Ever wish you could Hadouken your way through an RPG? With Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom, we have that and more.
Genre: Casual, Action
Developer: Lukas Jaeckel
Release date: 18 Apr, 2017
The very first time I saw the trailer, Shiness came off as an RPG blend of The Legend of Korra and Zelda. Here was this scrappy little monchichi who looked like he was Chris Pratt in chipmunk form. On top of that, from the trailer he seemed surrounded by a Guardians of the Galaxy-esque cast of characters with airships, magical beings, and a superbly colorful atmosphere. Oh, oh, oh, and on top of THAT, it looked like the combat was arena fighter based! My heart fluttered. This is the type of game I could just lose myself in. So, that left me thinking, “The combat and story will make or break this game”, but I was wrong. While those parts have their share of ups and downs, the biggest problem I had with Shiness was something else entirely. I’ll start off with the good stuff, though.
Combat Gameplay Video
The cell shaded graphics give Shiness it’s flair, making it slightly anime styled even though I felt the actual overall tone was more along the lines of a graphic novel than anime. With a bright color palette reminiscent of the style of Fable, the effect on the eye is pleasing, although, usually pumped so high you may an extra glare filter. There are hardly any muted colors to speak of. You’ve got opulent greens, sparkling rubine magentas, perfect cyan blue skies and bright sunshine yellows everywhere. It’s like editing in Photoshop and setting the Saturation levels to +100. Yet, it works! I enjoy all the color and vibrancy. As I said, there is a very strong graphic novel feel to this artwork and it felt as if the usual bright copy of a printed book was translated to screen with no holding back. The world is lovely and the art direction beyond the scope of most Kickstarter games. I applaud the hard work and diligence in designing this unique and original game world.
Now, comes the critique. When I played in 1080P I noticed the outline edges of the characters looked slightly pixelated. Also, the moving grass was very blurry when close up. Even Chado’s face and Cayenne’s hair didn’t have quite enough edge definition to their black outlines. Now, that’s not uncommon in games, even Breath of the Wild doesn’t look particularly amazing at 900P, but it’s 2017 and I really felt like the grass should at least be clear enough to give a sense of immersion in the game. Since the graphics menu offers several resolutions options, I tried the game at 2K and 4K on a 4K TV. To my surprise, the game could handle 4K even on my mid-level 4GB 1050 Ti with what felt like a very smooth framerate and it looked PERFECT, exactly how it should look in the first place. I kept playing the game at that resolution until I noticed some slowdowns in fighting. When I went back to 1080P or 1440P, though, I sorely missed how noticeably clearer the image was. I checked again on a 1080P monitor, and its edge definition was still mildly pixelated compared to my TV. While the graphics are far from terrible, I just felt like it could look noticeably sharper. Normally, 4K only clears up games a wee bit compared to 1440P, but in this case, it was night and day. If you have a 1070 card or higher I say game in 4K for the whole duration. If it were not for the occasional slowdown on my little card at 4K, I would game at that resolution.
Shiness starts out by throwing us directly into the action with a fully animated intro vid. It was done quite well with a good dose of tension and excitement that gives us a close up of some of the characters involved. What wasn’t included was enough backstory. I understand wanting to avoid the usual “backstory intro” that the majority of games begin with and just get right to good stuff. However, I was mostly lost going in. It would have been good to have at least some idea of what is happening besides a crash landing and an ongoing war. Yet, I can’t fault it for that. Star Wars begins the exact same way and it worked for George Lucas. You gradually begin to understand the conflicts between the peoples of this land the more you play. I won’t go into it because it would take a few pages just to write it up, but in a nutshell, there are factions intent on hacking each other to bits and our hero, Chado, drops in with his buddy, Poky, only to get caught in the middle of it all. His mission is different, though, as he is seeking to find the mysterious Lands of Life, which are a sort of Shangri–La where you can meet up with your deceased loved ones. He also has a magic power to talk to the Shiness spirits who guide him in this adventure.
