It’s being hotly debated on the forums that the Game Boy Advance (especially the GBA SP) is possibly the best portable console crafted by mortals. So, I decided to spend this Throwback Thursday reviewing an original action RPG that perfectly shows off the system’s capabilities – Summon Night: Swordcraft Story 2.
In Summon Night, players assume the role of a young Craftknight: warrior blacksmiths who live by the creed, “This hammer not only forges weapons…It can also forge a man!” You live in the rural and aptly named Cliff Village which was built to watch over the resting place of an ancient and terrible monster. But while you and a friend are exploring some ruins, your buddy inexplicably turns against you, and helps release said monster from its prison. Now you must find the Daemon Edge in order to seal the monster once again, before its strength returns and it ravages the world.
Sealing away ancient evils isn’t exactly a solo job, so you’ll need an ally along for the journey. In Summon Knight, that means a Guardian Beast. In the previous game, you answered a bunch of personality questions that determined what kind of sidekick you got. But in this one, you simply get to pick from four choices: A menacing mecha, a light-hearted beast boy, a sexy (and schizophrenic) demon/angel girl, and a fiery oni. It’s great how different the choices are not only in aesthetics, but in personality. These aren’t just battle helpers; they’re characters that form a bond with the hero and add a special flavor to the game.
While I feel like most RPGs just phone in their battle systems, Summon Knight clearly takes care to make every smackdown you lay as fun as possible. Random encounters on the map turn the typical top-down exploration into a side scrolling brawler. Your character can run, jump, defend, and perform a variety of attacks specific to what kind of weapon he’s using. Skill, in addition to stats, weighs heavily on how easily you can dispatch foes.
Your Guardian Beast has a variety of support spells that can be cycled through with the R button and cast with B, which I find quite manageable. Eventually, you can equip a gem to your beast that allows you to transform into a powerful, fully-armored warrior that devastates minor foes and can even the odds on a seemingly unbeatable boss. The only catch is that you can only do this once before having to recharge the gem back at town.
One weapon might be enough for some heroes, but Craftknights pack up to three. Using the L button, you can cycle through your weapons during battle to always have the right tool for the job. It’s a good thing too, since there are many types of monsters, each with different attack styles including elusive fliers, ranged strikers, and slow, overpowering behemoths. Your health isn’t the only thing to watch, however, as each weapon can break if you fight carelessly or block too often and its durability runs out.
But the heart of any Swordcraft Story is, naturally, the sword crafting. Unlike the typical, scavenging hero that picks up any old sword he finds in a dungeon, Craftknights only use weapons they forged themselves, and they can make quite a variety. The crafting system is uncomplicated, but allows for plenty of fun choices.
First, you need a Shapestone, which defines the type of weapon you’ll make, be it a sword, axe, spear, glove, or even a drill. Then you choose which material in your inventory to make the weapon from. Every combination of Shapestone and material produces a different weapon, and certain combinations even unlock special attacks. Using a weapon in battle will increase its Tech, making it more deadly. When the time comes to upgrade to a new model, you can dismantle your old weapon to retrieve the Shapestone to carry over half of the Tech to the new weapon.
As your crafting skill increases, you can unlock new options, like customizations that add stats or special effects to your weapons. The total number of possible weapons is staggering, and means that everyone who plays will have a unique arsenal, custom forged to their play style.
Swordcraft Story 2 shows off beautifully just how vivid and bright colors can look on the GBA. That’s especially noticeable in contrast to the prequel, which you spent most of your time in a metal city and an endless cave. Cliff Village and the varied dungeons you’ll encounter, however, are lush with vegetation, waterfalls, log cabins and remnants of a lost civilization.
The dialogue is easy to follow, but a bit wordy at times. It seems like everyone has to apologize to each other a dozen times in each scene for minor offenses. But each character has a lot of personality, and you get to know them well throughout the game. There’s even a brilliant system that lets you choose one character every night (even your Guardian Beast) to spend some quality time with. This leads to a 1-on-1 cut scene that reveals a little more about their story and who they are. It’s a small feature, but it was one of the things that I looked forward to most.
In a world of big budget, flashy, and melodramatic titles, Summon Knight is the kind of series that’s been overlooked by many. I implore anyone who still owns a GBA to give this series a try and then tell us whether you think the GBA is deserving of the praise we give it.