Action RPG conjures up images of many games played over the last twenty years.  Diablo and Torchlight are on the tip of my tongue.  Expectation is funny like that.  Perhaps that’s the reason why I bounced off Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom – at least in the first few hours.

You open in control of two Waki’s (read: giant hedgehogs) who crash land their airship on a planet, known here as a Meteora. Many of the conversations are voiced,  with text boxes filling in the blanks. Each character does their best to bamboozle you with words that only make sense in the context of Shiness’s lore.  Dark Shi and Gromiz are banded around like you should know exactly what they mean. Long story short, an evil overlord has filled the world with bad energy and your hedgehogs have got to reverse the damage.  Blah blah blah. If you’ve played any SquareEnix/ Squaresoft game in the last fifteen years you’ll know exactly what to expect.

I’ll insert a caveat about the story here. The links between different pieces of the tale are well drawn comic book manga style segments. The game’s website has its own manga section. Story wise it’s clearly designed with a certain type of audience in mind. That demographic just isn’t me.

Shiness belies it’s indie roots in the looks department.  Each part of the world is rendered beautifully with reams of colours on display.  Eternal Sonata on the Xbox 360 is a decent point of reference for comparison.  It’s great to watch in action with punches, kicks and spells lighting up the game in spectacular fashion. My experience with the game found little to no technical issues on the frame rate side either.

Once the game is up and running Shiness’s myriad systems are reassuringly solid to compliment its skin deep beauty.  Enemies roam the world waiting to be challenged in real time. Doing so prompts the appearance of a sort-of ring which gives you a decent amount of space in which to duke it out. Even as you add more characters to your party,  battles are a 1 on 1 affair. As either your adversary or a member of your own team are KOed a new fighter appears to continue the duel.

If you approach Shiness’s combat as a button masher expect to find your behind handed back to you. Learning button combinations is strongly encouraged. Each enemy has its own unique attack patterns and each must be learnt on their own merits. As I play I’m constantly reminded of another manga brawler; bonafide classic in the genre: Oni. It’s that good.

In support of the boxing, Shiness has it’s own magic system. Early on this consists of basic red/ blue/ yellow etc projectiles to reflect elemental properties. Later upgrades allow you to slow your enemies down, create patches of area of effect damage and many other powers.

Underpinning all of this are Support abilities. These allow your other characters to get involved even when they’re not in the fight, healing you when you get in trouble or perhaps boosting your defence against a particularly troublesome elemental boss.

Improving your stats (this is an rpg at heart after all) is done by equipping new Disciplines. Many of these come attached to new techniques and spells which must be employed in battle to be mastered. Different party members are geared up to be strong in different areas and picking Disciplines best suited to each character only adds further depth to an already ocean deep game.

Fight well enough and you fill up your Hyper bar, enabling the use an ultimate technique. Combat slows for a moment giving you just enough time to hit the buttons required to trigger the powerful combo.  Add in dozens of platform style puzzles with many linked to your characters unique non-combat abilities, side quests in the form of monster hunts and world filled with hidden treasure chests, there really is a tremendous amount to do.

I don’t want to gush but I really haven’t played anything quite like Shiness before. Great credit should go to Enigami for creating a beautifully colourful world to explore and then filling it with depth in the game play to keep me coming back.

So, what’s not to like? Two words: battle camera. Fights are frenetic and the camera frequently fails to keep up with the action. This was obviously identified as an issue during production and the solution was to put a target lock on right stick button. This should have sorted any issues, but rather than this being a toggle lock, it simply centres the camera on your enemy. It doesn’t work well enough for my liking and in particularly frantic battles you’ll find yourself using the target lock multiple times.

The audio is of a decent standard. Combos connect with all the right noises and you’ll always know when a boss is coming as the music takes that sinister turn we all recognise from years of JRPGs.  I often wander around with a catchy tune stuck in my head for hours.  Unfortunately, as I write this I can’t look back and remember any of the tracks with any great fondness or clarity.