SUMMON NIGHT: SWORDCRAFT STORY
Game Boy Advance
Genre: Action RPG
Role playing games come in all shapes and sizes, as anyone who is a fan of the genre knows. As a huge RPG fan, I was thrilled a few years ago to see that my husband was interested in picking up an RPG series called Summon Night: Swordcraft Story. Not only was it another Atlus game (have I mentioned how much I love Atlus?), but it was also an RPG I had heard of briefly and heard praise toward. As soon as it reached the house, it went right into my Nintendo DS Lite- and for all intents and purposes, it hooked me.
As a brief history, Summon Night is a series with numerous entries, all revolving around the same world and types of mythology, but not having much correlation between the entries. The Swordcraft Story entries take a form similar to the Tales series in many ways, whereas many of the others are either real-time strategy or turn-based strategy games. While the games have not reached much in the way of popularity out this way- we’ve only seen three Summon Night games officially released in the United States- fan reaction to a recent effort by Gaijinworks to bring Summon Night 5 in fan translation form over on the PSP was met with enough support to bring it over in an impressive limited edition set-up.
In this entry, you play as a male or female (your choice) who decides to follow in their father’s footsteps to become a great Craftlord, someone who makes incredible and legendary weapons. To do this, the player ends up with a Summon Creature whom is necessary to help with the crafting of said weapons, and takes part in a tournament which is meant to designate the next Craftlord of the city. Throughout the adventure, you take part in side adventures, tournament battles, and make friends along the way. All the while, you’re also finding out about your father, a great man who sacrificed himself for the sake of your family, friends, and even the world.
The game doesn’t break ground in the plot department, nor in the combat department. It’s all been done before on those ends. The steampunk atmosphere is very alluring, though, and the game flourishes in its weapon creation process. Throughout the game, you venture into a training labyrinth beneath the castle where the tournament takes place, training yourself against monsters and gathering supplies. With these supplies, you can make stronger and more efficient weapons, which will help in your battles in the tournament. The game, taking place over ten days, gives you ample opportunity to do these things, and some quests even let you receive enchanted blueprints, which you can use to make better weapons.
Another neat concept is that your Summon Creature- in my case, a robot with electrical powers and unable to speak in anything but stars, symbols and its own name- joins you in battle to cast spells which can attack your enemy or buff you or your weapon. While it learns multiple spells, it can only equip a certain amount, as well as equipping items to help in battle, so it adds a level of strategy to the battles. Considering that the battles are not always terribly easy, this is a great boon when used correctly.
Along the lines of companionship, at the end of each day, your character, restless as they are, wants to go for a walk, which means you pick a character they have met and they have a little story cutscene in which they bond. These scenes provide a depth to the story that is comparable to the depth of the crafting. Without them, the game would feel fairly shallow. In my game, I chose to bond with Sanary, a spitfire of a warrior, who has more girl power than the Spice Girls could ever hope for, but there’s also Varil, the snotty heir to the guild opposing yours, Razzy, an eager and naive relative to your master, Sakuro, a Craftlord and dear friend of your family, or you can just hang out with your Summon Creature. Whoever you choose, it mildly affects part of your ending, but it’s neat to see some of the backstory of other people, as they don’t just come across as stereotypes once you engage with them.
The game evades some easy pitfalls to land in throughout the story, which is a major plus, though the game isn’t terribly long- my save file rings it at just over fifteen hours. For one thing, you run through the labyrinth beneath the Craftlord castle numerous times as the game goes on, but whether it’s through plot events, scenery changes, or simply running through dungeons in other locales, the game manages to avoid the common issue with dungeons that you constantly return to. Whereas in some other games of the sort, it feels like the game is just extending its shelf life by having you go through the same thing over and over again, it feels fresh each time you head into the labyrinth, which could have been a killer to the game’s fun factor.
The game’s crafting system is what the entire game is built around, and it’s the strongest part of the game by far. Each type of weapon has it’s strengths and weaknesses- gloves focus on speed and attacking numerous times while spears focus on one good hit at a time, for instance- and as you continue making them, you can make stronger versions with certain materials you find, including weapons with elemental traits. The amount of weapons you can make is staggering, and though they are only released to you gradually, finding rare blueprints for weapons through people in town and general trial and error makes the process even more fun.
The downside of the game lies more in style than in execution. While the main story is
cliché, the side stories are fairly interesting. Players may find themselves more drawn to the side characters than the main character and their ordeal as the game goes on, and that can be deterring for someone since you’re playing as the main character after all. Also, for the first half of the game, you may find it hard to navigate through the city the game takes place in. This grinds the action to a halt on occasion and may stop some people from continuing past the halfway point in the game. Combined with the basic JRPG feel of the game’s art and dialogue may make some hardcore RPG fans turn off the game and throw it back into the pile of ‘I’ll finish that later’ titles.
The game is a great distraction, and if you’re looking for a good RPG on the GBA, you would do well to grab this game, if you can find it. Just like any other Atlus game, finding this one is not easy and while it doesn’t quite hit the ranks of other RPGs on the system, it does crave a niche for itself. If you like the Tales games or collection/crafting games like the Atelier series, you’ll love this game. Otherwise, I would still recommend giving it a whirl. You don’t see games like this as often as you used to, which may mean it doesn’t stand up to the test of time. If you enjoyed playing RPG’s on Playstation 2 and earlier systems, though, give it a shot. It’s brings the nostalgic feel in force, and it’s not so long that you’ll lose too much of your gaming life over it.