Personally, out of sheer coincidence or maybe I just was busy, I had never heard of Shiness until about a month ago. So when I approached Shiness I flew completely blind with no preconceptions or opinions. Everything I had gathered was from screenshots that looked incredible and reminded me of Dragon Quest and from a trailer that looked and sounded amazing.
I did a little bit of digging on the history of Shiness after having played it and I discovered quite a few things. For one, Shiness has been delayed a few times, much to the dismay of its backers. The game was due to release some time in 2015-16 but had been pushed back. This is also Enigami’s first developed game, and an extremely ambitious one at that. If you take in the amount of money vs quality that this game has achieved, it’s astonishing. They made an entire language up for this game and it even has a dictionary. The point is that Shiness’ development has been a bit of a mixed bag, with some good and some bad. Was all the wait worth it? I think so. Although I haven’t been waiting as long as others.
It was June 7th 2014 that Shiness was officially Kickstarted by 3,028 backers who pledged $139,865.
So here is an important disclaimer: I will not be putting any of the drama into consideration here in this review. I am judging this game solely based off of the merits of what I played, unaware of events or any promises beforehand. However, I will take core features and compare them to the original campaign promises.
With the amount of world building and unique style, Shiness reminds me of everything I loved about titles like Jade Empire and Fable.
Aside from a brief starting exposition cut scene, Shiness literally crashes you into the middle of its universe. The tones all feel familiar, but you definitely feel like there is a lore that you will learn as you play the game. There are times I felt thrown for a loop and a little lost. When I first heard the characters speak I had to stop and make sure that I didn’t click on the wrong dialogue option. That is when I realized there were no language options and that this was a made up language. This is amazing but does take a bit of getting used to. There is quite a bit of name dropping as well which I felt that a lore guide would’ve definitely helped with.
The story of Shiness is mostly in line with the standard RPG concept. You have six elements that live harmoniously and an evil version called Dark Shi. This is the macguffin of the game and gets things moving. There are three primary races: Waki which are cute cuddly teddy bears, the Shelk which look like furries on steroids, and finally Humans. Our protagonists name is Chado, a Waki who can speak to an elemental spirit named Shiness(Terra). This makes him an outcast from his own people. Adventure, go!
While I wouldn’t say that the story is forgettable in Shiness, I will say that it is your anime-esque typical affair, if you will. Shiness wears its inspiration on its sleeve. Taking from bits of DBZ, Naruto and other animes. This certainly isn’t a bad thing, but the story really requires minimal brain power to understand. The characters are cute, over the top and adventure seeking. That is the primary theme of Shiness; those looking for deeper plots and lore along the lines of Skyrim or Mass Effect aren’t going to find it here. It really depends on your personal preference. Sometimes you just want to enjoy something easy to chew.
Speaking of easy to chew, Shiness’ graphics have a wonderful sense of joy. The world is beautiful, bright, and brimming with magic. All of the villages, dungeons, and areas are lovingly crafted and you can spot details packed into every nook and cranny of the game. The first time you see Mantara you can’t help but be in awe at how imaginative and amazing it all looks. The graphics lend themselves perfectly to these types of moments.
The environmental design, by far, is the most appealing thing about the graphics in Shiness. The character models themselves aren’t as robust as I would’ve liked in comparison. This was obviously on the developers mind, as most often when heavy character expression is required, a cut scene takes charge with comic panels. These manga/comic moments are extremely well drawn and accomplish far more than the current character models ever could. I personally didn’t mind this style at all and felt it was a great way to get the story across. Keep in mind from a gaming development standpoint, one or two hundred thousand dollars isn’t much. Cutting corners in creative ways is impressive.
One thing to note is that Shiness is a very linear RPG compared to most these days. You won’t find an open world to explore but instead there are tight compact zones akin to an MMORPG. You can tackle side quests within these zones and markers are placed so that you never really get lost. Zones are also level based so eventually you will just out level everything in the area if you find yourself grinding often.
Have you ever wanted to punch an anthropomorphic animal in the face or blast it with a fireball?
Then let’s talk about combat. No RPG would be successful without a great combat system. Shiness strikes a good blend between old and new. This is definitely where I draw comparisons to Jade Empire. Featuring exclusively one on one fights, you will seamlessly enter combat where you can use an assortment of combos, spells, and basic attacks to defeat enemies. Players who love the open world combat are going to be amazed how fast the game quickly transitions between exploration and combat.
There is no pause for loading or cute little screen dissolves. You punch that plant in the face and it’s go time! This switch happens so quickly that sometimes I was unprepared and the aforementioned plant blasted me in the face for half my health. Combat is a robust but simple system that doesn’t really take long to grasp. You have basic strikes, combos that you learn from disciplines(scrolls) and spells. Shiness took a page out of Final Fantasy IX’ book and lets you “Master” abilities from items. Once you master a combo or spell, that item can then be given to another party member.
Some combos are character exclusive but further enhanced versions of them are deeper in the game and add more effects and make combos stronger. The arena itself also plays an important role during combat. Depending on the color of the arena certain elemental spells will be enhanced or weakened. Then there is your characters “Hyper” which basically can be equated to a finishing move. Below your health bar is a meter that lets you combo break, deflect enemy attacks, and use hyper. This resource can only be built by taking damage or dishing it out, bringing everything back to slugging it out old fashioned style.
The combat system just works, and I mean it works really well. I have few complaints when it comes to combat. It’s fun, and definitely robust enough to my satisfaction. While I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s a true fighting game along the lines of Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, it combines enough elements to keep things from getting boring.
