Needs salt... or sugar... or vinegar... or something.
There are some games out there that are appreciated for wild adventures full of excitement, intrigue, and surprise. Some other games are appreciated for their elegantly and meticulously crafted presentation. Some, still, grab players by sucking them in with an addictively interesting battle system and fantastic gameplay. Summon Night: Twin Age is not one of these games. At most, it could provide a lighthearted, quick, and rather mindless experience for only the thirstiest of RPG players.
The game takes place in a world named Clardona, on an island inhabited by the Kascuza, a race despised by most humans, who mostly live on the mainland. The stars of the game are two children on the island: a girl summoner and a boy whom she accidentally summoned once long ago. These kids have the power to sense spirits, and just a few days before an important Coming-of-Age ceremony takes place, the spirits of the land start to go haywire. As a result, the pair takes off to investigate, leading them to join forces with several people and journey to the mainland.
|Combat is intuitive and simple, but after awhile, simple can become boring.|
Right from the outset, the choice exists to make either one of the heroes the “main character,” though both will be fully controllable throughout the game. This decision offers a glimmer of excitement and a whiff of replayability, as it would seem to provide a different perspective and slightly different dialogue at different points during the storyline. In addition to this, there is quite a bit of emphasis placed upon character relationships in Summon Night: Twin Age. For example, choosing different responses to questions that arise in the pleasantly anime-styled conversations will influence the relationship dynamic between the chosen hero and the involved conversation parties. The effect of these relationships, however, are mostly of psychological importance on the part of the player, as these “friendliness-gauges” influence the game only very rarely. And unfortunately, the perceived promise of replayability deteriorates as it rapidly becomes apparent that the dialogue is hardly worth writing home about. Truly, the characters that these relationships are centered around are just extremely bland. They’re often also rather obscure; there are times where it can be puzzling to think of why exactly some of them are included in the game in the first place. The dialogue, which feels like it is meant to be the core of the game’s plot, is unfortunately terribly shallow and equally bland to the bland characters that engage in it. In fact, the entire story lacks depth, is rather unmemorable, and often feels like nothing more than a patchwork quilt of ideas almost transparently snatched from several other games. On the other hand, for those trying to make lemonade out of lemons, the simplicity of the plot means that gamers who aren’t picky about storylines could view this as a game that is easy to pick up and play. It is virtually impossible to lose track of what to do next, partly due to the brief-chaptered flow, but also because of the fact that at any given time, Summon Night: Twin Age explicitly points out the next area that the heroes must travel to. Unfortunately, this gives players even less reason to pay any attention to or even care about the already meager plot.
So, the storyline doesn’t have to be the meat of every game. Sometimes, it’s all about the action! In the case of Summon Night: Twin Age, this isn’t quite the case either. As a real-time tactical RPG, the game’s mechanics work fine, more or less. At any given time, the boy and girl heroes will be controllable; tapping an easy-to-tap icon allows the player to switch instantly and easily from one to the other whenever desired. Also, one other character may be chosen from a roster to be a third, uncontrollable combatant whose battling style can be very generally customized using an extremely limited selection of options. In the heat of combat, touching an enemy with the stylus will cause the currently-controlled character to pursue and attack them until defeated; other party members will generally lock on and attack as well. In addition, special abilities may be arranged on the sides of the bottom screen in the form of icons, which may be selected first in order to execute something a little more special. Defeating enemies and advancing the plot earns the heroes experience levels and skill points, which may be used to gain new abilities. Further, by collecting a number of flasks and special ingredients to put into them, heroes may team up in pairs with other characters to summon monsters that have been previously defeated; such summoned monsters will then aid in battle. The success rate of creating these summons is the sole visible aspect of the game that depends upon the relationship dynamics between characters. This dependence is cool and all, but disappointing at the same time; it seems like so much more could have been done with the relationship system. Further, only being able to summon previously defeated enemies causes this aspect of the battle system to become almost useless; since any summons will certainly be weaker than the new monsters they fight, even carefully crafted summon beasts will disappear quickly in utter defeat unless carefully babysat with healing spells. Truly, throughout the entirety of the game, summon creation can be completely ignored with virtually no consequence, which is rather ironic for a game whose title is Summon Night: Twin Age.
No real problems exist in the battle system itself outside of this minor summoning issue. The problems, however, manifest themselves in how the battles actually add to the game. Combat is just too easy; fights can almost always be won by using the same strategies again and again and again, place after place after place. There is very little challenge, and even in most boss fights, seeing a big Game Over screen is just an extremely rare occurrence. This causes the game to feel increasingly repetitive, and after awhile, downright boring. Worse still is the fact that the areas that the heroic anime team traverse and fight in are all extremely bland, unimaginative fields – sometimes to the point that it feels like the areas might as well have been constructed from some random-battlefield-generating machine. Every new chapter leads to a new sequence of these generic battlefields, upon which a lot of generic battling will be done. It’s just another dose of blandness heaped upon a game that doesn’t need any more of it.
|Beast creation is an interesting idea that ultimately proves to be of little use.|
Another issue that takes some real patience is the fact that the game’s designers went to great lengths to employ extensive use of the DS touch screen. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just that some aspects take a loooong time to get used to. The menus are all icon-based, without a word of explanation of what the icons mean until they are touched with the stylus. In a similar way, any abilities selected in battle are displayed only through the icons arranged at the sides of the screen without a word of explanation about what they represent until they are touched. Thus, in the real-time battle system, it becomes necessary to remember and keep track of the icons corresponding to every equipped ability in order to use them with some grace or speed. Using items can be frustrating, because there is no way to simply go into the party’s inventory and “Use” something within the menu screen. No, the item must first be assigned to a command (replacing another ability’s spot on the touch screen’s sidebars) and then used through the icon-based system on the battlefield, even if it’s just for a quick heal. Learning abilities is also on the obtuse side, as the skill tree is unintuitively presented, labeled in ways that might not make obvious sense before a glance at the instruction manual is taken. Indeed, for the first few hours, Summon Night: Twin Age players would be best advised to have that manual nearby for reference.
There is no question that Summon Night: Twin Age is composed of several layers of insipidity, but thankfully the visual presentation helps to lift the game up a bit. The bright colors and big, cute, super-superdeformed sprites bring the game to life handily. Conversations, which happen fairly frequently, are illustrated with expressive, if generic, anime-styled depictions of the characters, à la Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. There are some awkward problems that can arise when battles occur featuring huge armies of monsters; for instance, it is quite easy to lose track of your heroes’ sprites amongst all of the chaos, which can become irritating. Thankfully, though, this is pretty rare. Soundwise, there isn’t much to talk about. The background music is uninspired and mostly forgettable, and the voice clips that are inserted into conversation feel awkward, as if they shouldn’t be there. Sound effects heard during battle and throughout the game aren’t anything special; really, they’re exactly what you’d expect, but nothing more in the least.
Overall, Summon Night: Twin Age is a portable game that is just a bit too blah to recommend. It tries in many ways to be interesting, through its relationship system and its juicy bubble-gum graphical style, but it falls short of its potential and comes off feeling like a very amateur production. The game is too generic, too repetitive, and too mediocre in just about every way. A light-hearted gamer who wants a rest from complicated plots, deep battle systems, and complex characters – and who is in search of a simple, quick RPG romp – might see things differently, but most RPG enthusiasts would be best advised to pass on this one.