by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Familiar, but Fun
Shiness, a Japanese-style RPG Kickstarter success story by the French indie developer Enigami doesn’t come off as the most original in the world, but, in this case, that’s not really a bad thing. Shiness embraces familiarity, telling a story with a “chosen” protagonist that crashes into a strange land filled with elemental spirits, exotic names for people and places as well as numerous groups vying for power and influence that would all feel at home in an old children’s movie. An extension of this cliche-but-warm feel is that the most compelling element of the game is the world. Wildlife, both cute and anything but, populate landscapes with environmental designs far more varied than I expected. They are a visual pleasure to explore. Bright, richly colorful landscapes and character models give the game a childlike sense of adventure and charm that begged my inner child to come and play.
While wandering around the mysterious Celestial Islands that make up Shiness’ setting, it isn’t all sunshine and butterflies for the heroic Chado (yes, it’s pronounced Shadow). Like in any good mysterious realm, there are, for some unexplained reason, puzzles blocking your on-foot progression. These puzzles are simple, but I was ok with that. Not every game, even ones with a focus on puzzles, need to be filled with brain-busters. Simple can be good in a largely relaxing game like Shiness, and the “press this to make that happen” core that most environmental challenges boil down to was engaging enough to keep me from getting bored, even if they were not terribly creative or original.
Combat is a bit strange. Most of the game is a free-roaming, semi-open platforming world, but when engaging in combat a barrier drops down locking you and your enemies into a circular arena until you’ve completed the fight. I suppose it’s a matter of taste more than anything, but I really don’t think this decision is terribly becoming. Not only does it suffer from the detractions mentioned a bit further down, but it also kills the pace. Every time you get too close to an enemy, by accident or choice, you’re locked into this mini fighting game-style showdown. After it’s done - every single time - there’s a brief pause where you’re scored on stats like speed, damage taken, etc. I don’t think it was a good decision, and I think the game as a whole would have been much better off with a more traditional style of open action-RPG combat.
In the earliest parts of Shiness you’ll only have your punches and a kick to protect yourself, which, as far as I can tell, don’t really differ from each other (or, if they do, it’s never explained), then a block and dodge, then a parry. At this stage I just didn’t find the combat to be terribly engaging. From here on, however, things do get significantly more deep and complex. Pretty soon you’ll gain elemental magic that comes with its own rules of usage and replenishment, and allies that can tag in to fight too. I really appreciate the ambitious approach of the developers to get so many different things blended into the combat at one time, even if can sometimes seem to be a bit overwhelming.
The bigger issue with Shiness’ combat is that it lacks some of the more nuanced elements that can make or break a game of this type. Good combat systems based on blocks, hits and parries rely extremely heavily on their animations. A player needs either visual or aural (or, ideally, both) cues to let them know what to do when. Recognizing these signs and/or patterns in the enemy is the “exercise of skill” that keeps it from becoming a button-mashing crap shoot. Enemies in Shiness attack quickly and with little warning, making defense an exercise in luck more than anything else. More often than not, I just blocked until the enemy stopped, then started mashing attack until it was gone. That’s not challenging. It isn’t helped by the fact that the enemy AI can be quite poor during squabbles, making effective strategy all the more challenging.
Shiness is an ambitious game with a whole lot of charm and character that’s held back by some design choices that just didn’t do it for me. I appreciate the effort put into building a colorful game world filled with characters that do seem straight out of a long-established anime or manga, and the simple puzzles make exploring and progression pleasantly relaxing. If I wasn’t fairly sour with the way combat has been implemented I’d find the experience to be an easy recommendation, but as it stands there’s a bit too much that needs to be polished before the game can really shine.
Beautiful colors, varied landscapes, charming characters and world, satisfying puzzle elements.
Arena combat system, poor enemy AI in combat.