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Summoner (PlayStation 2) artwork

Summoner (PlayStation 2) review

"The dialogue gives the game an illusion of vastness. Take Murod, for example. The only time your party meets him is fairly late in the game when you fight him to the death. But it FEELS like he's a much more substantial character simply due to all the conversations you have that describe his character by detailing how he usurped his throne and plans to build an immense tower to the skies to conquer heaven. You may not know the dude, but by the time you meet him, you have more than enough reasons to send him to the afterlife."

After my first couple nights playing Summoner, if someone would have told me I'd wind up getting a fair amount of enjoyment from this THQ-published PlayStation 2 RPG, I'd have laughed long and loud right in that person's face. The opening segments of this game provided an experience that caused me to barely last a couple hours before NEEDING to shut it off for the rest of the night.

You take control of a chap named Joseph who wakes up one fine morning to see enemy hordes destroying the remote Medevan town he calls home and slaughtering any villager within reach of their swords. What follows is a tutorial stage where Joseph walks around town, killing soldiers who apparently don't believe in the "united we stand, divided we fall" creed, considering how scattered they are. Very convenient, as he'd be quickly overwhelmed by anything resembling a cohesive effort. However, the tiresome series of one-on-one battles provided are child's play.

As you might guess, those guys were specifically looking for Joseph. He was born with the mark of the summoner, but a youthful screw-up resulted in him summoning a demon too powerful to control. The monster obliterated his hometown, causing him to renounce his powers and hide in the now-destroyed isolated village. This means nothing to Orenian Emperor Murod -- a power-hungry dictator whose only fear is rooted in a prophecy saying the one who bears the mark of the summoner will end his tyranny. It doesn't matter that Joseph doesn't want his power; Murod still plans to remove him from the equation even if he apparently is risking war with Medeva because his armies are pillaging that land in search of the summoner.

After escaping his village, Joseph travels to the capital of Medeva, Lenele, to seek out the old man who initially trained him as a summoner and the game crashes to a halt. This is a vast city divided into many large districts. In theory, what you do is simple: make your way to the entrance to the palace, get refused admittance and meet Flece, a thief who helps you sneak in via an alternate path that (fortunately) involves a lot of fighting. But, on the way to that point, there are a lot of people offering sidequests. Since the experience and items you get for these is very helpful in the early going, odds are you'll want to do a few of them. This will cause you to notice two of the game's biggest flaws. First, the camera stinks. Even pulled all the way back, it's usually at an angle that makes it tough to see far away. It's only unbearable a bit later in the game, when you control Flece as she attempts to sneak through the palace without alerting guards, but it's still annoying just about all of the time. Second, the load times are horrendous. Every time you go from one zone in this game to another, count on at least a 30-second wait. That's never a good thing, but it is excruciatingly unbearable when you're traveling back-and-forth between two or three districts of Lenele to complete a handful of sidequests.

Fortunately, you'll EVENTUALLY get through this ordeal and start venturing on plot-related quests outside of Lenele. It was at this point that Summoner started to grow on me. Much like more modern games such as Dragon Age: Origins or Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, this game's world is steeped in history. You'll hear tales of epic battles between gods, of mystical prophesies, of great battles. The dialogue gives the game an illusion of vastness. Take Murod, for example. The only time your party meets him is fairly late in the game when you fight him to the death. But it FEELS like he's a much more substantial character simply due to all the conversations you have that describe his character by detailing how he usurped his throne and plans to build an immense tower to the skies to conquer heaven. You may not know the dude, but by the time you meet him, you have more than enough reasons to send him to the afterlife.

Fighting also can be exhilarating at times. There's a simple combo system where, if you time things properly, the character you control can chain together consecutive attacks on enemies. When you have a full four-person party, this often is unnecessary, as your team will be potent enough to handle most foes with ease. However, there are a couple of places where you'll be controlling a depleted party and needing any advantage you can muster. Late in the game, you'll have to invade a city taken over by the forces of evil. The leaders of these forces were smart enough to know that Joseph and Flece would eventually make their way there, so they placed protective wards at the entrance to the city. For the mission to be a success, the summoner and his top sidekick have to sit by and watch their two teammates succeed on their own. This leads to an unbelievably challenging (and long) dungeon where you only control muscular tank Jehkar and frail magician Rosalind against tons of liches, frozen skeletons, mummies and other powerful foes. It took all of my skill to chain attacks and lure monsters away from groups to make it through...and I still found myself reloading from previous saves more here than the rest of the game put together!

I had a good amount of fun with Summoner, even if it was flawed, but I find it hard to recommend the game because of HOW flawed it is. Alert readers may have noticed that, despite the game's title, I haven't talked much about the act of summoning yet. Most of the critters Joseph gains control over aren't particularly great and the most powerful one is slow as sin. Also, Joseph temporarily sacrifices half his hit points to give the creature life, which essentially forces you to choose between one powerful jack-of-all-trades character or two half-strength allies. There were a few instances where I found summoning to be useful, but for most of the game, I was perfectly content with my regular four-person party.

There also could have been a few more places to visit. During the final stretch, you'll find yourself re-visiting one location after another to capture demons running rampant over the world. The dungeon housing the final boss is the exact same one that you ventured into with only Jekhar and Rosalind a few hours earlier, but with a handful of new enemies. Defeating said boss was just like getting to him -- a long, tedious process...but not one that was particularly challenging. For all the enjoyment I had during the middle portions of the game, I had an equal amount of boredom as it concluded because I was simply fighting new foes in old locales.

Summoner must have been an ambitious title, considering that it came out in late 2000. It provides a vast mythology and tons of quests for the thorough adventurer. There's even a couple of neat plot twists and for once, a villain actually has a legitimate, intelligent reason for NOT killing the hero when he has the chance. It's the sort of game that could have been really great if it'd be released much later in the PS2's life. Instead, it was one of the oldest (if not the oldest) RPG for that system. The graphics are primitive and there's a good bit of pop-up, the camera is uncooperative and loading times are near-unbearable. There's also all sorts of little glitches, such as enemies perpetually spinning in circles or never noticing you...even as you're hacking them to bits. Enough was done right to make it a reasonably fun experience, but I wouldn't suggest it to anyone who's not addicted to RPGs.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (August 05, 2010)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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wolfqueen001 posted August 06, 2010:

This is a pretty cool review once it gets going, but uh... It's Elder Scrolls, not Enchanted Scrolls, hahaha. =P

I think I remember this game being reviewed on the old Toonami program years and years ago and I remember being intrigued by it. I'd completely forgotten about it until now, though I am sad to see that the game wasn't as good as I originally remember hearing.
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bloomer posted August 06, 2010:

However, Summoner 2 rocks.

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