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Summoner

Developer: Volition Inc | Publisher: THQ
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 10/25/00 | Genre: Action/RPG

Warning: if the "Blair Witch Project" camera doesn't make you sick, the gameplay will.

I'm not sure if I've ever played an RPG that I have less nice things to say about than "Summoner". I was excited to purchase this game. It was the first game I bought for my PS2, being the avid RPG fan that I am (or at any rate as avid as my girlfriend permits without dumping me). "Star Wars" fans, who waited in line and paid eight bucks to see "The Phantom Menace", feel my pain. The game is wholly and utterly bad, meeting almost none of the criteria I have for a good role-player.

The story centers on Joseph, an orphaned man who accidentally summoned a demon as a child that destroyed his hometown. Joseph then condemns his gift and vows never to summon again. When soldiers ransack his new home several years later, Joseph sets out on an adventure to understand his past and define his future.

The combat system reminds me of Squaresoft's "Vagrant Story", where the player can execute chain attacks if he correctly times the push of a button upon his weapon's impact. The number of chain attacks is limited only by action points, which recharge fairly quickly when special attacks aren't utilized. The magic menu pauses the action to allow the character to choose a spell to charge for. The player controls one character at a time, and can switch between characters at his leisure. The other playable characters fight alongside you with artificial intelligence, battling to their best ability under the mode of AI, such as "melee" or "caster", you've selected for them. Allow me to briefly mention how much it pains me to use the term "artificial INTELLIGENCE" when it's antonym, "genuine STUPIDITY" might better suit the situation. On this note, I shall relate to you my evaluation of the game.

Let's begin with the graphics. At first glimpse, the graphics aren't all that bad. Some of the scenery is pretty and the characters are detailed and shadowed. The frame rate is fluid enough. But wait, what's that on the horizon? It seems to be the upper half of a mountain, diagonally sliced. This, and other bizarre natural disasters in this game, occur due to what is quite possibly the worst draw-in I've witnessed as of yet in a PS2 game. I refuse to believe that with the power of the PS2's "Emotion Engine" I should be forced to endure this hideous distortion of background elements in "Summoner". On top of that, many of the characters appear undernourished, and are perhaps suffering from jaundice, judging by their skin discoloration. The magic spells are lackluster, and even the summon spells, which should be the bailiwick of this game, given its title and story, pale in comparison to those of "Final Fantasy" titles for the original Playstation. On a more powerful platform, aesthetics of a game need to be more severely judged before its release.

As far as sound goes, I have few complaints. Perhaps a better soundtrack could have been chosen. The voice-acting was good, and I don't consider sound effects to necessarily be a huge factor in an RPG.

The controls are a tricky business. The left analog stick controls movement smoothly enough, and the buttons are effective in combat. The right analog stick makes a valiant effort to control the camera. The camera sucks. It can bounce from low angle to high angle when you don't want it to. It can swing around, blocking the player's view of his character with an object in the foreground. The saving grace of the controls is the R3 button, which re-centers the camera behind your character. So while the demonically possessed camera doesn't make gameplay impossible, it is an unnecessary nuisance that should've been debugged before the game was released.

The storyline was reasonably good. It throws some nice twists in the plot here and there. Unfortunately, I never really empathized with the main characters while playing through the story. With the notable exception of Flece, the thief, the characters seemed to have no personality. I don't think enough time was spent showing how the characters' dramatic experiences affected them. Hence, as I progressed in the game, I became more and more disinterested in the story, playing only because I felt like I'd spent too much time to quit. Another monkey bite is for the tedious, simple dialogue between our primary characters and the non-player characters. Conversations are usually reduced our character spouting monosyllabic questions which the NPCs then answer. This is a matter of taste though. I prefer well-written dialogue to greater liberty in the information you request.

In terms of gameplay, all bright spots are utterly overshadowed by horrific AI. This includes both the characters you control and the enemies you battle. Your unattended "caster" will continue to cast spells of an element that are ineffective against a given enemy. Your unattended "melee" fighter will charge off by himself to fight several enemies at once. A "ranged" fighter using a bow will absorb a horrific beating from any melee fighter that nears them rather than keeping his/her distance. I suggest if your party gets surrounded that you first pause the game and take some antacid to shield your stomach lining from the stress you are about to endure. Fortunately for your ignorant AI partners, the enemy AI is also bewilderingly terrible. Enemies can be lured away from their unalarmed allies one by one, despite their close proximity to one another. Furthermore, a patient player doesn't even need to lure many of the enemies anywhere. You see, the enemies' range of vision, even on flat ground, is most often less than the casting range of the "wall of fire" spell. Even more disturbing is the fact that after "wall of fire" is cast on this unsuspecting enemy, he calmly accepts his fate and chooses not to relocate to a position outside of the flames. Thus, if the player keeps his distance, he can peacefully sip his drink during combat watching his victim's hit points deteriorate.

Obviously, I don't care for this game. But it does have a redeeming special feature. If a player presses the "X" button during the credits, he can see a hidden movie. I laughed out loud a few times during the movie. I should've guessed the developers would have had a good sense of humor after releasing this wet-diaper load of a game.

In conclusion, lousy graphics and gameplay combined with a mediocre plot do not a great game make. If the teasers you've seen for the game have your panties in a twist, I suggest you rent before you buy. Don't worry, both Squaresoft (Final Fantasy games, Chrono Cross) and Sony (Legend of Dragoon) are developing RPG titles as we speak. Be patient, my fellow RPG fans, our day is on the horizon֡ horizon not decorated with fragmented backdrops.

By Farmer Monkey - 03/08/06
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Screenshots for Summoner

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