Besides keeping in mind each enemy’s elemental weaknesses, you’ll also need to pay attention to the fighting arena, as it changes colours incrementally, which increases the effectiveness of that colour’s matching element. And with a little inspiration taken from Final Fantasy XII’s “gambit” system, you can even assign your party members with unlockable “if, then” support abilities that can remove status effects and even keep the party constantly healed up if used intelligently.
It’s just a shame that the camera has a difficult time keeping track of the action whenever you enter combat. It seems to be far more interested in getting behind enemies and letting their asses take up the screen instead. You are able to swap it for a more free-roaming camera, but that has such difficulty focusing on an enemy’s position that it just feels you’re like trading a punch in the teeth for a kick to the nuts as your foe pummels you from off-camera.
But while Shiness certainly has its fair share of flaws, it’s by no means a bad game. It’s still a beautiful experience that brings a fresh and deep flavour of combat to the genre. Although its story is confusing at worst and generic at best, there are still a tiny handful of moments that show potential for what could have been an interesting plot, even if there wasn’t enough time to let them fully develop. Unfortunately, Shiness doesn’t leave as big an impact as it should because it ends up trying so hard to be unique that it forgets to be memorable.
A flawed, but short and sweet adventure that JRPG fans are sure to get a kick out of.
Writer: Tristan Venables
Editor: Joseph Diskett