Summon Night: Swordcraft Story
Craftsmanship is one of the few rewarding aspects of our lives. It comes in many forms, be it writing, drawing, solving jigsaw puzzles, furniture design, or just about an other hobby that you can pick up. Despite differences between these various pastimes, they all have one thing in common: the need for skill. The amount of effort you put into your work will reflect in the results; a writer can convey his or her ideas with passionate words, mere sketches can be true works of art, and even the toughest of puzzles can be finished by the most focused and dedicated. What about you? What kinds of crafts do you indulge in? Whatever pastimes you enjoy, you probably won’t enjoy it nearly as much if you don’t put all your heart into it.
At least, that’s how it is in Summon Night: Swordcraft Story. The town of Wystern is gearing up for a huge tournament that will pit a new generation of warriors against each other. Among the contenders is Cleru, a dull-witted (albeit good natured) kid that happens to be the son of the city’s most celebrated hero. Though the contest is supposed to include every youngster around, the plot focuses on the child prodigy, a girl to serve as his generic love interest, a stereotypically arrogant blond bully, and a disturbingly cute androgynous child. This motley crew of not-quite teenagers will have to face each other in battle, each hoping to become the new Craftlord of Wystern. Throw in a few of the usual RPG plot twists involving the corruption of power, character maturation and political intrigue, and you’ll find that Swordcraft Story is fairly shallow and predictable to a fault.
This isn’t the usual kind of tournament, however. Not only do these kids have to fight each other for the coveted title, but they’ll have to make their own weapons as well. Though Cleru’s primary weapon is a sword, he’ll eventually be able to create axes, spears, knuckles, and motorized drills to boost his arsenal. In order to make them, he’ll have to traverse the huge labyrinth conveniently placed underneath Wystern. This super-sized dungeon spans 50+ floors with a steadily increasing amount of difficulty and tougher enemies. As the story progresses, you’ll be granted to more levels of the dungeon, thus gaining you access to more materials to harvest. But after a while, you’ll realize that the game forces you into an utterly boring cycle of development. Once your hero gets the design for his next weapon, he’ll go deeper into the labyrinth to find the right parts to make the weapon, come back home and craft the new sword, then take on the next challenger/boss/whatever else happens to be at that turn in the story. Rinse and repeat half a dozen times, and the game will be over.
In a poor attempt to distract gamers from the tediousness of it all, Swordcraft Story implements a real-time combat system a la Tales of Phantasia. Cleru will have to dodge swiping claws, duck under jumping foes, and block whenever an enemy tries to dismember him. The various types of useable weapons all have their own pros and cons, adding just a tiny bit of depth to the fighting. The problem is that the combat system is far too clunky to be enjoyable; the battles move at a snails pace, monsters tend to stand in one place as you hack them to bits, and very few of the enemies require a significant amount of strategy and skill to beat. Even though the weapons can eventually break if their durability gauge runs out in battle, they’ll be mysteriously refreshed for the next battle. The game tries to spice things up by adding in a sidekick in the form of a Summon Beast, who can enchant your weapons with elemental powers and improved durability, cast offensive and defensive spells, and essentially secure your victory. But given the game’s utter lack of difficulty, you probably won’t have to rely on Cleru’s little buddy.
It’s not like the game goes out of its way to impress you, either. Much of Swordcraft Story will revolve around the triple-leveled port city of Wystern, complete with wooden docks, bridges, and cottages. It seems far too generic for its own good, and the mixed bag of background music doesn’t help. There’s nothing visually or audibly astounding about any of these places; even older GBA titles like Pokemon Emerald created a better atmosphere. It’s not like the labyrinth is any better; once you’ve gotten to a certain point, the tiny pools of stagnate water, brown bricks and glowing crystal make the levels all seem the same. The only saving grace comes with the battles, which show fairly detailed backgrounds filled with cobblestone steps and deep shadows. Though Cleru in nothing more than a 2D sprite while he’s exploring, he’ll turn into an anime-esque cell-shaded warrior during battle. Those inhumanly large eyes and spiky hair are more than a match for the fire-breathing pumpkins, monstrous crabs and horribly mutated parakeets you’ll have to annihilate.
When it comes to RPGs, the GBA has more than enough ports and rehashes to fill up its library. Summon Night: Swordcraft Story could have been a refreshingly new experience for those of us that have gotten jaded with Pokemon or the old Final Fantasy games. Instead, we’ve been brought back to the basics of dungeon crawling; the game boasts a labyrinth with over fifty floors of items and random battles, a horribly cliched plot and some under-whelming combat mechanics to boot. Even the presentation pales in comparison to the likes of Golden Sun and the other handheld RPGs we’ve grown to love or hate over the years. Here’s hoping that the next Summon Night title improves upon what this game has established.