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Summoner 2
Review By:  J. Michael Neal
Developer:  Volition
Publisher:  THQ
# of Players:  1
Genre:  RPG
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  1-8-03

Summoner 2 is a surprisingly good action-adventure role-playing game from Volition, the makers of the Red Faction series. It provides a fairly entertaining experience that will satisfy those who like console RPGs, but arenít big fans of turn-based combat.

The story in Summoner 2 is interesting enough, it provides the sort of twists and turns youíve come to expect in a console RPG, and the characters are just removed enough from traditional role-playing stereotypes to be fresh. The main story revolves around a messianic princess and her entourage as they fight to protect her kingdom and learn the true meaning of her prophecy, but of course you will find that those two things are easier said than done.

The fact that your character is a ruler and a holy figure of sorts adds a unique feel to the game. Kingdom managing duties, however inconsequential to the ultimate outcome of the game, helps give players a sense of the power and importance of your role as queen. Deciding whether a heretic will live or die, whether your budget should go to building up your military or feeding your starving people, or whether a statue being built should honor you or to the young child of prophecy are all in a dayís work for a princess. After a while you definitely get the feeling that the future of your people rests in your hands and that you have a lot of power at your disposal. This may not see like a big deal, but consider for a moment that most console RPGs put you in the role of a wide-eyed, small town boy who eventually discovers his true powers and ends up saving the world. Starting you out as a gifted and powerful warrior princess is definitely a welcomed change of pace.

Visually, Summoner 2 isnít going to give Final Fantasy X a run for its money anytime soon, but it isnít that bad looking either, it just sort of flip-flops between substandard, passable, and quality. Some things, like magic effects, textures, and art design are done very well, while others, like character models and polygon counts, remain poor from beginning to end. Level design is a mixed bag throughout the game; some environments, like the palace, are well crafted and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, while others, like the depths of the Prison of Indubal, are just plan ugly. A lack of technical errors, like draw in, clipping, pop-up, and unstable frame rates, weigh in the gameís favor, but with so many things weighing for and against the game, it all falls somewhere in the middle, earning Summoner 2 and overall "ok" in the visual department.

While the visuals may be a mere "ok", the gameís audio manages to impress on all fronts. The game has a beautiful soundtrack reminiscent of what was heard in the film The Cell, and sound effects are crisp, clear, and varied. The game also has some surprisingly well done voice work, some of the best heard on the PS2 in fact. Itís definitely better than what weíve been hearing come out of Capcom in recent years, and even better than what Square gave us in the blockbuster Final Fantasy X. One does have to wonder, though, how the main character managed to acquire British accent in a fantasy world with no British isle. Oh well, I guess we can let that one slide.

Summoner 2ís biggest selling point is its real time, squad based combat. At the same time, though, it is the gameís biggest weakness. Combat in the game isnít terrible, but it is trying on your patients. For starters, encounters are incredibly fatal from the very beginning of the game. The first "boss" character fought in the game (encountered all of five minutes after turning the game on) took a total of eight tries to beat. He has the ability to kill you with three hits if the first hit knocks you to the ground. This sort of crippling difficultly level right from the very beginning, a time when most gamers are still getting acquainted with the user interface and controls, is a sign of sloppy balancing. If you manage to put up with the game long enough to beat this guy you will find that although combat gets easier the more you play the game (and the stronger you and your party becomes) you can never really rest easy going into a new area, because most new enemies you encounter have the ability to wipe out your entire party within seconds of meeting them. Luckily, though, a save anywhere feature will prevent needless back tracking after your many, many deaths.

The other thing that makes combat hard on the old patience is the incredible stupidity of your party members, compared to the intelligence of the enemy. When a horde of mindless blobs is able to create attack formations, heal each other, block, dodge, and run for cover, but a 300-pound, axe wielding general and a powerful mage stand idly by while their leader gets killed two feet away, you know something is wrong with the AI. While Kingdom Hearts let you completely customize your computer controlled party members, Summoner 2 forces you to use one of four settings: Melee, Support, Healer, Caster, and Healer/Caster. Melee, support, and casters never heal themselves, healers never aid in the battle, and only two people really do well as healer/casters. So basically this means youíll be doing a lot of babysitting during tense battles, switching back and forth between party members since there is no real autopilot.

Once you get accustomed to the difficulty and the micromanaging you will find that the gameplay is rather enjoyable and that the combat, although not as fun as or as deep as a Dynasty Warriors 3, is still a welcomed break from turn-based combat. The game benefits from the absorbing nature of role playing games and the compulsive urge to always want to see whatís around the next bend: what new items are to be found, what new characters will you run into, what will the next location look like, what twists and turns will the story bring, etc. Once this takes hold of you, you will definitely be hook into Summoner 2 until it ends. Sure, at times the gameplay and visuals align in such a way that it almost feels like your playing a Playstation 1 game, but even then the game is still enjoyable enough to keep you pushing forward.

HIGHS:

  • Interesting story.
  • Unique twists to the typical RPG formula.
  • Real-time combat is a break from turn-based boring, non-sense.
  • Great music, sound effects, and voice work.

LOWS:

  • Insane level of difficulty.
  • Visuals are a mixed bag.
  • Party member AI is just terrible.

FINAL VERDICT:

If you are open to a role-playing game that is different from the rest of the pack, and you have a high tolerance for death-induced frustration and so-so visuals, Summoner 2 is a game that will keep you satisfied until completion.

Overall Score: 8.4

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