Every journey begins with that crucial first step. Or, in the case of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom, a plane crashing into foreign soil. The game checks every box, fulfils every expectation you may have for a good, classic adventure: a foreign, magical land, heroic characters, a dark force to defeat (the ominous Dark Shi) and both good and evil creatures. Yet, in spite of a confident opening, the game still manages to stumble at key points throughout the adventure.
The very first of these stumbling points is the quality of the voice acting... or a lack thereof. When the intro sequence is at an end, we're given control over the character, and the first thing we wanted to do was to go directly into the options menu to change the language. It's not outright horrible, but these days we're treated to awe-inspiring performances in a wide variety of titles, and Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom simply doesn't reach those heights. Many of the sentences are delivered with an intensity that appears forced rather than inspired, to the point where the exposition simply seems like pandering. Luckily, a majority of the conversations are just in writing, whereas only the more important sequences warrant voice acting. However, all is not even well here either, as the text is riddled with grammatical errors, and that does leave a poor impression. If nothing else, at least the characters are adorable to look at...
And that compliment extends to the game world as well. In classic adventure style, the various districts of the world are thematically and mechanically separate. Whereas the first area is green and lush, you'll quickly delve into dark caves, purple forests, grey castles and everything in between. Although variety in terms of the colour palette manages to keep the game visually fresh, it's the little shortcuts in between that are the biggest benefit to the open-world. Instead of simply moving forwards on your journey, you'll also be moving backwards in order to open previously inaccessible areas in true Metroidvania fashion. Staying true to this design philosophy, going backwards is encouraged as you unlock new traversal abilities. So, it's imperative that you make a mental note whenever you see a gate or area that's locked away.
Each of the characters you control throughout has an individual ability. For example, Chado can conjure a stone on his back and then throw it, Poky can grab onto elements like wind, water and fire, and infuse them in various crystals, and Kayenne can move objects with her mind. These are not abilities you use in combat, they're simply a means to solve puzzles and riddles. These mysteries start out easy and simple, but things get really interesting when you have to mix and match various abilities to solve a tricky puzzle.
Sadly, Shiness breaks an ever-so-important rule about puzzle design in games: you have to introduce every rule to the player before utilising it. There's a mandatory puzzle about seven hours into the experience which assumes you know aspects of its design, aspects that the game has yet to introduce. The solution is, at least on paper, relatively simple, but since the player hasn't had the chance to know the key to the puzzle, it may take a while to figure out. Add that to a platforming element that would have felt outdated on the PlayStation 2, and you end up with puzzles that can quite easily frustrate.
The combat system does shine, however, at least some of the time. The battles are always one on one, regardless of how many enemies you may end up fighting. So, if you meet a group of three, you'll pick your warrior, and the adversary will do the same, and then you fight until one team has been wiped out. It's a brilliant setup, and it makes for a really balanced system. Even if it may feel very straight forward at the offset, it won't take long until you can switch between several warriors on the fly for maximum combat efficiency. We would've wished there was a more natural way of switching between team members, but it's functional and therefore not a major flaw. What doesn't function as well as it should is the camera; more often than not there was a bush, a pole, or even a tree in our way, which made it next to impossible to see what was going on. It was then necessary to press square repeatedly and hope for the best.
And that's what we're tempted to do for the potential franchise as a whole: hope for the best. Because, if this so happens to be the first step towards a longer adventure, we can only imagine what they'll be able to achieve in potential sequels. For now, at least, we'll have to settle for an adventure which annoyed us almost as much as it had us impressed. Let's just hope the studio's next foray into the world of Shiness can build upon the solid foundations laid down in The Lightning Kingdom.