It’s a good story, but I found that the in-game quests and banter were not on the same level as the cut-scenes – both animated or graphically portrayed with 2D art panels. Also, the story really doesn’t get into a higher gear until roughly halfway through the game. Before then, the NPC character dialogue honestly undercuts the rest of the story with gradual slowdowns. As I played, I would lose the pacing after talking for about one minute in one area, running all over the map, and then coming back for a wee bit more conversation only to go back to roaming the map. I wanted the dialogue to be more interesting because, with all these wonderful characters in the game, I don’t honestly feel any connection to the majority of them. Most of the conversations are not memorable. I was simply going through the motions for a good chunk of the game as I kept at it just to see the rest of the actual scripted parts unfold. Most of the quests were along the simple side of things with fetching, collecting and going to and fro. However, the better of these are the bounty hunter quests which involve actual battles.
Within the gameplay, you have some special abilities that apply to each character. Chado, for instance, can make an almond shaped rock with a silly tongue form on his back. It’s useful for activating switches. Poky can use move Shi around, Cayenne can levitate things, Askel can whip at things a la Indiana Jones, and so on. The puzzles were generally on the easy side with only one that took me a few minutes to figure out. I felt it was along the lines of easier Zelda Twilight Princess puzzles, but nothing close to the harder type puzzles.
In-game goodies and leveling
There are no slowdowns to obtaining a higher level, rather you find yourself with an abundance of items to choose from. From what I have read, there is a level cap of 50, but it goes beyond that with other things. You can learn disciplines that give you an advantage in battles. After mastering these disciplines in battles, you get to keep that special power in your arsenal whilst you learn new ones. I found what looked like several dozen different clothing perks which upgrade your characters. You’ll be unlocking more members in your party, so have fun playing with the various disciplines for Melee and Distance attacks along with clothing options. The only drawback I saw was that changing your clothing doesn’t actually affect the way you look on screen. So much for that feathered bandana waving in the wind. You can assign these with quite a lot of freedom, only a handful of items could not be transferred from one party member to the next.
Along the way, you’ll discover a cornucopia of different healing potions or battle perks. I lost count, but for the most part, I would use up a certain type and then just move on to the next perk as I assigned them to my D-pad. My advice is to buy about 25 of whatever health item you can afford as soon as you find a merchant. There are ways to avoid using them that I’ll discuss later. Many of the items you collect are useless to you, so you can sell or barter these to a merchant in order to supply yourself with all the health you like. While I did not try to see the maximum number of items that can be assigned, I really don’t feel you need more than 25 of any given perk in the game or it’s simply too easy to play. As you get to the last battle, make sure to stock up, though.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the combat in Shiness. It rides a fine line of good aspects versus bad ones. On the good side, it does NOT go in the mold of Batman style combat. You cannot win by button mashing, at least not for long. If you parry, it must be a good solid parry right at the perfect moment. And if you block, you had better do it before the other guy comes at you. There are even battle perks for blocking or parrying at the exact moment you need to. The only problem is that I can’t always tell when I need to. Each baddie has some idiosyncratic attack method and it’s not obvious when to exactly parry or block. Too early, and it’s for naught. Too late, and you will be on the other side of a multi-punch combo that could literally drain you dead in seconds. My advice is to properly set up your party with Shi and Disciplines before getting anywhere close to combat. Even the very first monster hunting quest will nail your butt if you do not check on that. I’ve noticed some people feel that the parrying is too hard to handle, but keep in mind that if it was any easier it would be a button mashfest. I really feel it’s close to just right, but the actual enemy attacks need an adjustment to signal us to parry about 0.33 seconds earlier before it’s too late.
For those who have not played any fighters and come from a click-click RPG background, you may be overwhelmed. The combat is not to be taken lightly once you get outside the general plant-baddie areas. Batman veterans will have an easier time and I daresay Sleeping Dogs or Dragonball vets will have no issues at all. All around you are endless respawning monsters to attack and level up with. In a way, it sort of resembles Zelda Breath of the Wild with baddies all over the place waiting to be beaten so their stuff can be snatched up, but only in the way a bagel with raspberries and cream cheese resembles a jelly donut. Some of these fights are minor, others are quite the challenge because more often than not you are getting tag-teamed by two or three of them at a time. What if you get hit with a combo that depletes more than half your health? Then, switch to another person in your party ASAP! They will regenerate while someone else fights. Just keep doing that over and over and you’ll be fine.
