Attack the darkness again.
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Maybe you'll get it right the next time. Hell, I fell asleep the first time I took the SAT.
The original Summoner also put me to sleep. Despite a fair deal of hype, the game plodded along and was marred by long load times and bland gameplay. But thankfully, Volition has listened to the classic adage and makes leaps in the right direction with Summoner 2, a better, smoother game than its predecessor.
The story has very little to do with the original. Maia has been prophesized as the goddess Laharah reborn. At the tender young age of four, she usurped the throne, aided by the King's own brother, Taurgis. Twenty years later, she journeys out with a small band of followers to discover exactly what destiny has in store for her.
This messianic, linear story is influenced greatly by classic Dungeon and Dragons traditions like the first Summoner, but this time takes on some Middle Eastern touches. The writing effectively uses period language to create a unique atmosphere. The overarching events and plot take priority over in-depth character development, but in all, it's a good story.
The melee action is now done in full real-time. There's a timing structure to the attacks, but it just comes out as pure button-mashing. Blocking is not as useful as it should be - a small delay before initiating the block keeps the character vulnerable. At times you can accurately predict when to block, but mostly, it's a crapshoot. At its heart, attacking becomes an issue of stat improvement; the action half of this "action/rpg" should have been refined better.
You can lock onto enemies, but the opponent-centric movement of your character is rather sluggish. Another dodge move of some kind would have helped out immensely. Combat mostly ends up as walking right up against your foe and whittling away with your weapon, stopping for the occasional block or spell. I prefer the button-mashing in Kingdom Hearts due to the added mobility of your player and the sheer swarms of opponent.
In Summoner 2, being attacked by more than two opponents is a sure death knell. You just can't really keep your health up while sustaining multiple sttacks, and you often cannot counter-attack quickly enough. Frantic escape ends up as the best response.
To help you in this regard, Summoner 2 gives you a backup team of two computer-controlled warriors. Their offense and defense styles can be adjusted through the options, allowing you to create a strict melee man or a humble healer. But unlike Kingdom Hearts, you're able to take control of either support character at the push of a button. It's certainly more exciting to actually control the other characters and gives the game much more variety. Still, I would have liked the ability to send support commands in as well, such as directing a teammate to attack a specific opponent.
Advancing in levels earns each character in your party points to distribute across their different skill sets. Different properties can be built up, such as stronger attacks, better defense or more specialized character traits like stealth, heavy weapons, and specific spells. Though it isn't nearly as burly as some other console RPGs, it at least gives some sort of depth to character development.
This game wouldn't be 'Summoner' without any summoning, now would it? Over the course of her adventure, Maia gains the abilities of four upgradeable summons - Blood, Eye, Sand and Tree. With each summoning, she transforms into a fabled creature; for a limited window of time, she wields the added strengths and powers of the beast. For the most part, the summons are very effective and look pretty cool.
Summoner 2 is a big game. There are scores of quest items to find, each playing some part in the larger scheme of things. You'll have to figure out the right time to use an item, which gives the game a nice classic adventure element.
Graphically, though, the game is mixed. Summoner 2 has thankfully eliminated the ugly draw-ins and long load times of the first game while maintaining huge environments, but the close-up details are muddled and lack detail. I find myself pulling back the camera so I won't have to look at the game up close.
Pressing down on the left analog stick re-centers the camera. Problematically, you won't be able to keep forward movement after re-centering; what was once forward is now off a slight degree to the left. You can get used to it, easing your character back into line, but it isn't the most intuitive maneuver. Again, another good reason to pull back, giving you a broader view and less need to adjust the camera.
The bulk of the cut scenes are devoid of mouth movements, a step backwards in FMV design. Rather than heavy work on animation, there's some fancy video editing sharply done with artful filters to progress the storytelling. Most of the voiceover cast has done a commendable job; emotional intonation is fitting and there are appropriate accents for most of the characters. Much of the music is background ambient filler rather than full melodies.
Summoner 2 is to the original Summoner what a case of shower grout is to a clogged drainpipe full of hair. The game has come a long way since the original and is headed in the right direction, but there are still more than a few niggling details that keep it from earning a permanent spot in your game library.