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