Now, combos can be assigned for certain elements – Earth, Water, Wind, Fire, Lightning, and so on. These are simple combos where you use LT+ a single button to fire some Shi, allowing players to Hadoken their way to victory. While incredibly simple compared to say Devil May Cry, the faster combos are decent with a lean towards people being able to pick up the combat more easily. You can’t just spam attack with it, though, because you’ll run out of Shi fast. It also is best if timed with the element flashing in the battle arena at the time. Some attacks don’t affect baddies one bit, so keep that in mind before trying to blast someone and use up all your Shi. Honestly, most battles will come down to how fast you can block or parry along with good old fashioned punches and kicks while spamming Shi when the screen flashes the right color. Yes, the attacks are simplified, but the general structure of combat is just fine considering you cannot win everything unless you fight in a varied method.
The combat really comes into play with the bosses, and that’s when you had better get your block/dodge and parry down to an art. You will get schooled otherwise. To me, Shiness has a very competent, if imperfect combat system. Usually, the combat is horribly affected by…drumroll, please…..BAD CAMERA ANGLES. I’ve had an easier time balancing a marble on a bobblehead. For the love of all things rainbow-colored and poofy, please get that camera fixed. There is an option for AUTO-LOCK on the camera and if you play with that on or off, it still doesn’t really quite work correctly. Leave it off, and the camera is manually adjustable, yet now you have to move the camera along while battling it out. Leave it on, and it’s easier but if the camera gets stuck somewhere, under some grass for instance, then you will be unable to see anything whatsoever. I used two controllers to play this game, an Xbone controller and a Steam controller. The Xbone controller gave me the least issues but moved across the screen very slowly compared to the Steam controller, which had the right joystick/touchpad set to emulate a mouse. The Steam controller was like making my game magically more nimble, but then when I fought in battles the auto-lock camera would grab a terrible angle about 35% of the time, even in boss battles. I can reset with a right stick click, but it’s no fun to constantly reset the camera when I could be pressing an attack button instead. As I said, using an Xbone controller will have fewer issues, but I highly suggest trying the game with or without the auto-lock on and see what works for you. This brings me to the next section…
Where did my boss go?
Here is the single most disappointing part of Shiness that, with all my heart, I wish I didn’t have to say. Shiness is glitchy. Really, really glitchy. There was a patch on May 11th that helped a lot, but there are still more of them within in the game. It’s the major reason I have such mixed feelings about this game because it seriously interrupts the missions and storyline. Time after time I would get mildly stuck juddering around geometry while fighting or worse yet, falling through the ground and losing half a mission level. There was one boss fight with a giant spider boss where I paused the game to get a drink of water, only to unpause and suddenly find myself pushed BEHIND the boss and unable to continue the fight. The boss literally just stood here frozen in time. I thought I would have to restart the whole battle, but I don’t give up easily and wanted to see if I could dislodge myself back in position. After 45 minutes of hitting every button on my controller with flailing joysticks, I finally landed an attack with a Shi flying ball and got back in the fight. Well sort of, the boss was only able to attack with puny flameballs. I was still unable to run down the stairs to get a proper fight going, so I just parried my heart out till the end from the posterior angle of his mighty booty.
I encountered a few game crashes on the Mendys Plain. I also had some screen tearing that would come and go along with a glitch while fighting on the mountain where both the baddie and myself were frozen on a spot, rotating and unable to land any punches. The game DID come close to crashing several other times when the screen froze up, but to my surprise, Shiness remained stable. All these jumpy bugs make simple fights sometimes turn into complete messes. If only these glitches could be patched sooner. Sometimes I can’t even save because my character is bouncing around next to the save point before I can hit a button. I have to switch characters when that happens, JUST TO SAVE MY GAME. On top of that, I tend to save over and over because I am afraid I will glitch out completely and fly off into the vastness of the Unreal Engine. It’s a humongous disappointment in an otherwise interesting title. I can soldier through these glitches, but it should not have to be that way. I’m hoping upcoming patches will get rid of all these issues currently within the game. As of right now, this is literally the glitchiest game I have played in years.
