February 13, 2001
Prior to the release of the Playstation 2 around the world one of the most promising games was Volition's Summoner. Adding to the interest in the game was the news that THQ had bought out the developers, Volition. Summoner is a Role Playing Game, and among the first on the Playstation 2 here in Australia. After the disappointing Orphen: Scion of Sorcery from Activision RPG fans have put a lot of faith in this title.
Summoner is a fantasy role-playing game set in a world which is inhabited by mystical creatures. A summoner is like a wizard who can call forth demons, elemental creatures and servants with magic. Each summoner is born with a mark on their hands, although the reason for this has been long forgotten. This story follows Joseph who was born with the power to summon demons. He resented this power and tried to suppress it. However, when the armies of Orenia invade is lands Yago, Josephs mentor, urges Joseph to use his powers and search for the ancient Summoner's rings. The beginning of the game sees you take control of Joseph, and later on either of the three friends you encounter.
These three friends join you relatively early in the game and will all help you on your quest. The first friend is Flece who is a cunning thief and cynical rogue. The second friend is Jekhar whose family perished when Joseph summoned a demon long ago, and now the warrior seeks revenge. Begrudgingly, he helps Joseph on his quest. Finally, Rosalind is novice of the Order of Iona and yearns to become a mage-priest and guardian of Iona's divine scrolls. The daughter of Yago, Rosalind is jealous of Joseph's power and hates her father for devoting his life to the Summoner's cause.
While the storyline may sound a little confusing, it's not. The game involves several intricately woven storylines throughout the game. There is a lot of text to read in this game, not unlike Square's Final Fantasy, but it is interesting with both important and non important (but still interesting) information.
The combat system works surprisingly well with a lot of similarities to Vagrant Story on the PSOne. The combat is both real-time and turn based and is quite exciting to participate in. The chain attacks work very well and requires precision timing to pull off properly. During the battles Jopseph, when he becomes experience enough, can summon magic and other creatures. One of the most impressive aspects of Summoner is the way in which experience points are distributed. Unlike most RPG's where the points are distributed to the characters which inflict the most damage, which is often the strongest character to begin with, you can choose who gets the experience points.
Summoner has some massive game worlds. The cities are huge and you will soon find yourself getting quite lost, and loosing track of what you should be doing. Unfortunately moving into these cities often results in loading delays of over 10 seconds, just long enough to become annoying..
Summoner is definitely not an easy or short RPG. It will take you days to complete the game while the number of quests and sub quests is numerous enough to keep the game interesting. If your after a game to keep you playing until the arrival of Gran Turismo 3 and Red Faction in May.
While the story, gameplay and music throughout this title are more then adequate, the graphics are not. For such a powerful system is pains me to see so much draw in and occasional slowdown. At times the buildings are being drawn in literally meters away from the characters. The frame rate drops are also quite considerable with the game dropping from about 30fps all the way down to 12 or 15 frames per second. Part of the reason for the extreme slowdown could be the full screen anti-aliasing in the game. It was much talked about when the game was announced, and with so few games using it to date Summoner promised something special. Perhaps is would have been best left out after seeing the resulting draw-in and frame rate. It's distracting and becomes annoying after a short while. On the other hand the amount of detail in the game world is quite amazing with some amazing special effects during the spells. The characters themselves look a little on the block side although the animations are solid.
One area which can really make a game stand out is with the sound. Musically Summoner is quite good, especially in the cut scenes. It's dramatic and quite epic in places. Unfortunately the music while wondering through the towns is average and the sound effects can only be described as under whelming. Even through my amplifier and surround sound speakers I was left wanting more. The speech for once is quite good with none of the cheesy voices found in so many games from Japan.
Summoner is a fairly solid Role Playing Game, which disappoints with some terrible draw in and slowdown. Unfortunately Volition look like they have rushed the title to get it out by Christmas in America, and the delay in PAL territories doesn't look to have done too much to strengthen the title. On a brighter note Summoner is very lengthy, has some great storylines and will provide a challenge to all RPG fans. If your after a RPG on the Playstation 2 this looks like your only decent offering for a few months at least. Definitely worth a look.