IGN Review of Summon Night: Swordcraft Story 2
Wow. The Game Boy Advance just won't stop with these swan songs. It seems like we can't go a month without some amazing new title coming along and pushing the system in terms of graphics, gameplay and presentation, refusing to let Nintendo's little system die. The latest must have title, Summon Night: Swordcraft Story 2 comes just three months after the previous game in that series,
which scored a respectable 8.0 here on IGN. And those wondering if the second game lives up to the first can now rest easy; it's better than the original in just about every way.
Players select one of two lead characters (male Edgar Colthearts or female Aera Colthearts) and one of four companions: Exeld, a combat mechanoid warrior, Arno, a nature-minded female, Loki, an adventurous oni warrior and Dinah, a girly devil/angel with split personalities. Each of these companions is a Summon Creature and called be called upon at any time for assistance (although this features much more heavily in the plot than during gameplay). Depending on which lead character and which creature are selected, the story changes pretty drastically, since the bulk of the story deals with the two characters learning to get along together. Oddly, the story doesn't change much depending on the selection of the lead character, which makes for some awkward moments (like female Aera getting excited about a kiss from female Lynn).
The story itself is very tongue-in-cheek and a lot of fun. Although it deals with Aera or Edgar looking for the legendary Deamon Edge in order to reseal a demon that's threatening their town, most of the dialogue revolves around the two selected characters getting annoyed at being stuck together, and becoming stronger minded by reinforcing one another's decisions. The English translators obviously had a ball with this one; although the story is a bit light on deep, heartfelt moments, it's consistently funny and engaging. The detailed cutscene character portraits feature constantly-changing expressions and elevate each scene to anime wackiness. A few hours in, it's hard not to fall in love these characters.
The in-game visuals are a huge step up from the last game. The first Summon Night was plagued with bland, murky, over-tiled environments that were boring to look at and somewhat confusingly-designed. This new game features colorful pixel art that's on par with the best from Nintendo's first party games. Trees and wilderness are lush and believable, dungeons are gorgeous (although they still don't vary much dungeon to dungeon) and Aera and Edgar's home town is filled with little details that really make it feel inhabited. There is a huge amount of incidental animation in the game, from wavering lake images and splashing waterfalls to flags fluttering in the wind. Sadly, the overworld character sprites haven't changed much at all and look a bit dated now compared to the backgrounds. They don't resemble the cutscene portraits much either.
Surprisingly, gameplay gets just as much of a facelift as the visuals. The hook of the game is that players must forge and constantly re-forge their weapons. There are six core weapon types: Sword/dagger, axe, spear, knuckles, drill and the reliable (but underpowered) hammer. Players create these weapons one at a time by forging an element they've picked up (like ore) with a shapestone. Each weapon can be equipped in both overworld exploration and during combat, but during combat the weapons quickly begin to wear down. As a weapon wears down, players can either fight with it until it breaks, or take it back to their kiln, pull the weapon apart and re-forge it to increase its strength. By using and rebuilding weapons over and over (in addition to leveling up the main character), attacks become stronger and in true RPG fashion, players can safely wander further and further into the game.
Because weapons must be occasionally re-forged, gameplay generally involves stocking up on supplies, heading into the woods, fighting a lot of enemies on the way to the next dungeon, then returning home to re-forge used weapons before setting out again. This might have been a very annoying structure, except that the developers have wisely put in plenty of warp locations that can be unlocked, so players can generally make it from home to mission in a minute or so.
Combat itself feels great and an improvement over combat from the previous game; the playable character now moves faster and attacks with more agility than before. As in most RPGs, creatures are randomly bumped into while exploring the overworld (although far less frequently now, allowing for more than a few steps' worth of walking between fights). A set of creatures appears and players select which weapons and items to wail on them with in 2D sidescrolling action. These bouts are incredibly fun and pretty short, too (usually under a minute in length). The creatures all look great and attack in unique ways. Each creature follows easily-recognizable patterns, so players are never victim to a bombardment of cheap shots.
Because combat is in realtime and enemies are so predictable though, there isn't much risk in each encounter. Even if players are out of weapons and underpowered, at most this just makes the challenge last longer. This is one of the very few weak points in the game: as long as players are patient, they can conquer just about any enemy in the game, even if they're fighting that creature far earlier than they should be. Boss battles are also a bit of a letdown; while these creatures and warriors attack faster and carry far more hit points than standard enemies, they're in the same environment and call for the same button mashing as standard enemies.
Oddly enough, the most interesting aspect of the game (forging and wearing down weapons) can occasionally be the most frustrating. Although most adventures can be completed without having to return home to re-forge weapons, some of the longer missions bring players so deep into dungeons, it's not unusual to get stuck. Getting caught in a battle with no remaining weapons means fighting creatures with the forging hammer, which is so underpowered that it can turn a 30-second battle into a 10-minute one. In these rare moments, it's a lose-lose situation deciding whether to keep fighting through slow battles for half an hour to reach home, or to turn off the system and restart from the last save point. Some way to power through these battles, maybe at a loss of energy or experience could have lessened the blow. This is a very minor complaint though in an otherwise spotless game, and heading back home anytime the character is down to 1 weapon will prevent too many hammer battles from occurring.
Sound effects are rich and well-placed, with some objects (such as waterfalls) fading in and out as players pass them. A small amount of vocal clips pepper the game and give characters even more personality. Music is catchy and often carries a Castlevania flair to it, although it's sometimes laid on a bit thick; some of the quieter, potentially more dramatic moments are ruined by music that's loud and energetic when it should be subdued and respectful.
©2006-11-22, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved