A sprawl­ing in­die RPG that trades on PS2-era nos­tal­gia


PC, PS4, Xbox One

While Shi­ness: The Light­ning King­dom sur­passed its Kick­starter goal in May 2014, work on the game ac­tu­ally be­gan 20 years ago. Enigami’s ac­tion RPG is based on char­ac­ter and world sketches that cre­ative di­rec­tor Samir Re­bib drew two decades ago, when he was just seven years old. The re­sult­ing aes­thetic is a lit­tle more re­cent, how­ever, re­call­ing PS2-era RPGs such as Dragon Quest VIII and Dark Cloud, and even bring­ing to mind Core Design’s flawed but big-hearted Herdy Gerdy.

It’s all rather beau­ti­ful, un­til you clap eyes on the un­ex­pect­edly Furry-es­que lead char­ac­ter design. The vis­ual par­al­lels are un­in­ten­tional, we’re told, and Re­bib is re­luc­tant to aban­don the de­signs that mean so much to him. Videogames have long fea­tured an­thro­po­mor­phic an­i­mals – in­deed, there’s a touch of Sonic’s sup­port­ing cast to the ap­proach taken here – but Shi­ness may suf­fer from its ac­ci­den­tal ref­er­ences to an of­ten­ridiculed sub­cul­ture. Look past this as­pect and there’s a slightly con­fus­ing hotch­potch of smart ideas at the game’s cen­tre.

Com­bat takes place in re­al­time and en­coun­ters are one-on-one, in­tro­duc­ing beat-’em-up-style health bars when a fight starts. You can see en­e­mies at all times and once you en­ter into a fray you’ll be penned off in an Okami- style lo­calised arena. A deep fight­ing sys­tem re­volves around punches, kicks, dodges and par­ries, while a Ten­sion bar grad­u­ally fills and al­lows you to pull off grand, high-dam­age com­bos. You can call on help from the rest of your party, who can de­ploy ad­van­tage-giv­ing sup­port ac­tions that are trig­gered once your health falls be­low a de­fin­able, pre-cho­sen level. In ad­di­tion, the translu­cent wall of the arena con­tin­u­ally changes colour, ac­cord­ing to the el­e­ments of the game’s Shi magic sys­tem, and match­ing your el­e­men­tal moves to those colours will deal ad­di­tional dam­age to your op­po­nent.

Each char­ac­ter has a set of four com­bat skills, which can be up­graded through three lev­els. While most skills are unique, some are shared be­tween char­ac­ters, though the buffs re­ceived from up­grad­ing them are dif­fer­ent for each party mem­ber. There are also 28 spells to mas­ter, but only four can be equipped at once. El­e­men­tal mas­tery comes into play out­side of com­bat, too. There are five con­trol­lable char­ac­ters, two of whom you meet later on, but you can only have three in your party at any given time. You can quick­swap be­tween them at will, how­ever, and each in­di­vid­ual has a unique power. Hero Chado’s de­fault affin­ity is for earth, for ex­am­ple, and he can con­jure boul­ders. The strapping Kayenne has tele­ki­netic pow­ers, while stubby me­chanic Poky can ma­nip­u­late el­e­ments. As you progress, you’ll be able to change a char­ac­ter’s de­fault affin­ity and push them to­wards an­other el­e­ment if you’d pre­fer, pro­vid­ing more po­ten­tial for be­spoke par­ties.

Dur­ing our demo we’re shown a puz­zle in which Chado must use his boul­ders to keep switches de­pressed to ro­tate a se­ries of con­duc­tors into po­si­tion, through which Poky can guide beams of fire and air to a cen­tral point. Once com­bined, these two el­e­ments be­come light­ning, which opens a door­way into a gi­ant tree. Enigami also prom­ises there’ll be mul­ti­ple so­lu­tions for ev­ery puz­zle.

How­ever you feel about the cen­tral char­ac­ters’ design, Shi­ness is a charis­matic, and sur­pris­ingly deep, RPG that makes the most of the nos­tal­gia it taps into. And while some may not warm to the playable cast as quickly as oth­ers, the en­e­mies and boss char­ac­ters we’ve seen evoke re­cent 3D Zelda games in their design and an­i­ma­tion. There’s cer­tainly plenty here to like.

Shi­ness is a charis­matic RPG that makes the most of the nos­tal­gia it taps into

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