It's been a really long time since I've played an RPG like this on Xbox One. When I want to play games like Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom, I'd often go to Nintendo because they have the market covered for JRPG-style games, and they don't usually come to Xbox.
This little indie game comes with a big JRPG flavor, from the mechanics to presentation and characters. It has many hallmarks of the RPG genre you'll realize you've missed over the last few years.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is set in a world that has literally been torn apart by war. All of the races lived peacefully until the Shi began to fade, causing civil wars, and fracturing the planet.
Now, each 'meteora' has become its own self-contained civilization, drifting a short distance from one another. The adventure begins when two young Waki adventurous crash-land their new airship on one of these neighboring islands. Chado and Poky set off with the aid of Chado's secret elemental sprite friend, Terra, to find The Land of Life, only to become entangled in the finer details of a civil war between warring factions.
Slow and steady wins the race
Right from the opening moments, the Shiness may take you by surprise. It demands your attention with its colorful environs and dramatic and stylish music. However, the beginning of the game feels slow, as you're bombarded with an onslaught of new terminology and combat moves.
Each area is large with a labyrinthine quality, some routes doubling back and serving as short cuts to other previously explored areas. The story is served up in a balance of manga-style events, and text dialogue. While the story is engaging enough, the quality of the writing feels weak at times with dialogue coming across as melodramatic or underwhelmingly at odds with the feel of the scene, reminiscent of some Shounen animes.
Sometimes the on-screen text doesn't match with voice overs or worse, is spelled wrong. Talking to NPCs helps to flesh out the background knowledge of the story, but it all too-often feels half-hearted when multiple characters in the same area tell you the same thing. It's largely kid-friendly, and even players with very rudimentary fighting skills will be able to plow through without too much issue. Gripes aside, Shiness doesn't fail to draw you in.
The lands are wide and bountiful. While Shiness is relatively linear in its story progression — go to this area, find this person — the environments are large enough to lose yourself in, but you'll never too far from a save point.
Gripes aside, Shiness doesn't fail to draw you in.
The frequent occurences of save points can be a relief, as you can farm the gradually respawning enemies. As you lose health, the save points also act as a restoration point, so even if you don't need to save, you can hold off on using your healing items for when they really matter.
A Merchant in each area will provide your characters with the support items they need, as well as rare Shi's and equipment which can be bartered for with the loot you get from enemies, or animals that you catch in the wild. Any loot you don't need can be sold or bought back for Uzu, the in-game currency.
You can also spend your time undertaking contracts, which are hunts for specific monsters that are typically stronger (and come with better loot). They're on notice boards in most towns and come with good rewards. With minimal fast travel options, you'll spend a lot of time racing through the lands, giving you plenty of time to take in the rich scenery.
In time you'll come across puzzles that can be solved with each character's Shi powers, outside of battle. Chado's power summons a heavy rock that he can use to activate pressure sensitive switches; Poky is able to link and unlink Shi stones. There are a lot of puzzles to be solved with the characters on your team, and the majority of them are quite simple, which adds to its kid-friendly appeal.
Fighting game meets RPG
In RPG games, you level up by killing monsters for set amounts of XP. In Shiness, your stats level up with pre-determined values, but you can also learn moves that increase your stats by equipping Disciplines. The more you use the moves in combat, you'll earn experience towards that ability until you have learned it, allowing you to build and expand your combat repertoire.
Some of the Disciplines can be shared between characters, but it's best to play to each characters' Shi strength for an added damage bonus. Disciplines come in both melee (combat combos) and ranged (Shi attacks).
While your current character is in battle, kicking and kung-fu'ing the crap out of everything that moves, your teammates are waiting on the sidelines of the arena. If you've set up your support commands, they can aid you in battle by healing you or negating negative status effects. Support commands can be found in treasure containers, awarded in challenges or given to you during the story. Once it is unlocked, it's available for every character to use.
Shiness sports active combat, that reminisces of traditional beat 'em ups with an RPG flavor.
Hitting X and A punches and kicks respectively. Used in combination with the Left Trigger to cast 'Shi magic' at enemies, and Right Trigger performs more devastating attacks.
Holding RT while you're not attacking will allow you to draw in Shi energy from the arena, which changes color periodically in accordance to the surroundings, allowing you to refill different types. This can leave you open to attack, so holding B will block some damage.
The combat feels meaty, with decent impact sound effects that give the attacks weight, but just as you can combo, you can also be combo-spammed, and blocking seems largely ineffective when you're six hits in and your health bar is vanishing before your eyes. You can also parry attacks with Y, and this is also frame sensitive in some instances. A particularly frustrating reliance on them in one boss battle almost destroyed my will to continue completely.
The combat is by far one of the strongest parts of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom.
If your character is low on health or there is another team member with a better Shi affinity suited to this battle, you can switch them out with a hit of LB. This can be used in and out of battle to switch between characters, utilizing their strengths and powers to overcome challenges both in battle and the environment.
The D-pad can hold a variety of items to use for healing or Shi replenishment, some that can be found naturally and others can be bought. Just as with combos, if you can switch out, so can the enemies, sometimes lining up for a chance to one Vs one you. With each K.O, the enemy is replaced with a cutscene which pulls back the momentum of the battle, but the addition of a new foe doesn't necessarily always give you a breather from relentless attacks.
Successful wins will grant experience points and potentially some items. When you stop earning experience points for your battles, it's time to move on to the next area. You can still collect items but you won't level up from your kills. The combat is by far one of the strongest parts of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom, but problems occur in the engagement of the battle. The Shi arena cuts you off from the surrounding area, but if you're an area with pits in the floor, you'll have to fight with that hazard in mind. The enemies you fight in the arena don't seem to be affected by these environmental hazards, having drop kicked a few off of cliffs myself only to have them return to me unharmed.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is a grower. After being plunged into a new world of terms and themes, which takes a little time to get your head around, the game opens up and draws you in.
- Great combat mechanics.
- Easy to use support system.
- Well paced story.
- Gorgeously presented.
- Great soundtrack that fit the games style and theme.
- Dialogue moments weren't the strongest part of the game.
- Platforming elements were heart stopping, and not in the good way.
Some fluffy dialogue moments came off as immature, but in all, this fairly priced RPG packed more punch than first met the eye. Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is available now for $29.99.
Disclaimer: This review was conducted on Xbox One with a code provided by the developer.
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