Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom has the workings of something great with some stunning visuals, a few clever lines, and a battle system that had potential, but everything falls flat with its poor execution and narrative.
Man, is this a disappointment. The trailers showcased a beautiful world that was waiting to be explored and an art style that looked stunning. However, when you get into the game, its production value rears its ugly head. The character models are not detailed (one of which genuinely looks horrifying) and the way they are animated (or lack thereof) make them extremely awkward within cutscenes. Characters stare blankly into space or at certain points are smiling during ill fitted parts of the story. However, the art behind the environments are stunning. The cool floating islands, a stunning vista of mountains and the ocean, the enchanting design of the buildings, magnificent creatures flying in the sky, and the bright colors popping up on screen make this world I love to explore. The art within Shiness is beautiful despite its low production aesthetic.
Even though the environments are stunning, the game manages to take you out of the world multiple times. Party members can walk on air, Chado can get stuck inside his own rock, some of the music fails to loop, game sound effects for finishing a mission play during a cutscene, and characters clip on the environment’s edges. Shiness glitches quite often and it’s unfortunate. Hopefully, Enigami can fix these issues with future patches.
The narrative leaves much to be desired. Without much explanation at all other than crashing their airship, Chado and Poky find themselves in a sacred forest and get tangled up in a conflict between several kingdoms. The lore is shallowly explained, character motivations don’t make sense, the main cast are archetypes, and the game does a poor job at captivating the player to the story as it presents a poor and confusing conflict that is explained in a very brief way. Why should we care if it is hardly explained or doesn’t showcase the issues from that conflict for the characters?
The key to a good storyline is show, don’t tell, and this just tells. It has emotional elements within the plot but it doesn’t live up to these moments as the narrative is so shallow and there isn’t an investment into the characters. On top of that, the team is celebrating in problematic areas. With one boss, Chado and his friends are unwillingly fighting, and then they cheer at the end of the battle. Afterwards, they don’t reflect on what’s happened at all and it’s shocking because this fight actually caused this person’s death. What makes this worse is that Chado and Poki are 10 year olds; wouldn’t they be more scarred from what just happened and why would such innocent and cheerful characters do such a thing? The core of an action RPG is its narrative and unfortunately it’s rotten. The manga could relieve the lack of explanation but the game shouldn’t rely on that. There are a few lines from the script that can get a laugh from time to time, but that’s it.
The sound work is pretty atrocious as well. The soundtrack by the developer is mostly filled with repetitive and generic loops. The battle music, in particular, is incredibly disappointing with the most generic instruments and music I’ve ever heard. Some of the field music does sound pleasant but this is a rare occurrence.
When I turned off the music, however, something more irritating took its place: the sound effects. The sounds of stepping on the ground are way too loud or feel out of place; it even interrupted my engagement with the story as a soldier walked up and down in a really awkward fashion near where the cutscene took place. You can see that in our gameplay video. His stamping was so loud, I thought it was fluttering and I couldn’t help but be distracted. Another strange part of the game is the voice acting. In the main story cutscenes, portrayed by comic book like panels, the characters are mostly on point with their English voice acting, and then in the game itself, the voices switch to French. Why couldn’t they have stuck to the English voice actors with the few voice clips that the characters make rather than having yet another distracting element to the game? The villains of the game also have awkward performances throughout the game and sound stilted.
The core combat mechanic is monotonous in nature. Over and over again will Chado and his friends punch and kick until their enemy has been knocked out. The combos and attacks available are very basic, but it has a fighting game like system with parries and rolls. It’s a good idea to blend fighting game and RPG mechanics together. However, the problem is that parries and blocks are harder to implement than they should be as there is input lag and when it goes to a bigger open world area, frame rate lag makes it even harder to play; at some points, the frame rate significantly drops. During most battles, it’s very monotonous. You parry an attack or roll away and hit the enemy and then vice versa until the life bar runs out. There’s not much depth. The game can be unfair as well as enemies have faster attacks than you and can zoom up from the other side of the arena at a rapid pace without warning, and the enemies don’t telegraph their next attack in a sufficient way.
In addition, the magic in the game feels like an afterthought rather than an intrinsic part of the battle system. Spells aren’t included in combos, are hard to initiate against enemies who have faster and more precise attacks, and they don’t add any ounce of strategy to each battle. To add on to lackluster combat, Shiness’ camera and battle placement creates frustration. The camera easily gets stuck behind walls and can block your entire your view of the battle. At each instance, an arena force field is made around the enemy and the player; this random aspect can allow for easy deaths as characters can easily fall into pits and die mid combo (enemies, however, don’t get affected by falling and just respawn). Enemies can also jump on top of an out of reach part of land and you can’t get to them; they jump off shortly afterwards but they can get a few easy hits on you with ranged attacks. The combat system in place is yet another disapointment within Shiness and for an action RPG, the action part is lacking. However, the puzzles included in the game are fun to figure out with each character’s unique traits, such as Chado’s ability to summon a rock and Poki’s use of diverting energy from one place to another.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom had a lot of promise with its gorgeous art style and expansive lore, but the game fails to deliver in three main core areas of an action RPG: narrative, combat, and presentation. You can see that there’s something brimming on the surface but the execution is just not there.
A review code was provided by Focus Home Interactive