I generally don’t mention menus, but this game has one of the most confusing array of menu options I have ever seen. Perhaps, that’s just the way they envisioned all these levels, shi, equipment, combos, clothing, disciplines, assigned attacks, support settings, quest summaries, and…ok – it’s a lot. Yes, the menu functions quite well at addressing all these things, but it also is about as confusing as filing my taxes. It could definitely do with some streamlining. Perhaps, some aspects can be removed from the game or merged with other functions, but this is a fighter RPG not a 4X strategy game. The menu could be a lot less complex.
The soundtrack and background music do the game justice. Every area in the game has its own tune, so you get some occasionally jarring changes from a melodic light-hearted piece to a thrilling tense piece. However, all of the music in Shiness is highly composed with what sounds like a full orchestra. The overall feeling is that it’s well conceived with proper transitional music, quest music, and battle music that fits the situation. When the music changed, it informed me of a change in the environment or action, which is exactly how it’s supposed to be done. Sound effects are also spot on with depth and feel to them. I never felt like the sound was lacking, it’s one of the better aspects of the game.
Is it kid-friendly?
I had no issues playing this with my kids around. They were both interested in the game from the art style, but they quickly lost interest as the cutscenes disappeared and only NPC dialogue bubbles were available. Pretty much 15-20 minutes after I started, they gave up watching and began playing Breath of the Wild instead. If there was a cut scene, they came over to see, but that was about it. I will say that as you progress in the game, much smaller children might be frightened of the bosses. My youngest is eight and she had no issues, but if she was six I’d probably think twice about her getting nightmares.
Is Shiness worth spending your hard earned cash on? In my opinion, if the game feels like something you can enjoy and you have the patience to work through the bad camera angles and bugs while patches come out later on, probably. This was a tough call for me because I had so many glitches, it was overwhelming. But, I cannot ignore the incredible amount of hard work and love that is manifest in this game. Yes, the story outside of the cutscenes is so-so, yet is unfolds nicely as you progress with good attention to detail, such as the Shiyawo Mountain level. Yes, the menu is overly complex, but it functions well despite being maze-like. Yes, the combat rides a razor thin line between difficult and easy to play, however, I don’t feel it is too tough for anyone with marginal experience with fighters. What I want to remark most on is that the world is original, it’s uniquely Shiness. Does it borrow from other games, why of course. Shiness offers what feels like a game made with heart and its own take on combat. Is it entirely unique? Nah, but it’s unique enough that it’s not a cookie cutter of something else. This is not some game thrown together without a soul, it’s an interesting game that gets better the more you play. The only thing holding me back from a better rating is that the game bugs are much too frequent. You are fighting the game along with the bugs, make no doubt about it.
I keep this one thing in mind, I love games where the combat involves your fists, even if I am generally mediocre at them. In Sleeping Dogs, I enjoyed the combat so much, I didn’t even want to play GTA anymore because it doesn’t use kung-fu. When I played Mad Max, I hardly ever used my gun and preferred to brawl my way through the whole thing. In Shiness, I can play just fine even if I have to restart a battle here and there. That said, if I can do it, I think you can too if this type of combat appeals to you. Do you prefer slashing or shooting? Then, think twice. Do you prefer being able to button mash the whole game, then don’t play Shiness. What appeals to me is the same thing that appealed to me in the trailer. I get to be a chipmunk Chris Pratt and kung-fu my way to glory with some members of the cast of Cats. Chado’s best friend, Poky, even fights with HIS BUTT. The game has character, not doubt about it. It’s enough for me. My advice is to wait for more patches and then pick up the game when the discussion boards indicate it’s working properly.