Action-RPGs are currently one of the most quietly competitive genre’s out there. Often a stalwart product of the Japanese development scene, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom bucks that trend, coming instead from independent French developer Enigami. Despite any constraints stemming from their humble size, the team set their sights high, hoping to take on the likes of the Tales series at their own game. Sadly, on this attempt, they’ve come up short.
Your journey begins with two cat-like Wakis – the ‘cool’ bandana-wearing Chado and the cuddly Poky – crash-landing in their craft and meeting a Shiness called Terra, an invisible spirit creature that assists you at various points on your adventure across the Celestial Islands.
Each of the Waki are playable, with their own skill set; Chado is able to summon a Shimenhiro, a large rock that you use to solve switch-based puzzles, while Poky uses his wrench to link crystals with spirit energy. Your further three companions add in their skills to allow for some slightly more complicated takes on the light puzzling action, but none of it is likely to challenge anyone with an ounce of computer game knowledge.
Though the real time combat searches for depth, you’re most likely to be able to hammer through many of the enemies with just the standard attacks and the odd spot of blocking or parrying. It doesn’t require much in the way of timing to parry an attack, but the opportunity to cause some decent damage means that encounters are at least over more promptly.
Shiness isn’t always great at communicating how far away you are from an enemy though, and moving about the small combat arenas can be a frustration in itself. There are some positives – it’s inoffensive, solidly put together and colourful – and the addition of different magic types and areas of effect means that you can also experiment beyond your core abilities should you desire to. There’s every chance that you won’t, though.
It’s not often that you come across modern games where the translation work and editing isn’t up to scratch, but there’s some very poorly translated speech in Shiness, and it often only has a passing interest in the correct pronunciation and spelling. Overall the characters talk in boring circles, asking benign questions one moment before jumping straight into an angst-ridden line that’s meant to indicate just how deep and mysterious they are. It grows tiresome incredibly quickly.
The story itself is all utter bobbins, with weird names flung around at a hundred miles an hour and no real explanation as to what it all means. Admittedly that’s not uncommon in RPGs from any region, but I literally had no desire, or real understanding for the tasks I was performing, simply following the red indicator on the map until the next indecipherable cutscene or task kicked in.
When one of the earliest quests is called Make Idle Chit-Chat, and includes half a dozen different tasks that continue to drag on, you get a sense of the lackadaisical pace that everything trundles along at. It was almost too much for me to cope with, and I could feel my frustration beginning to boil over at a number of points.
Part of the problem is the soundtrack. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an RPG soundtrack that is so interminably repetitive. The opening forest area has an excruciating ten note percussive riff that nearly had me wanting to give up gaming forever. It’s that bad.
At least Shiness manages to look pretty good whilst you’re playing it. The handsome cel-shaded visuals are reminiscent of the CyberConnect Naruto games, though they lack that series’ final layer of polish. Much of the main narrative is also presented via semi-animated manga images that look like they’ve been pulled straight out of Samir Rebib’s original book, and they do a much better job of making the whole excursion more attractive than any of the accompanying text.
For all of its bright and breezy outlook, there are other issues lurking within Shiness though. Screen tearing, pop-in and some examples of clipping, alongside a camera that often seems to do its best to avoid frame the action, ensures that you remember that Shiness is only masquerading as a big-budget title. You’d be hard pressed to forget once you’ve spent a number of hours with it.
Enigami’s attempt to craft a full Action-RPG experience as an indie developer deserves praise, and, visually at least, it comes close to aping its peers. However, a meaningless story, awful dialogue, irritating combat and an utter lack of pace sees it come up short in every other area that matters.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro