Life can sometimes feel like waiting for the proverbial bus. While everyone has been patiently anticipating Yooka-Laylee, it actually isn't the only colourful Kickstarter game to make its way to the PlayStation 4 this month: somewhat lesser known is Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom. This is an action role-playing game, but it's not just any action RPG, as it's one infused with platforming elements, lashings of puzzles, as well as a fast paced fighting system, all wrapped up within a cute and vibrant world.
The game is set on Mahera, a realm where many races lived in harmony until the spiritual energy of the world, known as Shi, began to dwindle. This led to war, and, eventually, the whole world, quite literally, broke apart. Great land masses now float next to each other, each with their own civilisations enclosed within. You'll begin the game playing as Chado and Poky, two adventurous young Wakis who crash land on a nearby island after taking their home-made ship on its maiden voyage. Chado has a rather unique friend called Terra and no one else appears to be able to see or hear her, but she is an elemental spirit known as a Shiness. The three of you are off on an adventure to try to find the legendary Land of Life. As is always the way, it doesn't take long for you to meet up with a bunch of other varied characters and get wrapped up in the middle of a conflict involving many nearby kingdoms.
It's an interesting and unique world filled with the tall and noble Shelks, the cheerful and lively Waki, and also humans. With such a diverse world, its a bit of a shame then that you never feel like you really know much about it. We know it's a little cliché to have books strewn across the land with detailed lore inside, but the game could really have benefited from something like this. It's hard to understand why certain Kingdoms or races dislike each other when you know so little about them; it would make interactions much more meaningful if you knew a greater level of detail about the world.
The visuals are probably one of the first things that you'll notice about Shiness: there is an exciting world just waiting for you to explore, and you'll be able to run, jump, and frolic your way across it. The beautiful setting and adventurous music would not be out of place from something created by Level-5. The game also has some really impressive-looking comic book-style cutscenes, the only complaint about which is that sometimes they whiz by so fast that you don't have time to fully appreciate them.
The character models are slightly less impressive, and while there can be no doubt that your party is an interesting aesthetic mix of characters, there's little to no facial animation. In order to disguise this, the developer has gone a little overboard with the body language its cast employ. This means that it ends up looking a little like the acting in a high school play, and a bit odd.
It's not long into the game before you'll be introduced to the title's combat system. As soon as you come into contact with an enemy, a wall of light is erected around you. The battle system is more akin to something to a fighting game than a typical RPG. You'll be able to kick, punch, and use combos, as well as throw spells to beat your opponent into submission. Although you travel in a group, all fights take place one-on-one. This doesn't mean that your allies are useless, though: by using a Final Fantasy XII gambit-style system they will be able to cast helpful spells onto you. So, you'll be able to give them a limited number of routines to follow, like healing you if you fall below a certain percentage of health. You are also free to switch your fighter for one of your allies as you please; as each character has different strengths, this is something that you'll do quite frequently. Of course, enemies can also switch places with each other and cast spells from outside of the arena.
The combat is very fast paced and at times the game is not very forgiving; although the cute visuals might make this look like a children's game, be warned that it is at times really difficult. There's only one difficulty available and you can't just over-level as enemies will stop giving out XP once you reach too high above their own. This means that it's really important to spend time getting to grips with how to perform combos and learning the proper timings to dodge and parry. If you don't then you'll quickly end up on the wrong end of a beating.
The game's camera can also be a hindrance: there are plenty of times when you won't be able to see what you're doing as there might be some long grass in the way or the camera will get stuck against a rock. For a game where you need precise timings, not being able to see is really not very helpful.
Camera issues aside, once you do get to grips with the system, you'll find that it's fun and varied; you'll constantly be switching characters and learning different attacks and spells. It's a tough system to learn, especially if you're used to more relaxed RPGs, but it does feel rewarding once you start to master it.
Sometimes during a fight you'll get given a challenge: these can range from not using any healing spells or finishing within a set time. If you manage to successfully finish the fight and the challenge then you'll be rewarded with something special – either new rare items, equipment, or new attacks for your party to learn. It's a nice feature which helps to keep the combat varied.
This game also has some really fun and unique boss fights. It can be typical in RPGs for the only real difference between a normal fight and a boss fight is that bosses have higher hit points and better stats but that is not the case in Shiness. Instead you'll sometimes be bouncing lightning balls between yourself and the enemy in a sort of electrified version of dodgeball or chasing after ghosts like Pac-Man. It makes a really nice change to have boss fights that are more than just whittling away the enemy's massive health points.
The game isn't just about fighting, though: Mahera is filled with puzzles. In every dungeon you visit there will be some kind of puzzle that you'll need to solve. Each of your characters has a different ability such as telekinesis, the ability to summon heavy rocks, or using a whip to interact with unreachable items. Most of the puzzles won't take you too long to solve, but it's fun to figure them out and play around with all of the different abilities.
There are also lots of side-quests throughout the world and lots of them will have different ways to complete them. This means that it's up to you whether you want to go in and kick the crap out of anyone who dares challenge you or if you prefer the more diplomatic approach. Depending on how you complete the quest you'll get different rewards as well as having NPCs react to you based on the decision you made. Although most of the time these aren't major impacts it's nice to have subtle little differences and references latter in the game to a decision you made hours ago.
Unfortunately, the game is not all sunshine and rainbows, there are a number of bugs that rear their ugly heads that we feel we need to warn you about. These bugs range from things like a minion not spawning during a boss fight which meant that the main boss wouldn't appear to the really annoying time that we kept getting the game over screen midway through a battle even though we hadn't lost the fight. Most of the time these things seemed to sort themselves out by re-setting the PS4, but it's annoying nonetheless. Many of the Trophies also appear to be glitched.
While not perfect, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is fairly impressive to look at. It has a beautiful and intriguing world, so it's a bit of a shame that you don't get to learn more of the history behind it. Still, there's a tough but fun battle system to get to grips with and plenty of puzzles to solve. If you prefer your RPGs to be more relaxed and serene then you may struggle with this one, as the fast-paced combat system means that button mashing your way through it will quickly lead to the game over screen. But for as much as we enjoyed our time on Mahera, a poor combat camera and plethora of bugs let it down – here's hoping for a quick patch.