Everyone knows that life can be pretty harsh. Think about all of the problems you might have to deal with on a day-to-day basis: school, work, bills, and family. All of these things seem willing to conspire together to suck time, fun, and relaxation out of your life, or at least away from your current video game obsession. Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? Just imagine how much worse it would be if you had to deal with a civil war that threatened to engulf the entire planet, continual attempts on your life and schemes to take away everything you consider sacred? Welcome to Maia’s life, the heroine of Summoner 2 from THQ.
Maia is the queen of Halassar, a great kingdom renowned for its culture and history. Intelligent, agile, and skilled with weapons, Maia is also considered by many people across the land to be a fierce, capable fighter. Embroiled in a massive war with the neighboring nation of Galdyr, Maia has been forced to enlist her people in brutal fights for survival. Even worse, numerous factions are plotting to overthrow or kill the queen, forcing her to constantly defend herself wherever she goes. In fact, one of her own subjects steals a precious relic of hers, initially forcing Maia out on a mission of retribution and recovery.
However, she is no typical warrior princess. She is also the reincarnated goddess Laharah, seeking to ascend to her rightful place within the pantheon of her world. However, to do so, she must fulfill a prophecy written about her in the Book of the Prophets. See, the initial Laharah grew a tree called Elah, from which language, knowledge, and life, among other things sprang and flourished. However, a great catastrophe befell the tree, shattering it irrevocably and forcing Laharah to leave her followers to seek a way to heal the tree. She never returned. However, the prophets spoke of a time when a child would be born with the power to mend the tree and lead her people into a never-ending golden age.
That’s a pretty hefty fate to live up to, and while Maia is capable of dispatching just about anything that gets in her way, even she can’t accomplish this task alone. Fortunately, she gains help from many different sources: a palace advisor, a former assassin, a sorcerer, a robot and a pirate king. Like most RPGs, allies have their own talents and abilities that they will quickly develop into more powerful attacks and skills with level advancement. These range from offensive and defensive spells to debilitating attacks to additional damage combos. What’s more, each character can be tailor made to each player’s tastes. For example, if you like the stealthy and backstabbing abilities of Sangaril the assassin, you can pour your skill points from each level into poisoning and invisibility.
This, of course, brings me to the combat system, one that is different than the stereotypical RPG. Instead of the expected turn-based combat, all fights take place in real-time. This forces you to pay attention to each character’s individual timing with their attacks if you’re going to successfully defeat opponents. Mistimed attacks will inevitably results in misses or blocks from opponents, which they will quickly capitalize into counterstrikes. Successful strikes or parries can be chained together in combos, which grow more and more complex as you progress in skill levels.
While you can only control one of the characters in your party at any given time, the other members of your group act based upon five different AI scripts that you designate. You can have your allies attack, support your character, cast offensive or defensive spells only, or utilize a balanced mix of magic. Of course, this doesn’t include the namesake of the game, that of summoning monsters. Unlike the first title, Maia actually transforms into the creatures she summons, acquiring their strength, speed and magical abilities.
She gains the power to turn into these creatures only after entering sacred circles scattered around the world. Most of the locations you’ll journey to are large, expansive levels, often with multiple sections to them. Ranging from cities and outdoor missions to the ubiquitous RPG dungeon/crypt crawl, Maia and her party will often acquire new objectives as they journey throughout each level. Although some levels demand a swift blade, others merely need a glib tongue. However, Maia cannot remain in the wilderness forever, and at some point has to return to Halassar to rest, receive new information, and perform royal duties. This often consists of receiving emissaries from other lands as well as tending to the demands and desires of her people. For example, an explorer may ask for money to discover new lands, while your ministers may ask for additional temples.
Graphically, Summoner 2 rates just a bit above average. The character models, while 3D, are wrapped within aliasing jaggies and basic textures. Backgrounds tend to suffer from the same fate, with certain basic textures comprising the majority of the locales. There are definitive sections that were expanded upon, with much more detail and many more impressive graphical touches than those within regular play. The game’s engine does excel with in-game cutscenes and cinematic sequences, which show beautifully rendered scenes that serve to advance the story. It also displays particle effects of spells and summons of creatures well, with nuances for each individual creature or spell.
The music within Summoner 2 isn’t really going to catch your attention. You’ll find yourself recognizing the fact that there was some kind of musical accompaniment, but it isn’t really noticeable. Similarly, the sound effects that you’ll hear within the game do seem like ones you’ve heard from other action or RPG titles without anything to make them seem unique. Even the magic sounds a little stale, not at all the kind of dynamic effects that you’d hope for. Vocally, however, Summoner 2 really shines, with phenomenal performances provided by all the actors involved. For example, Maia projects an air not only of royalty, but also of world weariness with both the fate that she’s been given and the fighting she has to do. It’s a great touch to give this character, and speaks much louder than any piece of written dialogue could.
Gameplay is relatively simple to get used to, and pretty enjoyable to discover along the way. It’ll take most players anywhere from half an hour to two hours to get used to the fighting, maneuvering and spell casting, although you’ll probably spend much more just implementing additional combos and sequences into your battles once you’ve unlocked them. It is pretty easy to get an idea of which kicks and punches are more effective against certain enemies. Fortunately, the menus provided with the game keep track of everything you’ve learned throughout the game. The biggest downside to the menus is that they could’ve been organized much more clearly, with certain redundancies completely removed or simplified in presentation.
Summoner 2 also provides a full sense of the game without requiring you to have played the original, although any additional experience that you may have had with Joseph and his quest 20 years prior in the first game will only serve to add more info to your understanding of that world. And while Joseph had moments of ineffectiveness, you always get the sense that Maia could come in, kick butt and chew bubble gum without the bubble gum. Packing a solid plot, creative elements not really seen in RPGs, and tons of action, Volition looks to have another hit on their hands. Let’s just hope they summon up Part 3 in the series soon…