Over the past couple years it’s been really cool to see indie studios rise up with original titles and start to dominate the market. How many sequels and prequels of sequels and DLC one-shot adventures do we really need? When you get an indie title that is fresh and new, it doesn’t matter what the others are making, you’ve got an experience that lasts longer in your mind for not as much cash. So I was particularly interested to see a new RPG come around when the trailer for Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom come out a couple months ago. Today we make our way through this adventure on the PS4.
The game starts by telling the tale of the Planet, which is held together by the four major elements: air, fire, water and earth. Everything was fine until the elements all turned on each other and started fighting, which broke the Planet apart. By use of magic, protective shields were thrown up to protect societies and villages so no one died. But rather than uniting during such a crisis, everyone is invading each other with warships they build to cross the empty voids for invasion. The only way to end the suffering is to find a place called The Land Of Life, which will bring the elements back into harmony and reunite the Planet as one. You control the hero Chado, who believes this place exists and is going off to find it, venturing forth with an array of characters he picks up along the way in his airship, all while being chased by people who wish to do harm and like things the way they are.
The combat in Shiness is interesting but can be a problem. It follows some variations of older PS2 era RPG’s where it’s free-movement combat, meaning you can get involved with multiple enemies at once and have multiple battles happening at the same time. Moving from enemy to enemy isn’t hard, but you can be targeted by multiple enemies at once, meaning once you kill an enemy there’s one right next to you ready to strike. You can easily become ganged up on without even realizing it, so sneaking up for battles and choosing where to go become key to victory. This makes little sense in hindsight for an RPG, especially when the story has you taking on multiple enemies who can clearly see you. Why would a battle with five guards be reduced to a two-man fight? Why can’t I use all of my characters at once to make quick work of the situation?
You fight mostly with martial arts moves so you have to get in close for many enemies, leaving you open to attack if the AI finds a weak point in your attacks. Weak enemies aren’t a problem, but harder enemies will require magic, and that’s where life gets complicated. The system is intricate and requires precise skill to hit some shots. You’re also finding circles of power that change color throughout the battle. When it changes green, for example, you can recharge your mana to cast healing spells. When it turns red, you can recharge for items like your fireball. However, the colors change too frequently sometimes and you’re left out in the cold far too often with little time to charge an attack or cast a spell before an enemy hones in on you. Almost every battle turns into a defensive play-by-play and gets annoying very quickly, especially when you have few options to run in and wail on an enemy.
Boss battles become the ultimate test of coordination, and to be honest, had I never played games like Guitar Hero before, I’d never realize how steep the learning curve is to pull off multiple moves at the same time for this game. You also travel as a team of three, which you think would give you an advantage in one-on-one battles, as if you were fighting a rookie in Marvel vs. Capcom. But no, some enemies can beat you down quickly and you’re left to change out your character quickly and get them healed. There were at least a dozen battles where I was left changing out my characters within five seconds of each other, assisting with healing as the hits just kept coming. If I’m spending more time trying to survive than I am trying to make it past a single enemy, what am I really doing?
But your ultimate enemies in Shiness are the puzzles. Some of them require little effort, but many of them are Resident Evil level of sadistic. Every character has different skills, like telekinesis and engineering, which can help you solve problems and unlock certain elements to a puzzle. But when you start getting puzzles that require multiple skills just to unlock a door, it just becomes ridiculous. Patience is a virtue in this game, but even my patience got tested after a while. The ultimate insult to some of the puzzles is when you discover you did everything you needed to do for a solid 20 minutes only to discover it was part of a bigger puzzle, and the reality sinks in that you gotta do more of this same bit two more times.
Not everything about the game is bad. The characters are well designed and have lovely personalities and backgrounds that reminded me of Breath Of Fire. The story is decently sized and well thought out, contained in a beautiful world that doesn’t feel too big to traverse and not so small as to feel like I’m in a snow globe. There are a ton of opportunities to save so you’re not left in a bad situation and forced to start over from a certain checkpoint. There’s so much to do that ties into the main story, and a lot of things you can do that are nice side missions, you won’t get bored with it and can actually come back and play to unlock all the achievements. So there’s a lot here for an indie title that it has to offer you.
Overall, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is a decent indie RPG, but there’s a lot here left to be desired. This had great potential on paper, but in their quest to make it unique and different, they essentially put a couple handicaps on it that weren’t required. I wanted to love this game more, but I just couldn’t, and that saddens me as a player. But I also recognize that this may not be the kind of RPG for me and others will adore the combat and magic systems, and will eat the puzzles up in a heartbeat. If you’re a dedicated RPG player, you need to give it a shot, but go in knowing that not everything may be to your liking.
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