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Summoner

    Review By: Jared Black

Developer: Volition
Publisher: THQ
# of Players: 1
Genre: RPG
ESRB: Teen
Date Posted: 11-29-00

The development of Summoner originally began with just the PC in mind. Somewhere down the line though, THQ and Volition decided a PS2 port was feasible and the PC version took a back seat to the PS2 version (the PC version is due out in early 2001). Volitionís goal was certainly noble: to finally provide console gamers with a PC-like experience. It has been tried many times in the past with mixed results at best. Unfortunately, this ended up being too ambitious a goal for them to handle. Not only that, but Volition failed in the execution of most of the things that couldíve been ported successfully. The result is a game that once held so much promise (take a look at our pre-launch recommendations) turned out to be a terrible, terrible mess.

The story itself is a very simple one. You are Joseph, born with the mark of the Summoner. During your youth your town gets attacked, and to help defend the town you summon forth a demon to kill the intruders. It doesÖbut unfortunately it destroys the rest of the town as well. So naturally the survivors of the town now hate you, and banish you forever. Flash forward nine years, and the kingdom of Orenia is now invading your new home in search of the boy with the mark of the Summoner. Thus your quest begins. Overall I found the storyline, while featuring a lot of elements found in other RPGs, to be pretty strong. What it lacks in uniqueness it makes up for in excellent cutscenes and good narrative. Unfortunately the storyline is just about the gameís only good point...

Itís no more apparent that Volition set its goals too high than in Summonerís gameplay. The battle system is your typical real-time RPG affair. When you encounter an enemy, you then lock onto them Zelda-style and duke it out with sword and shield. The game also features a "chaining" system not unlike those found in Super Mario RPG and Vagrant Story. If you time the press of a button right, you can chain together many different attacks. Two significant flaws mar what should be a competent battle system: auto-chaining and Josephís animation. With auto-chaining turned on, there is really no need for interaction during a battle at all. You can literally sit the controller down and fight off wave after wave of enemies (picking it up to heal occasionally of course). This in itself is almost enough to kill the battle system, but when combined with Josephís plodding animation itís simply too much to bear. With multiple enemies around you, you can expect to get pounded because it takes Joseph far too long to complete a move. While youíre waiting for Joseph to finish swinging his sword, other enemies around you are beating on you mercilessly.

All RPG gamers know that there are typically two parts to the gameplay in an RPG: the battle and the exploring. Weíve already established that the battling sucks, so letís talk about the exploring now. Donít worry, it sucks as well. There is absolutely nothing here that separates the exploring part from any other RPG. The environments you navigate are your typical field/village/large town type places. To Volitionís credit the different locations are fairly large, but to Volitionís discredit these large locations are very confusing and drab. Volition reused a lot of the same textures over and over again, and the result (especially in larger towns) is a big mess. Not only that, but there are so many NPCs (non-playable characters) that itís often virtually impossible to find the one you need to talk to in a certain situation. Probably 90% of the NPCs in each location have absolutely nothing important to say (other than adding to the atmosphere of the environment), so just locating the ones that do have something important to say is a mind-numbing chore. This problem is only worsened by the fact that there is absolutely no way to mark your map with the locations of important people. In the end youíre left with a whole lot of wandering around with very little to show for it.

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