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SummarySub-par console effort with few saving graces.
The GoodSummoner is your average console-styled rpg that casts you as a weakling warrior whom upon a catastrophic event that shatters his loved hometown, must leave to embark on an epic journey that (obviously) leads to the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. The thing with Summoner is that to distance itself from the usual western efforts at console-styled rpgs it adds a series of nice ideas and features usually not seen outside of PC waters. You have an effective skill-based system which awards skill points whenever you level up and which effectively allows you to customize your characters in a more in-depth fashion than the usual console rpgs by giving you a list of atributes and skills to use those points on. You also have a more in-depth use of equipment and items with several types of armor pieces to take into account and with included restrictions and pros/cons. I don't really know wheter to include this but considering that on most console rpgs you just have to worry about wearing the gold armor instead of the silver one, Summoner's system of leggings, bracers and vests with different and contradictory effects must seem like fricking rocket science to most console players.
As you explore the world you'll traverse between huge cities and towns designed so as to encompass two distinct kingdoms and visual styles, a traditional european medieval one and a feudal japanese inspired one, both realized with luxury of detail and with plenty of lush and elaborate locations and characters. Obviously, the game has you exploring this areas to gain the quests that lead you into different dungeon romps were you have to kick some booty, while at the same time including light puzzle/sneaking sequences to spice things up.
Combat-wise the game introduces a mixture of arcade and tactical action, with you being able to pause the action at any time and issue orders to your party members. As combat progresses though, you can take control of any particular character and continue in real time, with the added bonus of being able to chain hits by timing your attacks with a group of function keys that change from character to character and which cause various effects such as health/mana regeneration, knocking down a character, cause a different type of damage, etc... The game thus emphasizes melee combat over everything else, but you can effectively use a selection of offensive spells and special skills (like backstabbing, etc.) selectable from a pop-up menu or a handy customizable easy-access toolbar. Good fun, if a bit oversimplified, but what the heck.
The other interesting thing combat-wise is Joseph's (the main guy) ability to summon a specific monster to aid the party when collecting a series of magical rings and adding them as a fourth party member who becomes controllable in the same fashion and comes loaded with his own brand of special skills/spells. These characters don't level up in the same way as the main characters but instead rely on you equiping their specific rings and collecting exp. points with them to make the creatures stronger, give them better skills and eventually unlock upgraded versions of the monsters. You can also unlock one-time Final Fantasy-like summons that trigger a little cutscene and deal a massive amount of damage.
All of this gameplay is viewed from a 3rd person perspective in a 3D enviroment much like on Microsoft's Dungeon Siege. Only the camera pans and switches to a top-down perspective whenever on combat and closes in for npc interactions. The graphics themselves are very good, with only stiff models and animations to object to and with all manner of nice effects and enviroments to explore.
Finally, the conversion makes a good use of the pc platform and ends up being one of the best conversions to any console game ever. Why? Well, apparently the guys at THQ/Volition noticed how we have that thing called a mouse and a keyboard, and thus the game uses them to control itself much like (once again) Dungeon Siege, except the game doesn't play itself like on that game and you actually have to control your party and actions (Shocking!!).
The BadLots of stuff to point at. For starters the storyline is the same old rpg crap that revolves around you being the re-incarnation of some mythical god of blablabla, and having to fulfill your prophecy by running around and asserting yourself as the "Summoner" while a couple of warring kingdoms face off in their eternal quest to rule over the land. All the "shocking" betrayals and stupidly forced plot twists that you have come to expect from Japanese rpgs are somewhat jammed in here as some sort of compendium of the genre with all boiling down to going and killing Gonzo the bad guy to decide the fate of the world, universe and democracy...
The characters and npc's are extremely underdeveloped, a common feature of console rpgs which don't favor dialogue trees and stuff like that and that populate their worlds with "signpost" npcs that spout directions, clues and assorted stupidity when clicked on, but for this particular title the npcs are even less of a virtual entity and more of a walking signpost. It seems that the developers got really proud with the virtual world they created and desperately want to share every myth and backstory they made for it, so each npc in the world will usually ramble on and on about their history and whatnot... geez, thankfully you have a "!" icon over some characters to point out which of them are really important to talk to, otherwise you would be lost in an unending sea of lame fantasy history lessons. But aggravating as that may be, the big beef comes with the main characters which you would at least expect to be *a little* developed for the sake of dramatic tension. No such thing here. Each of the main characters engage in the same dense "reading off a script" conversation where they just say what they have to say and move on. This type of interaction kills any emotional link you may want to feel for them and trashes what should be emotional or at least dramatically important moments. There's a part where your cliche'd female thief character Fleece is informed that she really is (as per console rpg regulation #445423) the exiled princess of her land and that her real history is blablablablabla... what do the characters do? After the speech is done (without any sort of narrative aids to try to trigger a response from the player) the game just switches out of dialogue-mode and moves on!! WTF??? After years of Final Fantasy-styled games where every minor event triggers a melodramatic sequence were each character ponders every philosophical question and it's implications with their "complex" soap-opera situations, I was more than shocked to witness the stone cold reactions of the characters in this game! "Ok, so your entire life is a lie, ready to move on?"...Riiiight. The equally sterotyped "tank" character hates the main protagonist, and states it so when they join up, but what do they do beyond that?? Nothing! There's a "Uh, I hate you" speech and then it's time to move with the game...cool, uh? And that's without dwelling into the typically forced plot twists were someone betrays someone, gives a stupid speech to somehow patch the plotholes that their poorly developed actions caused and things just move on!!...
So much for story and originality right? The gameplay itself boils down then to a nice dungeon-romp as described above, but some elements like extremely poor AI for both your characters (Dumb F%$KS!!!) and the enemies (Ha-ha, stupid losers!) makes things terribly boring and non-challenging, specially if you exploit some of the badly balanced skills like Fleece's backstabbing or the firewall spell (which works nothing like you would think it would but can still be used to scorch enemies in seconds). As for the sidequests, most console gamers seem to get rashes when faced with them so the design team decided to keep them as dumb-ass as possible so as not to overtax their short attention span. The result is the worst-ever assembled collection of Fed-Ex quests and pixel hunts since Anachronox, with just as much frustration and boredom attached to them. There is even a particular one that I managed to complete (which stands as a proof that I had absolutely NOTHING better to do than to play Summoner at the time) that seems almost like a joke from the developers and which has you traversing all over the world looking for a stupid good luck charm. Every time you get to whoever is supposed to have it he goes "oh no, I sold that/lost it/got stolen by XXX, who as y'know, lives on the other corner of the world".....good god...