Shiness is a game you’ve probably never heard of, but if you’ve mourned the loss of Playstation 2-era adventure games over the past decade, it’s one you should look out for. You probably know the type, if you played any console games back then: part RPG, part action game, set in a fantasy world with a bizarre mixture of humans and animal races. You’re going to go on a quest to save your friends (and probably the world). There’s an unquantifiable heart beating beneath the surface that helps you overlook the rough edges. Shiness is one of those games.
French indie studio Enigami has been working on Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom for five years. It’s their first game, bursting with the ambition to do everything—exploring the overworld feels a bit like playing a Zelda game, with environmental puzzles and a colorful landscape. Suddenly in combat you’re playing a combo-based fighting game, complete with dodges and parries that feel lively and responsive, even if they’re not on the level of a Street Fighter or Batman Arkham game.
And then there are layers of RPG systems piled on. In the demo I played of the game’s opening area, I only controlled protagonist Chado, a fox-like “Waki” who’s searching for his friend Poky after their airship crash-landed (of course there’s an airship). Later in the game you’ll have a party of five characters you can switch between at will to solve puzzles in the overworld (think the Xbox 360’s Kameo) and in battle to mix and match combos and magic. There’s a magical affinity system that affects how much damage those magical attacks do. Basically, there’s a whole lot going on in this game and I only go to play the first 20 minutes.
Parts of Shiness definitely feel built by amateurs—the way the camera snaps into place in dialogue scenes, the physics and animations of throwing objects, the unmistakably gamey environmental obstacles—and its design is a melting pot of inspirations. Designer and CEO Hazem Hawash named Naruto’s fighting games, Suikoden, Seiken Densestu, and Skies of Arcadia, and I can feel little pieces of all of them in here. That could mean Shiness never totally forges an identity of its own, but if it’s fun enough, maybe that’s okay. And sometimes imperfections end up adding to a game’s charm.
Few developers make games like this anymore, and Shiness reminds me enough of the games I played as a teenager to make me want to see much more of it. Even if it hearkens back to 15-year-old games, that was enough to make it stand out among the crowd at E3 2016. I'm especially glad that games that once only lived on Japanese consoles now come to the PC first and foremost. While I played Shiness with a controller, it was running at a smooth clip on a PC in Unreal.
Enigami plans for the final game to be out later this year.