Publisher: Carpe Fulgur
Fortune Summoners kicks my arse.
It shouldn't. After all, beating a cheerful story about three adorable tots off on their first adventure should be a piece of cake for a big strapping geek like me... but this cute and cuddly camouflage hides satisfying difficulty and dialogue as sharp as a razor's edge. Appearances can be deceiving, though thinking about it, the last game I played featuring a gaggle of young girls was Deathsmiles. I suppose that Japanese games must include pre-teen schoolgirls as a badge of honour that denotes technical prowess and hidden depths... wait, no, hang on. Can we start again?
Carpe Fulgur's latest localisation effort brings us Fortune Summoners: a meaty action-RPG from famed developer Lizsoft that would otherwise have never made it out of Japan. The original release has been lovingly treated to a witty and accurate English translation as well as a few extra features that help to make this unassuming little title a genuine hidden gem, but one that's bound to split opinion right down the middle.
Our story begins with Arche: a young girl who's moved to a new town with her struggling family. Upon enrolling in a magic school, she discovers that she lacks the pricey elemental stone that all students need to channel their spells through. Downheartened and knowing that her parents could never afford to buy one, she makes a couple of friends and sets out on a quest to find a stone of her very own. This, naturally, is just the beginning of an imaginative and surprisingly engaging narrative that portrays traditional RPG fare from the perspective of a child.
The next 20-30 hours are spent exploring the town of Tonkiness (yes, really) and a sprawling, ever-expanding selection of dungeons with Arche and friends. Upon first inspection, Fortune Summoners appears to be an action-platformer baked up in a delightfully authentic retro style. You'll jump over pits, do battle with some monstrous denizens and engage in some dungeon crawling much like an adorable Castlevania. At any time, you can switch between Arche (who excels at swordplay due to extensive fencing practice and her natural incompetence with magic), Sana the water mage/healer and Stella, an arrogant and entitled fire mage in training. As well as packing a range of different attacks, the three likeable characters also possess unique abilities that can be used to circumvent some satisfying puzzles.
So you'll leap into combat with all the gusto of Shank or The Dishwasher, flail your sword around wildly... and get utterly destroyed. Within seconds. Fortune Summoners may look cheerful and shallow, but the combat packs the complexity, technicality and timing-based depth of Demon's Souls. Arche, who is by far the best character to use while battling, can unleash a dizzying array of different slashes, strikes, parries, blocks and kicks; all of which need to be expertly chained together at the perfect moment to avoid embarassing failure. Button mashing leads to certain death, and you'll soon work out which abilities are best to use against certain otherwise-implacable foes. Waiting for a window of opportunity becomes an important skill, as does knowing how to manipulate a chain damage meter that encourages precise, aimed attacks.
As I said at the beginning of the review, Fortune Summoners is rock hard... but brilliant once you've gotten yourself into the right mindset and plumbed its hidden depths. Healing items take a few seconds to deploy, meaning that you'll need to use them earlier than normal to avoid losing a character. Strictly limited mana forces you to ration magic for boss fights, which leverages some impressive customisable party AI. How do you position your team in relation to the enemy? How often should they use their abilities? And which abilities? If things get too tough, though, you can optionally grind away against the level curve, equip plenty of new gear and explore some slick yet forgettable secondary objectives. Tinkering with the reams of combat options, skillsets and subsystems gradually makes you realise that there's so much more to Fortune Summoners than anyone could have given it credit for.
Unfortunately, this hidden gem is a seriously rough diamond. Cliches aside, Fortune Summoners really does its best to try and make us fall out of love with its characters and combat by way of some staggeringly inconsiderate design decisions. The lack of a minimap makes dungeon crawling a chore. Limited save points render quick play sessions incredibly inconvenient. Level design is obnoxiously obtuse and horrendously signposted, to the extent where you'll frequently be left with no idea of where to go or what to do - which can only be rectified by talking to absolutely everyone in town. Quest structure is also unbelievably segmented, and you'll often have to trudge to point A, go all the way home, back to point A, on to point B, back home and so on. And so forth. And die.
The retro-pretty art style and hum-along music is somewhat let down by a lack of resolutions and a couple of odd performance problems I encountered from time to time.
I should also point out that the ending might annoy. Certain avenues are left open to provide sequel potential, but some gamers will (justifiably) balk and rail at the lack of closure.
This will quite rightly be a dealbreaker for some people. But for others, it simply won't matter, since Fortune Summoners will soothe your countless frustrations with its unique and charming personality. The translated script is nothing short of brilliant; incisive and funny but always beguilingly innocent. Arche's childhood naivete allows her to question why fantasy blacksmiths only provide female adventurers with revealing outfits. She picks holes in bosses who don't know how to deal with being confronted by pre-pubescent kids instead of traditional heroes. The schoolhouse relationships are relateable and interesting, and character interactions are refreshingly honest and straightforward. Child-like, if you will.
Yes indeed, Fortune Summoners is one of those games. You'll love it or hate it... and there's no right answer.
- Deep, tactical and cut-throat combat
- Excellent party AI and subsystems
- Beguiling charm, impeccable localisation and refreshing personality
- Horrendously poor signposting and quest structure
- Obnoxiously difficult and frustrating in parts
- Premise will fail to resonate with many gamers
The Short Version: A few obnoxious design decisions stop this divisive hidden gem from shining as brightly as it should. Nevertheless, Fortune Summoners is a superior action-RPG hybrid that deserves your attention, especially if you're a fan of the JRPG genre in all its quirky and inexplicable glory.
Since the extraordinarily generous demo contains several hours of content and allows you to transfer your save file to the full version, I'd urge you to try before you buy. By the time you reach the end of the prologue, you'll know whether or not Fortune Summoners will delight or disgust.