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Game Profile
Cranky Pants
January 31, 2004
Summoner 2

 Written by Ilan Mejer  on March 11, 2003

Full Review: She is the Queen of Halassar. She is Laharah reborn. She is the Child of Prophecy. She is the Summoner.

Well, the GameCube's RPG library is rounding out quite nicely. Sega powerfully covered both online and traditional offline RPGs and the GCN's library has been further augmented by titles like Evolution Worlds. Now, the GameCube acquires its first real-time, action-based RPG in the form of Summoner ? A Goddess Reborn (herein Summoner 2). To clarify, Summoner GCN is not a new game, but is instead a significantly improved port of Summoner 2, which was released on the Playstation 2 some months ago. The original game, like its predecessor, was developed by the talented group at Volition, and Cranky Pants Games was contracted to handle the GCN port, the same team responsible for the up and coming GCN adaptation of Red Faction II.

Summoner for the GCN follows the story of Maia, the young queen of the troubled nation of Halassar. She has been established as both the Child of Prophecy and the Queen of Halassar, by the vanished Goddess Laharah's High Priestess, Surdama Kir. Fans of the first game will find many references to Joshua's quest in the original game, as well as a complete reworking of the primary religions and mythology, from the perspective of this side of the world, of course. It is exceedingly satisfying to read about Joshua's exploits on the continent of Medeva in books, and understand better the perspective of those he was fighting against. Knowing that the first game did not exactly get the optimal exposure they wanted, Volition wisely crafted this game's story to perfectly incorporate the events of the first game as a part of the back-story and history. Consequently, Summoner 2 remains easily understood and enjoyed by newcomers, and offer that wonderful sense of rediscovery that sequels often strive for when experienced by a returning fan.

Continuing Skies of Arcadia's happy trend of actually improving upon a game sometime during the porting procedure, Cranky Pants Games has seen fit to clean up some lingering technological issues that marred the PS2 version. However, unlike Sega's Dreamcast to GCN port, they focused strictly on the technical and opted to keep the content from Summoner 2 intact. The game now runs in high resolution, with mostly reworked textures to compliment the upgrade. The character models for Maia and one of her main companions have been completely redone. A whole new lighting and particle effect system was implemented into the game, truly spicing up the flashy visual element, particularly later on in the adventure. Finally, the frame rate was bumped up to hit the slick 6-0, though like in the PS2 game, remains inconsistent, dropping up to a dozen or so fps during congested confrontations. It should be noted that some textures remain in its native low rez PS2 format, and consequently look garish by comparison. However, the juiced up frame rate also results in quicker and more exciting combat sequences!

Summoner ? A Goddess Reborn is modeled after classic computer RPG (CRPG) conventions, much like those used in developing AD&D games and the N64 title Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage. The story and world is rather typical of high-fantasy Forgotten Realms novels, as are the character races, personalities, and dialogue. It may seem rather clich? to those who were weaned on such books and/or CRPGs, but is a style that is wonderfully represented in Summoner, and is almost completely lacking on the console end of gaming anyway. Much like classic CRPGs, character development is heavily influenced by statistics and both passive and active skills, both completely customizable by the user after every level up. It is a refreshing change from most console RPGs, as it requires an over-arcing strategy and a much more hands on approach than is usually required from your typical Final Fantasy clones.

The original game utilized a strategic though cumbersome, satisfying though flawed turn based system. Summoner 2 drops this in favor of a fast paced real-time engine. The actual character development is very similar and is an expanded and tweaked version of that incorporated by the first game. So the real-time nature of the combat has not in any way sacrificed the strategy and thought required in developing your characters, their statistics, and wealth of magic spells and attack skills. Summoner 2's story focuses on Maia, though your party may be composed of three from about eight total members. Each character has his or her own complete set of attributes, magic (if applicable), passive (always on) skills, active skills (used in-game in real-time), and weapons preferences. Learning all of the combinations of skills and characters requires quite a bit of patience and dedication, but can be quite rewarding.

