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Summoner: A Goddess Reborn

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Volition / Cranky Pants
Publisher:  THQ
# of Players:  1
Genre:  RPG
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  7-2-03

RPG gaming addicts with a loyalty to Nintendo have shown themselves to be justifiably upset at the lack of RPGs in release for the GameCube.  Several of Nintendo’s earlier systems have been home to some of the greatest RPGs to grace any console to date.  Unfortunately, that trend appears to have come to a halt in recent days, with only two (count ‘em) RPGs, both Zelda games, for the N64, and one additional Zelda game, just released, for the GameCube.  Thankfully, THQ has stepped up to the plate, offering RPG fans something to tide them over this dry spell with their port of Summoner: A Goddess Reborn.

Summoner: A Goddess Reborn is a port of a Playstation 2 game with some tweaks to both graphics and storyline.   Even though it most likely looks and plays a hell of a lot smoother than it would on its buggy, low rent progenitor system, you can still tell it was a PS2 port in little ways:

  • Character models don’t seem to support much detail;
  • There is a noticeable slowdown in framerate during battles where there are several characters on screen to the point that action stops for a moment;
  • Real-time cut scenes sound muted and over-compressed, while FMV, in complete contrast to the former, blare raucously loud through your poor, overtaxed speakers.

Summoner starts off with the gamer playing as Maia, Queen of Halassar.  Maia is thought to be “the goddess Laharadh” reborn and will be the one to heal the “Tree of Eleh” (are you following this?).  Along the way, Maia has to find something called the “Summoning Stone” (ahh, witchcraft, nothing like it, eh?) by dint of which she’ll be able to summon (or “evoke”), or more actually transform herself into (or “invoke”), different types of uh…let’s call them “monsters” (if you will) for brief periods of time to aid her in her quest.  Uh-huh.  Sounds like something that plus size girl in the goth outfit from your comparative religion class came up with on one of those dateless Friday nights.

The real scoop, for those of us not shackled to the heels of those crappy Mercedes Lackey novels you always find at yard sales and bargain bins, is this.  After some wordlessly incomprehensible mumbo jumbo involving some Harry Pothead-type planting a big-ass tree to the tune of some lousy Scorpion King style music, you get about 10 completely unrelated minutes of Medieval Witchblade kicking ass on a pirate ship.  Evidently they couldn’t figure out when and where to set the damn thing.  Thankfully, things improve rapidly from here on out, as you move into a Tomb Raider inspired pseudo-Cambodian tropical ruins motif.

The plot, such as it is, stinks too much of Scorpion King for my taste, with its faux-Egyptian/Arabian motif.    Additionally, the lead character has a weird, chubby face with an irritatingly omnipresent smirk, making her look a bit too much like Lucy Lawless for my Xena-hating tastes.

As you progress through the game, Maia finds more suckers…err, companions to join in her mad quest.  You’re only able to control one character at a time during fight sequences, but you are able to switch between them at will.  The switch can be jarring and take a few seconds to adjust to, but it is possible to master to a reasonable degree.  Most of the time, though, you’ll wind up sticking to one main character and hoping that the computer will have the rest of your party fighting with some measure of intelligence and skill.  Of course, I found myself spending a great deal of time reviving said computer controlled members of my team; in fact,  I found this happening a bit too often for my liking.  In fact, you will find yourself spending more of the game casting “heal” on yourself (or members of your party) than actually exploring or fighting.  Combat and collision detection are a bit rough around the edges, and a bit difficult to get used to for those, like myself, who are far more familiar with console RPGs than their PC counterparts.  I can’t speak for PC gamers, but as a long term console gamer, I find it notable that Summoner is probably the first game in history where you’ll have to learn to actually use the block function.

You’re also able to leave your party and travel through the level solo if you so desire.  Though I can’t really imagine why you’d want to do that voluntarily, there are times when you will be forced to do so in order to complete a puzzle, such as disabling a prison with three components which must be disabled simultaneously ala Resident Evil Zero.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Summoner is, once again (sigh), its camera.  Not only does it swing wildly and get lost when close to buildings, trees, or anything whatsoever that could conceivably block your view; but it appears entirely incapable of withdrawing enough to allow one to see everything that should be in view, realistically.   Let’s not beat around the bush here: the cameras, all too often an irritation in sloppily-designed 3D games, are downright horrible in certain areas; none worse than on the ship at the beginning of the game.  In most cases, you can’t see whether you’re coming or going, dropped items, new enemies, etc.  It can literally be impossible to see what’s right in front of you, particularly if it resides slightly above you or below waist level.  In other words, most times, you’re flying blind.  The “eye” icon (which is supposed to let you know that there’s something worth looking at or reading) proves extremely difficult to see, particularly when in motion.  More often than you could possibly imagine, you will be standing right in front of an enemy – and never see them until they hit you!

