IGN Review of Summon Night: Swordcraft Story
With the continual progression of technology, the industry is constantly changing how we not only look at games, but also how we play them. On a much grander scale, systems like the Xbox 360 are showing a new generation without an on-screen heads up display, literally morphing the genre of first-person shooters. Across the pond, SquareEnix is currently working on the next chapter of the Final Fantasy series, which now features a combination of role-playing elements with more action-filled battles to give gamers a more fluid and realistic sense of immersion. The Game Boy Advance is in an interesting position, however, since it works on a different technical standard. Over the years we've found it to be the perfect system for Super NES ports and classic remakes (such as Tales of Phantasia, originally featured only on the PSX in Japan). Even now that the DS and PSP are beginning to monopolize the portable industry, GBA is again offering gamers a different type of game to those still looking for a classic adventure, as Atlus brings Summon Night: Swordcraft Story to the US.
Originally released to Japanese gamers in April of 2003, Summon Night, along with Super Robot Taisen (GBA) and Deep Labyrinth (DS), are now arriving in America as well. The Summon Night series already has a sequel in Japan, though the second game is still unannounced for a US release. At its roots, Summon Night follows a very specific and age-old formula for RPG's, though it's the solidarity of knowing exactly what the game has to offer that actually helps secure it as an awesome adventure. Summon Night is a dungeon crawler, plain and simple. Players will take control of either a male or female hero (which in turn determines a slight difficulty difference), and set out on an adventure to become the next protector of their town.
As a combination fighter and blacksmith, players can not only level up in the town's dungeon, but also bring materials back and construct tons of different weapons, ranging from swords, spears, axes, drills, and knuckles. Each of the weapons can be used in different ways, and can actually be swapped mid-battle with the touch of a button. In addition, each player will also be assigned a Guardian Beast based on a few personality questions. Each beast offers a different focus on magical attacks, ranging from water, healing, fire, electrical, and wind. Depending on which beast is acquired, the game will change tremendously from a tactical perspective, so players looking to play with specific strategies may want to ensure they get the right beast for the job.
The story is very basic, based around a fighting tournament and the main character's mysterious past, but the overall plot ends up taking a serious back seat to the exploration and battle elements of the game. Luckily, random battles are fast and entertaining, working off a side-scrolling fighting engine very reminiscent of the classic "Tales" series. Players can use multiple equipped weapons, various spells (based on the level of their guardian beast), and acquired items all in real time. For the most part the battles work very well, though they occur at an alarming rate. Anyone looking for a light RPG won't find it in Summon Night, as every few steps another random battle is sure to come. Also, for some odd reason only one enemy can be attacked at once, so even if three or for baddies are posed in front of you only one will be hit with a sword swipe. It's a bit odd, but it also ensures that players don't simply button smash within the small arena. It will take a ton of strategy to get through battles untouched, and experienced players will find themselves using every weapon and spell in tandem in order to do so.
When it comes to production value, Summon Night does take a bit of a hit, as the game was originally released in Japan over three years ago. The graphical presentation is still pretty strong, offering the generic overworld towns and maps mixed with large battle sprites with some decent animation. Summon Night is simply a game that puts gameplay before graphics in every department, and while the game isn't ugly by any means, it is dated, and some gamers may have a problem with that. As an interesting note, however, Summon Night and Tales of Phantasia work almost as each other's ying and yang, as Tales sacrifices dated gameplay control for beautiful artwork, whereas Summon Night takes a hit in the visual department, offering far stronger gameplay instead. On the audio side, Summon Night is also a bit shallow, offering classic (but again, dated) orchestral score made up of classic midi tones. The music still manages to be nostalgic though, and aside from being interrupted every few seconds for a random battle, it is still very enjoyable.
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