Ask Hazem Hawash of the French game studio Enigami about influences on the upcoming role-playing game Shiness, and he’ll list off some of the most beloved RPGs of the 1990s: Skies of Arcadia, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VII. The influence of anime is also unmistakable, from its character designs, to the voiceover performances, to the copious cut-scenes and cel-shaded visual aesthetic. “It’s a melting pot of all the fantasy we like in lots of different media,” Hawash says, and even in the small slice of action afforded by a demo, the storyline signs of iconic franchises like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings are unmistakable. Shiness ticks off all the boxes you expect from a retro-nostalgic role-playing game in the year 2017.
And then, when the first battle begins, and you anticipate a variation on classic RPG combat, you wind up brawling with beasts in a third-person arena like some kind of Power Stone homage.
That’s the big twist at the heart of Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom: instead of turn-based menu parsing or even real-time sword-twirling, you can just run up and punch a monster in the nose. Your party, which can have up to three characters at a time, includes fighters with a variety of styles and techniques, including the ability to use magic. Like the tag team feature of a Marvel vs. Capcom game, you can freely swap between them as the fight rages on. The fight system even features one of the most time-honored RPG traditions, as different attacks have specific elemental properties that will do more or less damage depending on an enemy’s particular elemental sensitivities. (In other words, don’t ice-punch a monster made of ice, my friend.) Despite its familiar RPG trappings, once the gloves are off, Shiness feels nothing like the old RPGs Hawash praises.
There’s a two-fold reason for this fighting spirit, Hawash explains. “At the beginning this project was only a comic book,” he says, pointing out the multimedia nature of the entire Shiness affair. “We thought, since there was a lot of fighting in the story, like Dragon Ball and Naruto, we felt that if we had to do an RPG about it, we needed to [include] a real fighting game that would be cool.”
It’s hard to get a handle on a game that promises a minimum of 25 hours play time for the main story alone when you only have a half-hour in which to play it, but a brief sojourn into the world of Shiness confirms the unique thrill of its slugfests. Fighting fans maybe shouldn’t expect a fully functional standalone brawler, but with various strikes, the ability to block and dodge, and a veritable vending machine full of different special skills and abilities for each character, Shiness doesn’t skimp on its pugilistic detours.
“We thought it could be great to make [the] RPG feature into a real fight game,” Hawash says, and so far Shiness seems to bring it together. If there’s something you’d like to try, even something as weird as an epic RPG brawler, you should go for it, Hawash and Shiness argue implicitly.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games, comedy and wrestling sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.