Reviewed: March 19, 2003
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Cranky Pants Games
THQ has just ported and tweaked their PS2 release of Summoner 2 over to the GameCube filling in what has admittedly been a huge gap in the multi-genre library of Nintendo games dating back to the SNES. With the advent of the mini-DVD, Nintendo finally has enough storage and with the power of the GameCube Volition could finally bring a visually stunning adventure to the GC line-up.
While most of the game is identical to the PS2 version there were enough enhancements to warrant a name change, and thus, Summoner: A Goddess Reborn is the subject of today’s review. While I had the pleasure of reviewing the original Summoner on the PC a couple of years ago, when the sequel made it’s way to the PS2 late last year I let that one slip by. There were just too many adventure games for the PS2 and not enough time to play them all. When the GameCube version was announced, I decided then and there I wouldn’t let Nintendo’s first big adventure game get past me.
Like most adventures games, this one is a solitary experience that blends real-time combat with all of the traditional stat-building RPG aspects. The overall adventure is quite large spanning more than 30 wonderful locations and taking as many hours to complete, side-quests not withstanding. And while the designers have taken the time to optimize this version (improved framerates) for the GameCube there’s not as much improvement as you might expect and perhaps even a few flaws that have worked their way into the release.
Those of you who have played any of the previous Summoner titles may have already formed opinions about the franchise. The first game was admittedly plagued with issues, both on the PS2 and the PC, but nearly all of these were resolved in the sequel to follow last year. The good news is that even if you have never played another Summoner game you can still jump right into this one without missing a beat.
A Goddess Reborn opens with a spectacular cutscene that was lifted straight from The Mummy 2 sequel, you know the scene were the Scorpion King turns the desert into a lush tropical oasis. Well the Rock ain’t seen nuthin’ like what this sorceress can do. Of course paradise quickly turns into Hell as a storm starts brewing creating huge angry waves. And that is where we meet our here, Maia, as she defends her ship from marauding pirates. It is also where we encounter my first serious complaint with this game.
By design, the game has a built-in tutorial that pops-up hints as you play. These are very useful and appreciated – the first time you play the game, but what ultimately happened to me is that I kept dying and dying and dying during this opening encounter. Maia is backed-up by a few worthless sailors who manage to repel the first and maybe second wave of pirates, but by the time you face off against the evil pirate captain you will find yourself alone and near death. With no healing available you are forced to complete this initial encounter as best you can, but to add to the frustration is that each time you die and restart the game you have to wade through all of those tutorial pop-ups again. To make matters worse, each pop-up has a delay so you simply can’t mash the buttons to make them go away quickly, and these pop-up clues are not confined to just the gameplay – each time you go into the interface you get several pages of directions on how to use each menu selection. So whether you are trying to equip that shield for the first or tenth time you are forced to read the help, at least until you can survive and save your game.
To put my frustration into perspective, I actually got pissed off enough that I decided not to review this game. After about 2 hours of not being able to get past the pirate captain I passed this title on to another reviewer who confirmed my findings and promptly gave it back to me. Forced to play this game past the initial battle just so I could write a review I sat down and slashed my way to victory after only another 90-minutes of trying – and yes, those stupid pop-up hints are forever embedded in my subconscious.
Once I got off that damn ship things started to pick-up and I found a rather enjoyable RPG-adventure experience that definitely favored action over stat building. The controls are suited to the game with the B button used for attacks, the A button for location-specific actions, and the Y buttons used to equip items. The right trigger locks on to enemies while the left blocks. To make things even easier there is a handy icon system used to indicate when you can take appropriate actions. Icons like a mouth or eye indicate when you can talk to someone or examine an item. It’s a great system and keeps you from running around tapping the A button in hopes of triggering a response.
Even though you are in control of a single character you can and will form parties by adding NPC’s to your entourage. At any time you may have up to three additional characters at your command and switching between them is amazingly simple and flawlessly executed. Using the D-pad you can change to any member in your party and fight or cast spells, etc. while the remaining characters all act according to the AI parameters (scripts) you have previously setup in the menu system. The scripted AI does a remarkable job of working with your primary character rather than creating extra work or getting in your way. You are still free to manually assume control over anyone. It’s a great party management system, one that certainly needs to be expanded upon and used in other games in this genre.
