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Summon Night: Twin Age (DS) artwork

Summon Night: Twin Age (DS) review

"Even the concern that she'll run out of magic is nullified by a skill that allows her to regenerate it on the fly—only a few seconds of charging are required, which is inconvenient but generally not lethal thanks to the invulnerability—meaning that once you progress to a certain point you won't even have to worry about purchasing restorative items. Comrades slain will revive themselves after a bit, as well, so if you're reduced to just Reiha you can play tag until the situation improves, or even stand next to the enemy repeatedly using skills so that it can't hurt you."

Not all sports cars are Mustangs and not all Mustangs are sports cars. That's my interpretation of one of the key themes in Summon Night: Twin Age for the Nintendo DS, the latest in the series to enjoy a North American localization effort by the industrious folks from Atlus. Of course, the actual plot--a treatise on the value of tolerance and respect for your fellow creature--has nothing to do with automobiles and instead relies upon not-particularly-original genre staples such as spirits, summon beasts, humans and monsters. That's okay, but the unassuming narrative has a lot of weight to carry on its shoulders.

As the story goes, two youngsters named Reiha and Aldo (whom I renamed to Sassy and Bruce just because I could) have spent much of their childhood on a secluded island, raised by a race of floppy-eared people known locally as the Kascuza. There they have enjoyed seven years filled with magic and adventure that most kids will agree sounds pretty freaking fantastic. One day, monsters attack the island. Before long, the youths are involved in a huge quest to find out why.

Summon Night: Twin Age features what at first seems like one of the most cliché plots you could ever imagine. Kids spearheading a diverse group of adventurers and fighting an evil menace? Some of you must be yawning already. But honestly, it's well-executed here and downright interesting at times. Imagine that! The bickering races are what makes it work. Humans on the mainland don't trust the Kazcuza (calling them demi-beasts) and that sentiment is returned without reserve. Alone, that conflict wouldn't mean much, but it's woven with more plot strands in the form of the afore-mentioned summon beasts and even the spirits. A lot of manipulation occurs and no single member of any race is likely to behave exactly as predicted. There's some genuine depth.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the game pays less attention to the finer points of RPG mechanics and instead focuses on presenting an experience that wouldn't have been out of place on a console. That's admirable, and there's no arguing with the volume and quality of the voice acting or the beautiful artwork that adorns discussions and dungeon environments. Narrative and technical strengths don't stop Summon Night: Twin Age from feeling like an introductory title, though. A person gets the impression that it was meant to appeal to people who perhaps would have been put off by the complexity in classic role-playing games or even past installments in this franchise. The streamlined approach will prove off-putting to some and will serve as a welcome switch to others, while the remainder probably won't even notice. Mostly, it comes down to how you like your combat.

Summon Night: Twin Age is controlled exclusively by the stylus. Menus are comprised of a series of simple icons and there's even an 'exit' window when you want to cancel out an action. Movement also is handled in this manner. If you want to cross the screen, you simply tap your destination (or you can drag the device along your desired route in those rare instances where more precision proves necessary). Treasure chests are opened in a similar fashion; just tap and watch.

When you're battling monsters, this control scheme is initially confusing. The problem is that there's a delay between your decision to do something and that action on-screen. Even though everything unfolds about like it would if the d-pad were at your disposal, there's a vague sense of disconnect because tapping an enemy doesn't immediately have any effect. Characters hesitate briefly before they carry out any command, which you'll find is especially true of Reiha and her long-range spellcasting attacks. Physical attacks on the same adversary will continue until it is defeated or you input a new command. Skills must be re-entered each time you wish to use them.

This system makes sense from a common-sense standpoint (the game would have been no challenge at all if you could just rapidly tap every monster in sight and they all screamed and died), but it's also the slightest bit frustrating because it seems caught between action-oriented games like The Legend of Zelda and turn-based fare such as the early Final Fantasy titles. You'll probably have difficulty until you come to grips with the unique dynamic, after which point the game does an about face and suddenly becomes--and remains--too simple.

Battles that initially seemed fierce gradually evolve into mundane encounters that can easily be survived simply by having Reiha run circles around any hazards and make frequent stops to cast healing spells. While she's standing still and chanting, she's basically impervious to attacks, plus you can beef up her skills to the point where even the most vicious of beasts won't be able to deal out any damage that she can't almost immediately repair. Even the concern that she'll run out of magic is nullified by a skill that allows her to regenerate it on the fly--only a few seconds of charging are required, which is inconvenient but generally not lethal thanks to the invulnerability--meaning that once you progress to a certain point you won't even have to worry about purchasing restorative items. Comrades slain will revive themselves after a bit, as well, so if you're reduced to just Reiha you can play tag until the situation improves, or even stand next to the enemy repeatedly using skills so that it can't hurt you. Victory is practically a foregone conclusion.

Of course, you don't begin with the skills that make Reiha so handy to have around. Until you have them, there are places where the game can be downright difficult. That in turn makes evident some of the game's underlying flaws, such as lengthy plot sequences that you can't skip (only fast-forward by holding the 'R' and 'B' buttons together). I say that from experience, since it took me nearly ten tries to bring down the boss of the sixth chapter. Each time, I had to sit through not only the standard pre-battle banter so typical of games like this, but also through a heart-warming examination of the protagonists as even younger children.

The skill system itself is actually pretty cool, for what it's worth. As you build levels, you gain points that you can then devote toward more varied attacks and better defense. Reiha and Aldo--whom you can switch between at the tap of an icon, even in the midst of battle--can master numerous elemental attacks. Some require poking at on-screen foes and others will follow a path you trace with the stylus for massive damage. It's all very cool and you can swap abilities in and out so that they're accessible using icons that line the screen (no menu diving in the middle of a heated battle; nice touch, that). The real problem is that a lot of that simply isn't necessary. All you have to do is stick to a few key abilities and you'll topple any resistance thrown your way.

In the end, the biggest problem with Summon Night: Twin Age is that despite its available depth and gorgeous presentation, what most players will find in their quest for convenience is a fairly straight-forward affair with a cliché but well-executed story serving as its key attraction. There's a lot to like here that should appeal to genre newcomers and veterans alike, but it generally feels breezy enough that you'll probably only want to play an hour or two at a time. If you're cool with that--keeping in mind that this is a handheld title, after all--then this is a good investment. The masochistic among you who are looking for an eye-straining epic that draws you in and won't let go... should probably seek your addiction elsewhere.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (June 21, 2008)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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espiga posted June 21, 2008:

Great reviewn Venter. I was wondering how this game was going to turn out, being a fan of the three GBA intallments and what little bit of the Playstation ones I've played.Looks like this is going to be one I pass on.

Oh yeah, and in that paragraph that begins with "unfortunately," that opening sentence reads weird as FUCK. I'd copy+paste it but I'm on my phone.

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