Since our new evil overlord coronavirus reared its ugly head I’ve seen a plethora of ‘What to play while in isolation’ articles crop up across various gaming sites. Given what is happening in the world right now this is completely understandable, however, with the exception of very few, the majority of these articles have focused on big name games, AAA games, expensive games. That’s fine, but what if you’re in a position in which you can no longer afford to splash the cash on these types of games? What if, thanks to coronavirus, you’ve been made unemployed and suddenly affording rent has become more important than making sure your library is stocked with the latest and greatest? Sadly, this is what I have seen happen to a number of my friends, and what motivated me to start writing this series of articles.
As the title may suggest, this article will never feature ‘Big Hitters’. Why, you ask? For precisely the reason I outlined above: they are just too expensive. The idea behind this series of articles was simple: find great games that don’t cost the earth and write about them. Shine some attention on the little guys, you know? My only rules are that a game cannot cost more than £5 and that I have to play it for a minimum of 5 hours before I review it. £5 = 5 hours. Simple. That way any gamer on a shoestring budget should be able to afford them, plus the game gets a fair trial. Sound good? Great. Let’s get started.
Title: Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Cost: £1.99 (on sale until 01/04/20, RRP £7.99)
When I was searching for my first under £5 game I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. Sure, I filtered the options by price, but the amount of titles available at this range is staggering. I quickly learned that I’d have to be quite selective about my choices, otherwise I’d suffer from ‘Netflix syndrome’, endlessly flicking through titles but never choosing one. Falling back on what I knew, I decided to look for an RPG. I’ll be honest and say that at only £5 I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful given my genre of choice until, as if by magic, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom appeared in front of me; looking back, I think it was the colourful comic book art style that drew me to it more than anything else. It already had decent reviews, so in the eternal words of Mario, I thought: Let’s-a-go!
I was feeling pretty optimistic upon booting the title, although this optimism faltered a little when two of the main characters were introduced: Chade and Poky. They are a tad annoying. As an RPG fan I’m used to bad voice acting (Final Fantasy X, anyone?) but this wasn’t necessarily the acting per-se, but rather the voices themselves: they’re quite childish and, if I’m honest, sound fairly silly to me. I know, I know, this is a personal preference and I shouldn’t judge a game because of it, which is why I said my optimism only faltered a little – thankfully it remained largely intact there on out.
Story-wise, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is a bit of a slow burner, but once that flame picks up it has enough twists and turns to keep it burning brightly until the end. The addition of multiple choice text boxes during conversations also keeps it interesting as depending on how players react or respond to things often determines in which direction their story will continue, whether that be path-based, boss-based, or other. A stand out for me were the non-animated, comic book style cutscenes that the game occasionally utilized, the likes of which also bled into the gameplay as well, with the studio opting to use the same cartoon style rendering as those of some of the bigger titles out there (Borderlands springs to mind). The non-animated cutscenes were much better than the animated ones, which had a heavy reliance on old-school RPG arm-flailing to get messages across, often making the characters and/or scenes seem a little silly.
Ok, let’s talk battle mechanics. While we’re not talking about the likes of the latest Final Fantasy games, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there’s a decent amount of depth to the battle mechanics. At the beginning you’ll find that you can just punch and kick enemies into submission without using the block, parry, or, later on, magic – or Shi – techniques, however that quickly changes and some of the latter enemies that you encounter from there on out are impossible to defeat without them. Speaking of Shi, this is the magic that characters can channel to add more oomph to their attacking arsenal. With regard to these abilities, while in battle you’re encouraged to look out for the colour-changing walls; not only do they mark the arena but if, for example, you have water Shi equipped it will be more powerful when the wall is blue than at any other time. You will also be able to focus and recharge casting points associated with this colour at this time as well. This gives battles that extra dimension, for if you require water magic to defeat an enemy you will have to time your attacks and retreats/recharge times with respect to the colour-changing walls.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom also encourages you to collect items and upgrade characters, improving their stats and adding additional attack power to your party. Ways in which you can do this range from buying/selling/brokering items from NPCs camped at various points in the game or through exploration alone. Though it’s nothing new to the RPG genre, I wasn’t expecting such a comprehensive system and I’m pleased to say it pleasantly surprised me.
In conclusion, I was pretty pleased with Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom. Actually, I was more than pleased considering how little I paid for it. Though the voice talents on offer were a tad dodgy and the script a little jerky at times, the story generally holds water, even if it may seem a bit diluted for die-hard RPG players. The graphics are easy on the eye and the cartoon cutscenes inspired, the battle system’s surprisingly satisfying to use, while the inclusion of an upgrade menu adds additional depth to the game. Overall, there’s more than enough here to keep most occupied while in self-isolation, and at £1.99 you can’t really go wrong. With that in mind, it gets a thoroughly sanitized thumbs up from me.