There are some drawbacks though. For one, I hate the camera. When you enter combat there is no special arena it magically zips you away to. A circle appears around you and your foe at a fair distance. Most of the time this isn’t a problem. However, for some reason camera control is taken away from you and it becomes fixed in position behind your fighter. Natural terrain can become a hazard if you get stuck behind a tree and suddenly you can’t see anything. Additionally, for some reason the game will flip to the perspective of the enemy and this really makes it difficult to dodge or move.
One thing I noticed as well is that for most part, every character plays the exact same way. This is fine for me but might annoy some people. Other than the effects of your combos and characters elemental affinity, combo triggers are all the same(A, A, X as example) and spell effects play out the same way. Most of the time I just stuck to Chado and kicked every ones butt. I had little reason to switch to other characters other than for some puzzles.(More on that in a bit) This doesn’t mean other party members are useless. There is still an entire support system.
The support system lets you cast beneficial buffs to your current fighter. These buffs may be things such as regenerative healing or removing a status effect like poison. This system can really sway the momentum in battle and give you an edge if you properly set up your supports. Going to fight someone using lots of fire spells? Have your supports constantly switch it to an opposing element and weaken him. You get the basic idea. Last but not least, there are items that can be taken into combat such as healing items and other character altering effects.
Boss fights play out the same way a normal fight would except obviously much harder. They have added effects such as environmental hazards or having to deflect spells at the right moment. Certain bosses sometimes activate these cut scenes that do damage to you and give you no chance to dodge. It’s rare and doesn’t happen very often but it was frustrating when it did happen. Despite this I was very satisfied with the combat in Shiness. It’s very well put together system but the game does give you the advantage most of the time in combat. There are so many ways to recover hit points using spells, combos, and items. The only way I would die is if I wasn’t paying attention. Death is more of a nuisance than an actual fear.
But wait there’s more! Puzzles, stealth, hunting, oh my!
When you aren’t punching things in the face, there are a myriad of puzzles and jumping aspects. Shiness takes advantage of the fact that it resembles closely a 3d platformer. All of your party members add a unique ability that they can use to help you overcome puzzles. Chado can create boulders that serve as weights and can smash through walls. Poky can use his wrench to operate elemental crystals and activate machinery and so on with the other members.
The puzzles themselves are a nice reprieve from constant combat. They also serve as a method to prevent you from wandering into a zone in the game you shouldn’t be without the proper party members. Aside from jumping, which can be tricky at times, puzzles aren’t the most difficult thing in the world. I didn’t really have to use much brain to solve any of them and I felt like they end up being more filler than anything else. They are still a welcome addition to the game, I just wish there was more complexity.
In the original campaign there was mention of a stealth(slayer zone) and perception system that would be used on enemies and animals in the game which you could hunt. Far as enemies are concerned, all this ends up being is a cheap shot before combat begins. It really doesn’t matter how close you get to them as damage seems the same three feet away or ten feet away. It would’ve been nice if there was some sort of stun bonus or other effect for sneaking up extremely close to an enemy. Perhaps not an instant kill, but something.
Then there is hunting, which can be silly at times. Animals in the game can be caught for items, these can then be traded to merchants for barter to get spells/disciplines that can only be gained in this fashion. It’s a very pivotal part of the game and one I think is very neat and that can add some treasure hunting aspects to the game. Sadly, most of the time I just skipped the stealth part and simply ran after them and caught them. The developers make your characters naturally faster than these animals, so it renders this mechanic less useful. To be fair once you do catch an animal, a pop up appears telling you what you caught. During this moment if other animals are alerted they will run away, so you can catch more at a time from stealth, but respawns are plentiful and I didn’t care much.
I can imagine that if the game receives a post launch patch that they might reduce respawn rates or reduce your characters speed.
Shiness is first and foremost a fighting game, THEN a RPG.
The reason this is so important is that I highly recommend playing this game with a controller. Simply put, the keyboard controls are far more complicated and the game was designed with a controller in mind. Controlling the characters themselves is fantastic and I never felt a delay between actions. This is great because some battles are fast and harsh. As I said earlier jumping can be a bit wonky at times, but nothing that ever got in the way. Currently rebindable keys aren’t possible, so just play with a controller. Trust me.
Winding through the waterfalls, floating cities, and verdant trees the one thing that brings everything together is Shiness’ orchestral soundtrack. The music adds gravitas to boss fights and really does a great job of enhancing scenes. The music was light, never too loud and really just spot on. The same could be said for the voice acting and sound effects. Despite the language being created, the voice actors did an incredible job speaking it fluently and naturally. It never came off as expressionless or flat, which I found quite impressive.
Game length will vary. I found myself obsessively mastering every spell/discipline for each of the party, sharing them if I could which adds quite a bit of time. However the game does have a linear nature and not much in the way of story-based replay value unless you really enjoy hunting. You are looking at a thirty hour game at the most. One thing that was missing in the build that I played was the online component. I guess this will be patched into the game in the future? Currently the game is due to release on a myriad of systems. Steam cards and achievements will be available at launch.
At the end of the day Shiness is a great game and impressive straight out of the gate. Developer Enigami poured everything they had into this game and it shows. The overall game, while being slightly easy, is still great fun. This projects ambitious nature could’ve easily made it go over budget or even stopped it from getting to launch. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, Shiness brings plenty of elements together from games that I love and puts them in a unique package. Coming in at $25.49/£21.24 you are getting that hour per dollar match, which is always my standard for RPGs. I highly recommend this title to any fans of Jade Empire, Fable or to fans of anime in general.