After the disgrace that was the game Summoner, it's quite surprising to see THQ and Volition teaming up once again to bring us Summoner 2. When the sequel was first announced, I almost laughed, but cried instead. Wasn't it bad enough that we had to put up with the first one? However, after only a few minutes with a preview build of Summoner 2 I was singing a completely different tune. It is easy to see that Volition has made improvements in all the important areas such as sound, graphics, and most importantly, gameplay. The demo starts out with a battle on board a ship, and I took on the role of Maia, Queen of Halassar. Caught in the middle of a huge storm, the ship is invaded by pirates looking to kidnap the queen for a hefty ransom. After fighting off the pirates, Maia teams up with a Munari assassin named Sangriel, and together they travel to the tropical island of Teomura, in search of Prince Neru, a powerful man who stole the book of prophets from Maia.
Graphically, Summoner 2 is impressive. The problems that plagued the first title, such as horrendous draw in, have been fixed. While not the best looking game on the Playstation 2, it certainly looks nice enough. The characters are incredibly detailed, with impressive animations, and the backgrounds are splendid. The island of Teomura is lush and beautiful, full of rich color. Most impressive, however, were the weather effects, particularly the water in the rainstorm. Every time the ship hit a wave, a large splash of water would burst against the hull, sending spraying foam everywhere in a very realistic and beautiful way.
The combat in Summoner 2 is such an enhancement over the first title that it is hard to draw comparisons. Gone is the ridiculous chain attack system, as well as the equally useless AP system. Instead, combatants use a combo system of attack that lets you perform a succession of attacks by repeatedly tapping the square button. The attacks are smooth and easy to time, and give battles a more familiar and intuitive feel. In fact, in no time at all I was wiping the floor with enemies as if I had been playing the game for hours. During battle you can also block by pressing the L1 button, as well as use previously selected abilities. Selecting an ability to use is pretty similar to the first game, as you can access any characters menu by pressing left on the D-pad. Once an ability is selected, you can use it at any time by pressing the circle button.
Summoning is another aspect of the gameplay that has been drastically improved. Instead of adding a creature to your party, summoning a creature transforms Maia into the summoned beast. This way, there is no possibility of a summoned creature turning against you, which was one of the major drawbacks in the first game. The only summon available in the demo I played was called Blood, a huge behemoth made of blood. He was slow, and not very powerful, but still an amazing improvement over summons from the first game.
Yet another improvement in Summoner 2 is the sound. All the dialogue in the game is now voice acted, and done rather well. The text boxes are still there for those who prefer them, but you can skip each one that pops up by pressing the X button. The voices of Maia and Sangriel are done well, although the actual dialogue could use some work. As in the first game, conversations got a bit melodramatic at times, coming off like a bad B movie. Sound effects in the game were more than adequate, but nothing really new or innovative. The clashing of swords in battle is a bit bland, and fairly repetitive, but other than that the sound effects are just fine.
Overall, Summoner 2 is shaping up to be a far better title than its predecessor. With improvements across the board, the only thing keeping this game from selling well will be its name, and I only hope that those who were turned off by the first Summoner give this game a chance. Look for Summoner 2 to hit store shelves this September.
9/1/2002 Ryan Hartmann