A cursory glance at Atlus’ Summon Night: Swordcraft Story seems like it will pan out to be a rather generic adventure RPG: most of the game takes place in one town, or one multi-tiered dungeon (with a simple reason to return to the same dungeon over and over). There’s a plucky young hero who wakes up late for an important ceremony, has a loyal animal companion, an absent father, and an arrogant rival. The gameplay
features magic, monsters, random encounters and dungeon crawls.
But Summon Night: Swordcraft Story is much more engaging than a cursory glance suggests.
Entering a battle, the game shifts to a side view, where the hero fights the monsters real time, not unlike the Tales of Symphonia series, except with only one character on the good side. With three weapons and four spells to choose from, even normal battles can be fairly interesting. Boss battles are challenging. Using the right weapon or spell at the right time makes all the difference.
And the story itself branches into several side-quests that, while not necessary to complete to progress in the game, do much to enrich the gameplay and story.
The game’s whole is comprised of the following elements:
The graphical presentation is mostly maps mixed with large battle sprites with some decent background sprite detail, much like a richly detailed 16-bit RPG. You’ll see the requisite generic fantasy town on dungeons, with fluidly animated battle sequences and enemy characters. The game does put graphics before gameplay for the most part, though. While it’s not an ugly game by any stretch of the imagination, the graphical style does come off as a bit dated, which may be a turn-off to some gamers.
As a cross between a blacksmith and a fighter, you don’t just gain experience in the town’s dungeon, but also whenever you power up your weapons (swords, spears, axes, drills, and knuckle) by using materials found in battle, in dungeons, and techniques learned from your master, or defeated foes. Each of your 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. 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.
Yes, this game does feature random battles. A lot of them. But the random battles are fast and entertaining, working off a side-scrolling fighting engine very reminiscent of the classic “Tales of Phantasia” 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 happen a LOT.
And in a welcome change that shows that the developers really understand the nature of portable gaming, you can save your game ANYHWERE. This has been a long time in coming, and I wish more portable system RPGs had this feature.
On the audio side, Summon Night is rather shallow, offering a retro musical score made up of classic midi tones. The music still manages to be nostalgic, and aside from being interrupted every few seconds for a random battle, is still pleasant enough to listen to.
Creativity and Fun
You can choose from either a male or female protagonist, there are all sorts of hidden weapon crafting techniques, dozens of branching side quests, and a large variety of ways to customize and specialize in weapons. All this PLUS a “new game plus” mode that opens up another 50 levels of the central dungeon after you beat the game, and you have plenty of reason to play again and again. In addition to the solid action aspects of battle, the guardian beasts, and engaging weapon power-up game play, the dialogue is fun, snappy, and engagingly written (Two random samples: A little girl who’s convinced she can talk to cats says: “I asked my kitty what kind of spice to use on my curry, and she said ‘myrrh’. It didn’t taste good at all”, or the Craftlord who trains you in Karate-Kid-meets-Iron-Chef fashion by having you craft a recipe for his lunch :”Well? Get going! Allez cuisine!”) make this game even more of a delight to play.
Summon Night: Swordcraft Story is a must-buy for fans of classic, RPG dungeon crawlers. Solid, engaging gameplay mix with snappy dialog to craft an action RPG fan’s dream come true.