Review by Turlough
A completists' game that mixes anime and real-time battle? Yes, please.
Summon Night: Swordcraft Story 2 is an RPG in the vein of the popular Tales... series, with emphasis on real-time side scrolling battles and anime style characters. This little game went under the radar on the GBA, but I found it highly enjoyable. While the game has some minor flaws (uneven battle system, only one town), the depth of the storyline and the weapon creation system more than make up for them.
Story: The story and character development is done nicely. The basic story is the same old "evil monster/spirit is awakening and trying to destroy the world" gimmick, but it's done in a unique way: the entire story revolves around a single town and its surrounding area. This may seem like it could hamper the adventurous spirit involved with RPGs, but it does only a little. I only found myself frustrated with the same areas once or twice. Despite the locality, the game keeps you exploring new areas through "warps" and previously-explored areas being expanded. The single town does get a bit tiring, though.
One of the stand out features of the story is the dialogue. Wit, humor, and dramatic plot twists will keep you involved in the story. Usually, I find myself becoming bored with the simple "oh, I have to go to area blah blah and retrieve object A", but SN:SS2 makes the dialogue fun and unique, not only with humor, but with unexpected plot twists that will surprise even the more veteran RPGers. At around 30 hours, the game isn't numbingly long, either. Which is great if you have a whole line of games waiting to be played (like me).
Gameplay: The battle engine is reminiscent of the Tales series, with a two dimensional sideview. Anyone who has played Tales of Phantasia will instantly be familiar with the battles. The random enemy encounters are basically just button mashing, but the boss fights require a bit more thinking (and quick action!). So while it's overly simple for standard fights, you might find yourself dying a few times against some of the harder bosses. The ability to transform into a super-warrior (think Dragon Ball Z, sort of) after a certain point in the game gives it a bit more depth, but not much.
Where the gameplay really shines is in the item/weapon department. By finding ingredients and materials throughout the wild, you can manufacture a seemingly endless array of items. And by finding ore and other materials, you can fashion all types of weapons. The five weapon groups; sword, axe, spear, knuckle, and drill (which seemed like an odd choice), all have their own unique pros and cons, and you can make 40 different weapons of each type (totaling 200). On top of that amazing list of weapons (which completists should drool at), you can "upgrade" each specific weapon once you've made it. For example, you can add a "gale ore" to a sword, and give it a wind attack. There are literally dozens of possible upgrades, from the simplistic (elemental attack) to the utterly wierd (shatter strike, which will break the weapon when the special power is used, but deal massive damage). I can not state enough the depth available with this system.
Another uncommon feature I found was the utter lack of party-joining characters. Besides your summon creature (which acts as your magic support), you can only control one character. This doesn't hamper the gameplay, though. I never felt like I was missing something throughout the game. You have constant dialogue with friends from the village, so its not like Metroid or Zelda where it's a lone warrior against the world. This is offset by the fact that you can choose from two main characters, and four summon creatures, making a total of eight possible "parties". I haven't played through it twice (yet), so I don't know how deep the differences are, but the idea seems promising.
Graphics: The colors are vibrant, and the graphics are on par with the high end of GBA games. Typical RPG designs, but the sprites are done beautifully. The movement is fluent, and each weapon has it's own in-battle design. I'm not too critical of graphics, so this part of a game isn't too important to me. It's definitely pretty to look at, though.
Sound/Music: Typical RPG music, nothing memorable. There are little voice bits during battle, like "Ha!" or "Take that!", which are cool, but again, I'm not too critical about aesthetics. Definitely on par with other handheld RPGs, though. I noticed that the victory music after battles sounds a bit too similar to the popular Final Fantasy victory music, which irked me. But it's not that big of a comparison.
Final Summary: Worth the money, definitely. If you like the Tales series, anime based games, and deep weapon creation, check this game out. If you want an innovative battle system, amazing graphics, or an overly-serious story, look elsewhere.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Summon Night: Swordcraft Story 2 (US, 10/17/06)
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