Replay Value: 7.2
Back in the fall of 2000, Summoner was one of the most anticipated launch titles for the Playstation 2. However, numerous glaring flaws turned what could have been a great game into one of the most disappointing titles in recent memory. Horrendous load times, terrible draw distance, and a horribly flawed battle system made Summoner difficult to enjoy. When a sequel was announced, many people were more than skeptical, figuring Summoner 2 would be more of the same. However, Volition has learned from its previous mistakes, and created a game far superior to its predecessor in every imaginable way.
Once again, Volition plunges players into an incredibly unique world of mythology that sets itself apart from most games in the genre. According to legend, the great goddess Laharah created earth thousands of years ago by creating the Tree of Eleh, from which all life springs. However, shortly after its creation, the tree is destroyed by the winds of evil, allowing the lands to be pervaded by dark forces. Laharah, distressed by this destruction, journeys to find a means of healing the tree. For years, prophets foretold the return of Laharah, who would heal the tree, thus driving out the evil forces that inhabit the earth.
Summoner 2 takes place 20 years after the events in the first game, as players take on the role of Maia, Queen of Halassar. According to ancient prophecy, Maia is the goddess Laharah reborn, destined to rule the world. She was crowned the Queen of Halassar at the age of four, after liberating the land from the clutches of Azaram II, an evil king who refuted the claim of the prophets that Maia was indeed Laharah reborn. However, before Maia can fulfill her destiny, she must unravel the mysteries behind the prophecy, with the help of Surdama Kir, an Elder priestess of Laharah, and Taurgis, her mentor. The game starts out with Maia on a quest to find the book of the prophets, which she believes will reveal her destiny. This book was recently stolen from her and is believed to be in the hands of Prince Neru, a mysterious and powerful man.
Graphically, Summoner 2 is incredibly improved over the first game. The environments are just as large, but now have much more detail throughout. Outdoor locales are lush with vegetation, and not nearly as grainy looking, while indoor areas offer a lot more to look at; intricate ornamentation, tapestries, etc. Character models are also improved, with more realistic movement and facial expressions. Perhaps the biggest graphical enhancement in the game is in the animations, as every part of the game seems to come alive. Palm trees sway in the wind, clouds drift lazily across the sky, and firelight casts jumping shadows, giving Summoner 2 a convincingly believable atmosphere. However, there are still some aspects of the visuals that could have used a little more work. Water in the game looks odd and does not move very realistically, and some of the special effects that take place in the game simply look unfinished. However, such instances are relatively rare, and do not significantly detract from the gameís visuals.
However, the biggest improvement in Summoner 2 is the gameplay. Volition has done away with the chain attack system, and implemented a simple combo attack method instead. Pressing the square button in rapid succession will result in a character doing a slightly complex combination of attacks, at the end of which they are temporarily vulnerable while they recover. Players can also utilize single hit attacks if they wish to play more defensively, as this method allows for quicker recovery between strikes. The result of this change is much more fluid combat that is far easier to master and much more fun overall. Another big improvement in the gameplay is the way the overworld map works. Instead of wandering blindly in the dark without sufficient directional assistance, characters are transported to new locations with ease, due to a revamped system that simply highlights the area they need to visit, giving the option to travel there instantaneously.
Another big change in the gameplay is the way Maia summons creatures. There are a total of 12 different summons that Maia can access throughout the game, broken up into 4 different elements (Blood, Tree, Sand and Eye), each with three increasingly stronger forms. Instead of summoning a creature to fight alongside her and her party members as Joseph did, Maia transforms into the summoned creature instead. Each summoned creature has different strengths and weaknesses, which can make the type of creature you summon an intricate part of the gameplay. Each time Maia transforms into a summoned creature, she can only stay in that form for a certain amount of time before she loses control of it and returns to her normal form. The amount of time Maia can stay in this altered state can be raised by leveling up, eventually allowing Maia to remain in a summoned state for a fairly long period of time. However, just as in the first game, summoning is really not crucial to the gameplay; in fact, it is still absolutely unnecessary to do so. In addition to being unnecessary, transforming into a creature often takes a great deal of time, during which your party will often take a great deal of damage, which will deter a lot of people from even bothering with it.
Summoner 2 also does little to set itself apart from other RPGs when it comes to gameplay. Most of your time will be spent on locating objects to advance the story or finding people of importance who will reveal a little bit more about Maiaís destiny. While not overly simplistic, the gameplay is hardly compelling and often boring. Of course, being an RPG of massive proportions, there are quite a few side quests available, which should give many people more than enough reason to go through the game a second time to complete the extra quests they may have missed the first time through. In fact, many side quests are often difficult to complete, because they are not only incredibly obscure, but often rely on you speaking with the right person at the right time, making extra quests difficult to undertake at times.
While the gameplay may not be overly compelling, the sound in this game certainly is. The same team that composed the soundtrack for the first game has returned to lay down some incredibly cool beats that really add to the atmosphere. As in the first game, the soundtrack consists mostly of percussion beats that vary in intensity and rhythm, giving the game a fairly epic feel in spite of the somewhat tedious gameplay. While not as good as the music from the first game, it is nonetheless much better than most titles in this genre. The dialogue in Summoner 2 is perhaps the biggest improvement in terms of sound, as most conversations are voice acted, and done very well to boot. The main characters all sound very convincing and believable, almost on par with games like Final Fantasy X. Even the NPCs in the game are done well, which is not something you can say about a lot of games these days.
As stated before, the gameplay in Summoner 2 is much improved over its predecessor. One big reason for this is the improved control. Controlling your characters in combat is much easier, as timing your attacks is incredibly easy compared to the cumbersome chain attack system found in the first game. Character AI is also much improved, as you no longer have to fight your characters for control while in combat. While a great deal of the gameplay might not be stellar, the smooth controls make combat a great deal of fun.
Overall, Summoner 2 is a big improvement over Volitionís highly disappointing first effort. With smooth and convincing graphics, much improved gameplay and sound, this is certainly a game that should be given a chance. Fans of the genre will find a lot of redeeming qualities in this game, even though it is not of the same caliber as games like Final Fantasy X or Baldurís Gate. If you are looking for a good RPG to waste a few weekends on, Summoner 2 is a definitely a good choice.