You may assume control of any of the characters, in and out of combat, in and out of party mode at just about any time. Though you can set your companions' AI to one of half a dozen or so pre-built routines, sometimes a certain enemy encounter requires the hands on approach of a human player with human strategies. You can quickly and easily switch between your characters, and assuming you are actually familiar with their weapons and skills, may tailor your own fighting preferences to that character's abilities. It is a fast-paced, challenging, and frantic system that is as fun and strategic as it is rewarding. It can be disorientating to jump from character to character, since the camera and perspective will rapidly break away from the character you are relegating to computer control, but it is nothing that cannot be handled after an hour or two of practice.

One of the greatest things attached to the 3D era of gaming is an added and hitherto unparalleled opportunity for world building, player immersion, and exploration. In this, Summoner 2 succeeds well beyond the expectations founded by the amazing first game. Summoner 2's ?tutorial? mode begins aboard Maia's ship, as she chases the pirate Prince Nero, seeking the recovery of a religious and historical tome imperative to Maia's ascension as queen and Goddess. In the middle of the ocean, during a fierce thunderstorm, her ship is raided and boarded by Nero's pirates, and the game essentially throws you into a large melee that involves you and your crew fighting against pirate swordsmen and their mage companions, before facing off against the pirate captain. Not only is this a rather difficult encounter, but it also leads into the game's first area, the lush tropical jungle isle that Nero calls his base. It is a stunning introduction to a RPG epic rife with equally well-realized and engaging locales to explore.

Without a doubt, Summoner 2 features some of the most inspired artistic direction from a Western game. Thankfully, the technology is mostly as competent as the aesthetics are varied and pleasing. The characters themselves look great. Furthermore, they animate very nicely too, particularly Maia's new model. In the PS2 original, Maia looked low key and worn, whereas here she dresses sharply and animates with what can only be called an imperial (and sexy) swagger to her motions. The actual civilized architecture of Summoner 2 fails to realize the vast and complicated world that was introduced in the original game (and contributed to its horrible frame rate), but Summoner 2 greatly exceeds its predecessor's realization of the rest of the world. Simply, Halassar and the surrounding regions look like real life locations and never fail to convince or immerse you. All in all, it is a stunning achievement; though a very noticeable chug occasionally mars it, however nowhere near as drastically or as often as the PS2 version of the game that never actually approached 60 fps.

Summoner 2's audioscape is not quite as impressive as the rest of the package. The music is competently handled, particularly during important story sequences. However, the majority of the ?music? that accompanies the exploration sequences of the game is largely of an ambient nature. In that, the music actually succeeds quite well in setting the mood, incorporating a broad range of environmental sound effects to stimulate the senses. Unfortunately, once you have heard one plodding tribal beat, you've heard them all, rendering them wholly forgettable in the grand scheme of things. The music never actually picks up and accompanies the story in the epic capacity it undeniably should.

The sound effects that accompany combat and other related actions are spot on and suitable. Once again, nothing to write home about, nothing that will make you stand up and take notice, but they get the job done realistically. Old school Daggerfall fiends (Morrowind's 1996 predecessor) might be amused to recall the sound effect that accompanies Maia's Heal skill, as it was overused in that classic as a spell effect also. The game shines in the one audio aspect that is most commonly butchered, that is, the voice acting. Like its predecessor, Summoner 2 utilizes a well-trained and well-directed cast, one that powerfully and believably delivers its lines to great effect. Sadly, due no doubt to the reduced capacity of the GameCube proprietary disc, Cranky Pants Games opted to compress the FMV sequences and voices extensively, resulting in significant artifacting during the former, and an intolerable tinny quality to the latter. One can't help by wonder how things would have turned out differently had Cranky Pants utilized Factor 5's new DivX compression tools to handle that aspect of the port. Perhaps surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the game is voiced, (with subtitles available).

Bottom Line
With a main quest clocking in at ten to twelve hours, and dozens upon dozens of engaging, rewarding, and relevant side quests and objectives, Summoner ? A Goddess Reborn for the Nintendo GameCube offers up a robust and tantalizing 25 (or so)-hour action RPG romp, one so rarely balanced and properly achieved. Summoner 2 is a game that can appeal to both adventure and RPG fans, and represents a professional and satisfying melding of the two game styles. Finally, Summoner 2 is an excellent companion to such games as Skies of Arcadia Legends, Evolution Worlds, and Phantasy Star Online, and should be a part of any fan's budding GCN RPG library.

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