There are only a few problems associated with this clever multi-member, multi-tasking, party system. As cool as it may sound to bounce around taking control over anyone at anytime there are some issues with suddenly “possessing” a party member in the heat of battle. You might find yourself on the receiving end of a deadly attack that requires immediate action. And let’s not forget you just abandoned your previous character leaving him or her to the whims of chance with the computer AI. And don’t forget that while you can control player “attitudes” you can’t micro-manage their actions. You might stand there and watch the computer rip through your spell list or start using magical items that you had been saving for a rainier day than this.
A Goddess Reborn has plenty of combat, adventure, and magic. As the name might indicate, spellcasting plays a substantial role in this game and you will find yourself “summoning” all sorts of cool and deadly creatures from parts unknown. You can then control these characters and have them do your bidding, which is basically the same as opening up a giant can of “whoop ass”.
No RPG would be complete without the obligatory experience points and stat and level building associated with the genre. This is the only part of the game that can start to become a bit tedious, as you find yourself going through all the various menus checking on party members’ stats, inventory, etc. and keeping everyone fresh and ready for action. The system is still a lot friendly and easier than other RPG games on other system and is perfectly suited for the younger crowd associated with the GameCube.
Cranky Pants was giving the daunting task of taking Volitions original PS2 game and optimizing it for the GameCube. They promised us the world but in reality we got only a country or perhaps a small continent. In side-by-side comparisons with the PS2 I will gladly admit that the framerate is very much improved, maintaining a smooth 60fps throughout much of the game. I actually got queasy during the opening fight sequence on the ships that were rocking back and forth on the stormy seas.
Aside from the improved framerate I would have to say the PS2 version still looks better. The GameCube just seemed to washout the textures. Things were often too bright or not contrasted enough and textures, which were supposed to be smooth, simply looked blurred. There were also a lot of noticeable repeating textures and visible lines where the stretched patterns simply didn’t join at the polygon seams correctly.
The character models and their animation are also not nearly up to GameCube expectations. The main characters are certainly better looking than the supporting cast and assortment of monsters, but the overall animation is simply not fluid or lifelike.
The graphics continue to fall apart further when we start looking at special effects such as lighting a particles used for the spells. You might find a few occasions where some minor dynamic lighting makes a rare appearance, but there is nothing here that does justice to the power of the GameCube or even outshines the PS2 original.
The graphics aren’t bad - far from it. They are actually quite good, but they in no way represent the potential of the GameCube or manage to maintain a level of quality on par with its peers on this or any other system, which is a shame given the additional development time, developer promises and gamers’ expectations.
The background music in A Goddess Reborn is actually quite good but most of the time you are playing against some wonderful ambient environmental noises. You’ll hear things like birds, water, and the wind. It’s all fairly convincing stuff that compliments the graphics and creates a believable atmosphere.
There are plenty of sound effects to go along with all of the combat and an imaginative library of sounds to go along with all of the spells. Each monster has a unique sound that you can actually learn and associate with that creature.
There are also some annoying issues like repeating sounds such as footsteps that don’t seem to change tone or volume as you move about different surfaces. I was also disappointed that there was no Dolby Pro Logic II support and the entire sound presentation has once again been noticeably compressed so it’s not even a match for the PS2 sound presentation.
Summoner: A Goddess Reborn offers 30 expansive levels that will easily keep you busy for just as many hours. There is also a good selection of optional side-quests to add even more gameplay. While the story and the encounters unfold the same each time you play, the manner in which you approach these encounters, the characters you use, and the spells you cast do offer a bit of replay potential. You probably won’t want to replay this game immediately but a few months down the road you might want to revisit it.
As far as RPG-adventures go, Summoner: A Goddess Reborn has a lot going for it, but mainly it’s the only game in town of its kind right now. Evolution Worlds is about the only other game I can think of right now to compete with this title on the Cube, and that game is more of a turn-based RPG styled after Final Fantasy.
If you have a PS2 you can probably find and play better games than this, including the original Summoner 2, but if the GameCube is your system of choice then this will be your adventure of choice. There are a few frustrations to overcome including a tutorial that is continously shoved down your throat, but once you get past these issues there is a lot of fun and challenging gameplay to be had with Maia and her friends.