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   Summon Night: Swordcraft Story - Staff Review  

Story with a Flair
by Anna Marie Neufeld

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Easy to Medium
COMPLETION TIME
15-25 hours
OVERALL

5.0/5

Rating definitions 

   With more and more RPGs coming out each year across multiple systems, it's easy to lose track of how many games come out in a year. There are good games and bad ones alike, but every once in a while one title shines above the rest. Though the Game Boy Advance is in its closing days, there still manages to be some quality titles for it, including Summon Night: Swordcraft Story. Localized by Atlus, it is not a well known title, but those who enjoy portable games will certainly not want to overlook this entry. With a storyline that is playable from either a male or female perspective, a fluid battle system, and enchanting music, this is a well-rounded title that deserves great praise.

   At the start of the game, the player may choose whether they wish to play a male or female protagonist. While the choice is mostly aesthetic, certain people within the game will react to the character in a different fashion depending upon their sex. Next, one of four Guardian Beasts is chosen through a series of questions. Once these selections are complete, grab a smithy's hammer: it's time to create weapons. The crafting system revolves around five elements, and five different types of weapons. Materials are found inside the Labyrinth and other dungeons the main character explores, either by defeating enemies, crushing barrels and crates, or within treasure chests. These materials then break down into varying quantities of the elements needed to actually craft weapons; crafted weapons can be broken down into elements again, at a loss. Recipes are received in a variety of ways, but predominantly through the main character's Master, or by breaking a foe's weapon during combat. Weapons have durability which, if it drops to 0 during one fight, shatters the weapon; this is true both of characters' and enemies' weapon. Durability does reset after each fight, however, so it is unusual for a weapon to break outside of human versus human battles. Three weapons and one accessory can be equipped, although some situations require that only one weapon be equipped.

Multiple Enemies Multiple Enemy Battles

   Once the main character has a weapon, for better or worse, it's time to enter combat. Most battles occur randomly, and will have one to four enemies. The battlefield stretches on a 2D plane from left to right, and enemies and the player can move freely left or right on it. When enemies are defeated, experience is awarded both to the main character and his Guardian Beast. To run away from battle, a player must simply run to one edge or the other, and press in that direction until the bar fills; like most RPGs, there are some battles from which one cannot flee, but there is no actual penalty for leaving a battle. Tapping a direction twice will allow the player to run in that direction, and pressing up will allow the character to jump. The A button is used to wield whatever weapon is equipped, and repeatedly pressing the button, holding it down, or tapping a direction at the same time will trigger special attacks depending upon the weapon type. B button is at first set to block, which reduces or removes all damage from many attacks. Using the R shoulder button changes what the B button does, cycling between up to five support skills that are equipped by the Guardian Beast; they don't enter battle per se but stay in the wings until they are called upon. These can be healing items or spells that the Beast has learned over time. At first, it will only learn spells related to its element - Kutty will learn Wind spells first - but as they attain higher levels, not only will they learn to use a skill more times in battle, they will also pick up spells outside of their element as well. Regardless of what support skills are available, these skills can be used a maximum of five times during battle in any combination. Because players must carefully choose which skills to use during a battle: going gung-ho on attack spells will leave no chance for a healing spell to be cast if the character has used up all five charges. Last, the L shoulder button changes between weapons the protagonist has, if there is more than one equipped. The combat system is very easy to learn, has many ways to master it, and is oddly addictive despite a seemingly simple exterior.

   While all a player's time won't be spent in the initial labyrinth, dungeon crawling is the mainstay of the game. SN strikes an excellent balance between time spent fighting, exploring, and fleshing out the story. The game can be completed in as little as 15 hours, though those that wish to be thorough and take advantage of all the side quests and the multitude of weapon recipes available will likely find their time creeping upwards of 20 hours. This of course does not include the additional section of the Labyrinth that is unlocked upon completing the main storyline, nor does it include the time a player can spend in a special tournament available only after the credits roll. How difficult the game will be depends primarily upon which Guardian Beast a player has, and their choice of weapons, especially during tournament fights.

   The localization of Summon Night is, for the most part, well done. Each character has their own personality, and the dialogue progresses in a lighthearted, amusing way, despite some of the serious issues that occur. Some spelling errors are evident, but they don't detract from the meaning of the game. Other than some small errors, the interface is flawless. Menus are easy to navigate, an important factor in breaking down materials to then forge into weapons. The interface during battle is also very easy to navigate, and all the pertinent information needed during battle is accessible at all times. There are many save spots within the dungeons, and the game can be suspended at any time outside of battle, a great boon for those who only have short intervals to play. Teleporters through the main Labyrinth makes returning to a floor previously visited an easy task. Overall, the interface and localization are done well with only small slip ups.

Guardian Beast One of the Four Guardian Beasts

   The storyline comes as somewhat of a surprise; it's rare to see a solid, fast-paced plot in a dungeon crawling title. Unlike most games which simply toss you into combat time and again for no reason, each time the main character ventures forth there's actually a reason for them to do so. This is a pleasant change from the usual monotony of going from one battle to another. It does becomes apparent as the game flies by that the graphics are a few years old, but they have aged gracefully and the game still looks very pretty, and the light anime-like style fits with the over-the-top style that drives the game. The music has stood the test of time in a superior fashion, sounding simply amazing. The variety of sound effects help tell the story with a light tone. There are many nifty tracks that follow a player outside the game in a very pleasant manner. Both visually and aurally, the game delivers a solid package.

   For those looking for a fun game to play either on the go or just because, Summon Night is a wonderful choice. It's easy to pick up and play, but hard to put down thanks to its addictive qualities. With many different choices to make in the game, it also houses some major replay value thanks to the variety of weapons and the diversity of the Guardian Beasts. With a sequel following in late 2006, there's no time like the present to go out and grab this title, which any RPGamer's collection isn't quite complete without.

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