I didn’t know that I could have nostalgia for something I’d never experienced, but it turns out that you kind of can.
Welcome to Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom, a game with a slightly confusing plot, and with so much good content, it really is hard to find a thing I don’t like about it, save for the few that I’ve selected. But we’ll get around to that. The story of Shiness: TLK is one that is centered around Chado, an odd bear like creature that is following a Shiness – one of the primordial beings of Shi – whilst being accompanied by his friend Poky.
The game starts off by explaining the world, or rather worlds, seeing as the game spans across what are called Meteoras. Each Meteora is its own small planet, hosting its own species of people, with their own access to Shi. Two of them are at war, and the Adyorans have lost their princess as she tried to defect to the Gendys. Rosalya has run off with a Shelk (one of the humanoid creatures in this universe) by the name of Kayenne. They’re running away from Adyoran troops and must make their way back to camp. The game then jumps to another group of people, who I vaguely remember, and then returns to Chado and Poky. Their ship is going down, all because of a bit of lightning, and Poky abandons ship whilst Chado tries to regain control.
At that point, the game gets on its feet and lets you take control, but you might still be a little jarred from the exposition that was crammed into the opening cutscene. Once you get through the usual tutorial stuff, you’ll find yourself in a small forest trying to track down your friend Poky. You’ll have to solve puzzles in an open level scheme, filled to the brim with monsters, colors, vegetation, and more saturated colors. Each level is tied to main quests that you can find by following the red dot on your minimap, or accessing the main map for a better look at the overall levels.
Here’s where the game gets a little too layered in level design, for the map doesn’t actually have levels on it. It only has the top most layer of land, and so you might make it to your quest area, but it then turns out that it is on the cliff above you, or even on the ground below you, which can lead to an immense amount of backtracking that can take some of the wind out of your sail. When exploring, you’ll also see enemy NPCs that wonder around the landscape in a similar fashion to Dragon Quest games, or Ni No Kuni. When you bump into them, you’ll be trapped into a glowing arena, and you’ll have to fight your way past your enemies.
When fighting, you have two standard physical attacks – kick and punch – which can be chained for a bit of a combo that will deal some extra damage. Your enemy can parry you, much like you can do to them, and so fights will be similar to a tug of war system where you’re fighting for the larger combo, or to break down the block that your enemy has. You also have access to magic, which uses Shi to cast each spell. The Shi counters are located right above your health, and each one decreases by about two points per spell that is of that Shi type. The way you regain Shi is quite unique, for it is tied to the color of the dome that walls off your arena. You have to charge up your Shi, and you’ll charge up the Shi that matches the dome the fastest, forcing you to take a step back to really focus in on using magic.
Personally, I’m not a fan of using the magic because I find the fighting to be satisfying enough. Each hit that you deal generates tension, which is used every time you parry, regardless of success. The tension is also used like a secondary mana source for what are called ‘techniques’ – specific combos that can be used to turn the tide of battle. The other thing tension is used for is what’s called ‘Hyper’, which is a devastating attack that is unlocked after the first boss fight. Each character has a special combo that will activate their attack.
The issue with Hyper is that is doesn’t always work. I’ve been in the middle of a regular fight and activated Hyper, but the attack didn’t deal any damage to my opponent, and I’ve noticed that it only seems to be when they’re moving. A special move like that really shouldn’t be susceptible to that, for you’re almost always moving, and the same goes for your opponent. It really undermines the power of the attack, especially when it puts you at such a disadvantage if it doesn’t hit.
Now, the game will add challenges shortly after you earn the third character. Challenges are special modifiers to matches that can give you exclusive items, potentially giving you some serious leverage over your opponents. These can range anywhere from completing the fight in under a minute to not parrying, and so it really is up to you on whether or not you’ll attempt the challenge.
In Shiness there are about three types of equipment; disciplines (technique), discipline (magic), and clothes. The disciplines are unique in the fact that some give you moves that you have to master through combat, and then you keep the move forever. This means that you don’t always have to have that one special item equipped to use a spell; if you master it you get to keep it and assign it to one of four slots. You can really mix and match spells to give yourself variety, and the same goes for techniques, except that you don’t assign them to one of four buttons because they are set combos. The clothes can also give special bonuses, but will usually be centered on increasing your overall stats. These clothes are headgear, gloves, boots, and a belt/torso.
Now, I have a few gripes with the AI during two of the boss fights. They spam spells that are devastating, and then subsequently are able to quickly take me out with something that isn’t parryable. The second boss in the game spams down webs on the ground that slow you down so much that it is nearly impossible to dodge his next attack. The fourth boss in the game spams fire spells to lower your Spirit, which is Magic Defense, and follows up with a teleport move that is almost impossible to time the parry and block it. That’s one of the few issues about this game is that there are a few fights where it is definitely not fair, and sometimes you’re stuck in an endless loop until you finally pull ahead, or turn the game off.
My second gripe is more minor, and it’s centered around the graphics of the game, which are absolutely stellar. The issue is that they are so bright and colorful that it really hurts to play for long periods of time, especially on the first area of the game, which really made it hard to get momentum going. Once I hit the second and third area, it wasn’t so bad, but it was still a constant irritant. I ended up having to turn down the brightness significantly, but that made it nearly impossible to play during the day because of glare. If they maybe added a saturation meter to just turn it down a notch or to, it would definitely improve the game’s long-term playablity.
My final real gripe with the game is the fact that the story doesn’t really seem to know when to stop. It’s kind of like when you watch a movie and get to that really climactic conflict, and then things start to get resolution, but then there’s still another 30 minutes left. Yeah, the 30 minutes might be really good, but it really feels odd to have them there if you’ve just faced what seemed like insurmountable odds, and this game does that… twice. The first time is following a really heartfelt moment that has a wonderful mix of emotions and valuable lessons about closure, but then the game launches into another big fight scene that seems anti-climactic to the battle that you just came out of.
But when you start the next big conflict, which is a siege on the flying city of Mantara, you’re mostly taking out minor enemies that are more of filler above anything else. When you finally get to the final conflict between the real villain of the game, it raises more questions that expand the world of Shiness, but I feel like they should have been posed two hours previous to the fight, but that isn’t even the final fight of the game. It keeps going, and the next quest you have to do is a fetch quest, which really kills any steam that you had coming off of the fight that ends the second act. And at that point, you’re probably going to be at around level 42, which is only eight levels below the max, so it doesn’t really make sense to have a whole third act to the game!
And as a side note, the developers should really release an abridged history of Mahera, the world that Shiness takes place in. I actually had to take notes to understand some of the world, and I was still a little confused overall. It’s a beautiful world though.
All in all, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is a phenomenal game that deserves to be played and enjoyed by anyone who is a fan of RPG action games. If you’re a fan of Kingdom Hearts, this game might scratch a specific itch that you’ve found difficult to reach, and to those who are looking for something unique, Shiness is definitely the place to go. With beautiful graphics, satisfying combat, and only really being weighed down by a really convoluted plot, this is a definitely must have for both casual and intense gamers.
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Thanks for the review! I’ll definitely be picking this one up. Reminds me of my old PS2 favorites, Dark Cloud 2 and Rogue Galaxy.