Playstation's success for the most part has mostly been because of the RPGs that the system provides, Wild Arms was Sony's very own RPG and it was quite well received, then we all got Final Fantasy VII, which to this day is considered to be the greatest RPG ever by many people, FFVIII and FFIX followed, as well a sequel to Chrono Trigger called Chrono Cross, and Legend of Dragoon, which I still believe and so do millions of other people is one of the best RPGs on PSOne. Let's recap here, Wild Arms, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX, Chrono Cross and Legend of Dragoon, how can any other system even think of challenging this line up of RPGs, which granted deserves about three or four other entries on it, and with the release of Playstation 2 what kind of RPG can we expect? Square has already announced that Final Fantasy X and XI are well underway development and Sony is nearing completion for its Adventure/RPG title Dark Cloud, many more are under development but are less known that the ones listed above. Orphen which I thought was an enjoyable game is one of the very first PS2 action/RPGs, and then we have THQ/Volition's Summoner, a hyped game for PS2 that promised a great storyline, awe-inspired visuals and an unforgettable experience. So after getting through playing games such as Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy IX, let's see how this very first PS2 RPG stacks up to the 32-Bit competition.
Delivering news a few months ago that Summoner would be fully anti-aliased and will be flicker-free, Volition would tip-toe about the fact of sacrificing any other visual aspect such as frame-rate or draw-in distance, and never stated the negative features to including anti-aliasing and removing flickering. Now that I have played Summoner and checked out its visuals, I can safely say that Volition lied about the game not having any sacrifices due to the anti-aliasing, I know that "lie" is a strong word, but it is quite true, the company said that they were never experiencing any other problems with the visuals and that everything was just fine. Well everything isn't as fine as they say, the game suffers from horrendous pop-up that is too noticeable to be ignored, textures and backdrops can draw-in almost unexpectedly, creating a very weird feel to the whole visual environment. All is not bad in the visuals though, the overall aesthetics are something, the environmental detail is quite good, nice looking textures and great looking backgrounds are something to talk about.
Summoner has got tons of different textures, from trees to mountains, to boxes, to barrels, and even merchant stands, all of the textures are solid built, some of the best I've seen in awhile. The character detail though a bit weirdly designed with very droopy looking eyes, are still solid and designed with a good level of attention, but I know that the PS2 can do much better. The frame rate on occasion can slip-up which may partly be because of the anti-aliasing, which by the way makes the game look pretty good. With this being an RPG and all, spell effects are something that received good detail from Volition, bright, fluid, lush and vivid colors would burst on the screen, definitely good eye-candy here. All in all, the final verdict for the visuals is that they are pretty good, but because of the terrible pop-up and the somewhat weird looking character design, but never the less, the visuals are above average, albeit the PS2 can do much better than this.
Here is where the game flops, everybody knows that gameplay is un-questionably the single most important aspect in RPGs and Volition seems to have forgotten that fact. You start the game as Joseph a loner who seems to have no parents or siblings and has a very shallow past, his village Masad is being burned down by the Orenia troops and it's up to him to kill the soldiers responsible for the many deaths and burned down houses of Masad. Actually nine years before all of this happened Joseph summoned a very powerful demon to save his village from a massive attack, but the summoned creature turned on him and killed everybody in sight excluding Joseph, so it was clear that Joseph didn't want another horrible incident like this to occur in his new village of Masad, this is why he must put a stop to the Orenian organization. While Masad is burning down slowly, there are people who will ask you to do favors for them, but since Summoner is so tediously boring I really don't think you would want to fulfill any of those requests. Unlike traditional RPGs, Summoner doesn't let you explore other people's houses, and the people themselves just talk too damn much, to the extent where you want to skip the whole conversation. I understand that dialogue is necessary in an RPG game but not as much as Summoner has, it's just plain a nonsense. The storyline is way too religious for me to really care about, throughout the whole game many of the games civilians talk about the past of the world, almost as if a religious figure like a Reverend or Pope wrote the text, I really don't enjoy reading text like this, and on top of that I find that the dialogue isn't as inspired as writing found in Chrono Cross or Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX. As you make your way along places you will find shops, but good luck buying anything from them anytime soon, it is very hard to gain money in the game, which is another big negative.
To say that the real-time battles are impressive and innovative is an overrated statement, the battles are just as boring as the whole plot line is, if you are expecting FF like battles then forget about it. Players will have to press X and select which enemy they want to attack, then they have to press a button when the chain picture comes up over your characters head, pressing Up, Down, Left and Right during the time the chain is present will depend on what kind of attack your character will do after his default attack, timing is key here, and you can not press the same directional button for a link over and over again, you have to switch around. Though as innovative as that sounds, the system gets old quick, the action becomes far too repetitive and wears thin in no time. After playing Summoner for around three hours, I couldn't stand to play it anymore, the game is seriously lacking in overall fun factor, and because of the AWFUL loading times, navigating areas and random battle encounters on the field map are some of the worst in any RPG game to date. The random battles play out very strangely, when it occurs the game first loads for about 40 seconds and then puts you in a forest with numerous different enemies that you have to battle. Up to five characters can battle at once in Summoner, some of the characters in Summoner include Rosalind, Flece, Jekhar, Aoqi, Yago and of course Joseph, there is a total of ten key characters in Summoner. During battles you are allowed to summon monsters to help you in battle, but that doesn't really cut enough for me, if the battles were more Final Fantasy based, I would have been much more happier. This game's visual flare does incredibly little to cover up the disgraceful RPG presentation and storyline, I really didn't enjoy playing Summoner, if THQ had given me more media on it I would have surely not placed it as the number one game to get for launch, which after about a month I'm still punching myself for.
Although the gameplay pretty much sucks, the sound is quite good, there is a great deal of voice acting to be found throughout the game, which isn't very common in RPG games just yet, but I feel that companies like SquareSoft will soon incorporate an option of voice acting or text in their new era of Final Fantasy and hopefully Chrono games. With the incredible power of the PS2, the voice acting response timing is quite good, the responses never hesitate and everything flows smoothly. A better soundtrack would have been nice, but this is after all the very first US published RPG I believe so you can't blame either THQ or Volition for trying.
Moving your characters is very simple. First of all, the analog movement is precise and has sensitivity in it, while the right analog stick controls the camera panning. The Dual Shock is strong and provides a good hit, but you won't be feeling it too much since you really wouldn't want to play this game. A game like Summoner also desperately needs a jump button so that Joseph can overcome obstacles in the way, instead of going all the way around it. The control does take time to get used, getting used to the layout is the main concern here. Nothing really bad in the controls.
With all of the hype surrounding Summoner, I was expecting a lot more from Volition, the plot itself is very lacking and is not up to par with games like FFVII-IX, Chrono Cross and Wild Arms, the visuals on the other hand are good, but suffer from horrible draw-in distances. Summoner is a lengthy game, that is if you enjoy playing through a game with a dull storyline, incredibly horrid loading times, and don't even get me started on the tedious battles. Summoner could have been a great game and more, but it just goes to show you that American developers don't know much about deep RPGs, like Japanese developers SquareSoft, Enix and Sony do, it will surely take a long time for US developers to really get the hang of creating powerful RPGs.
11/18/2000 Arnold Katayev