Summoner also ascribes to an odd gaming paradigm: namely, gameplay consists of several required quests supplemented by a fair number of optional quests which, if you don’t mind the multilinear modular format this implies, should keep you busy messing around with the game for quite a while.  That said, I didn’t find the story all that compelling, and thus found myself not half so involved in the game as I would have liked or expected.  Despite the module paradigm, everything felt very straightforward, even outside the gamer’s personal sphere of influence therein (speaking in terms of individual gamer choices impacting results); which leaves one feeling like a passenger, just coasting along for the ride.  And if the ride’s not all that exciting, well…

One interesting (if hardly exciting) aspect of the game is how you are forced to perform mundane duties as Queen of the realm.  When you return to your castle and kingdom between quests, you’ll have to perform your royal duties and make decisions that face your kingdom, be it what to do with traitors (exile, imprisonment, or death) or something more altruistic (if cynical) such as providing money to certain causes to raise the people’s morale.

Wholly apart from actual quirks of gameplay or design, Summoner proves to be a rather strange little game.  Case in point: the voice acting.  While not particularly bad or poorly acted, there are some very odd quirks and choices of phrase in the vocalization department.  In yet another nod to Harry Pothead (or perhaps Lara Croft), bad, fake British accents abound, some more grating than others – though the game otherwise appears to be set in some sort of Egyptian/Arabian desert realm…albeit one with tropical Cambodian jungles nearby (huh?).  This multicultural mélange gets even weirder when you take into account that the lead character is supposed to be a goddess of the region (and therefore, couldn’t have been traveling through from somewhere else).  So what the hell does Britain have to do with this?

All that pales, however, when one takes into account some even more bizarre, anachronistic turns of phrase these already place-and-time-disoriented characters come out with.  My personal favorite was when our ostensibly British pirates voice some very Lodi, New Jersian lowbrow Italianisms: namely “Hey, I’ve got your prophecy right here!”  I’m not kidding, either.  Aah, you can almost see Prince Charles grab his balls and spit.

There’s even a guy voicing what appears to be a girl, which should give our small but vocal transgendered audience some glimmer of pride in their odd, yet irreversible surgical decision.  Like many drag queens, s/he comes complete with colorfully absurd nomenclature: “Sangria”.  Wonder if s/he comes with the fruit?  (Sorry, just couldn’t resist that one.  You know I love ya, guys).

Overall, Summoner is not a bad attempt at an RPG, but feels extremely buggy and rushed nonetheless.  Of course, I’m sure it’s an enormous improvement over the PS2 version, but that goes without saying…

Highs:

  • It’s an RPG for the GameCube.  It’s not a Zelda game.  While not saying much in and of itself, this alone may be enough for hardcore fans.
  • All things considered, it’s not that bad a game; in fact, some parts were actually enjoyable.
  • Sure to be a huge improvement over the PS2 version.

Lows:

  • Cameras completely out of control sometimes, with a pronounced tendency to jerk about wildly and no option to adjust properly.  Enemies and items tend to remain out of sight, despite the fact that you’re right on top of them.
  • Fair to middling graphics, somewhere between Bloodrayne and Eternal Darkness
  • Use of keys is completely counter-intuitive.  Doesn’t open doors automatically or ask you if you want to use the key: you have to select it in place of your heal or summon “quick use” function (Y), use it…then re-select the function you had there in the first place, or it’s gone the next time you need it on the fly!
  • Nothing like digital over-processing.  The soundtrack is chock full of digital whine and over-compressed “zinging”, which gets really annoying even at lower volumes.

Final Verdict:

Summoner is a diverting, if oftentimes-bizarre peace offering from Nintendo to frustrated RPG gaming fans in need of a fix.  Gameplay comes off as some unholy hybrid of Eternal Darkness and Baldur’s Gate (thankfully without the latter’s impersonal mile-high camerawork).  A strange mix of console and PC RPG, it stands an equal chance at wooing and putting off fans on both sides of the fence.  As mentioned earlier, Summoner is a port of a PS2 game, and while better than the usual substandard PS2-port fare, it shows.  While tweaks have almost certainly been made (no evident pixilation, jagged edges or lack of rendering here), enough time wasn’t taken to fix camera issues, and graphically speaking, it sits uncomfortably below par in relation to other games in current release for the GameCube.  While definitely worth a rental, a purchase is a far iffier proposition, in terms of value.  What did you expect from a developer with a name like “Cranky Pants”?

Overall Score: 6.5

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