Summon Night 5 is the fifth game in a series that I doubt many people reading this will have experience with. From what I understand, while Summon Night is an immensely popular franchise in Japan, it rarely makes its way outside of the country, sans a few spin-offs localized by Atlus. Summon Night 5 is the first main series entry to grace our English-speaking consoles. What’s more, being a PSP exclusive, it’s very likely that Summon Night 5 may have gone under your radar completely. Even if you have no idea what this game is, you may be surprised to know that it’s worth a look.
The game itself is an odd mixture of Visual novel and Strategy RPG with a little bit of Dating Sim thrown in. With visual novel elements, you would imagine that story would take a front seat. In a sense it does, but not in the way I was expecting. Rather than having a giant overarching plot, each chapter of the game plays out more episodically and contained. This works for the most part. It’s a good way to frame each encounter and give context to what’s happening, and even when a full plot begins to make its appearance about halfway through, it doesn’t feel jarring to change-up the narrative style. What is a little jarring is how the story is told. Each section of the chapter is told through little snippets of conversation you discover on the world map. This would be fine if conversations didn’t end in odd places, only to be continued in a completely different location. Story telling in this game ultimately becomes a matter of clicking through each available location looking for a new conversation to have, and can take a long time to complete. There’s little to no actual gameplay breaking these segments up either. It’s especially frustrating when you spend ten minutes looking for someone who wants to talk to you, and it turns out to be someone in your party who has been with you the whole time.
Being partly a visual novel, on a whole these scenes take up most of your time playing the game. The scenes themselves are actually done pretty nicely. Character portraits animate fluidly, giving off an almost 3D anime look. There is no voice acting, unfortunately. While reading isn’t a problem, some of these scenes go on for ten or twenty minutes. For the visual novel fans, I imagine this sounds totally fine. But, if you came in expecting a ton of gameplay, you probably won’t have a good time.
In addition to the scenes, it’s important to talk about the choices you make. So far, there are 14 discovered endings to the game. As far as I can tell, there are only two actual choices you make. Those are who your protagonist is and who their partner is. As mentioned, there is a dating sim element to the story that helps determine the ending as well. At the end of each chapter you can pick a character to spend an evening with. But, it’s usually a static conversation that you have no control over. To be totally honest, I’m not really sure how the endings are chosen outside of your initial character choices.
When you eventually do get to actually play the game, it’s a surprisingly good time. Gameplay consists of SRPG-styled battles. Unique to Summon Night, is of course summoning. Your main character, along with most of the other characters who join you, are known as Eucross summoners. They each have a unique partner known as a Cross that they can cast magic through. In addition to the Crosses are monsters you can recruit into your Summon Cluster, which is essentially just a pool of magic spells you can use. To collect these monsters, you either defeat them in battle or get them through the mission selector at the Eucross headquarters. On top the summons is the BP system, or Brave Points. You collect brave points by attacking enemies and completing side objectives on the battlefield. These points can then be used to perform special party skills. What’s more, BP adds a separate lose condition in that once you run out, it’s game over. It creates a pretty nice risk/reward combat dynamic. Otherwise, the strategy gameplay is pretty standard fare. Of course standard doesn’t mean bad. It’s completely solid gameplay that I would definitely rank among the top SRPGs out there, like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics. Playing battles is easily the highlight of the time you will spend with Summon Night 5.
Summon Night 5 bridges the gap between visual novel and RPG very nicely, and may very well be the only game that does so in the first place. The problem is who do you recommend this game to? If you’re looking for a solid RPG with tons of gameplay to be had, then you will most likely hate all the button spamming you’ll be doing in between battles. If you just want to read a nice story, then you’d be better off picking up a book as the battles get quite difficult later on, and aren’t intended for casual players. It’s a very unique demographic that they’ve filled with this game. Of course, there are grey areas. People who enjoy both styles of games equally. But, even though both styles are done very well, it’s worth considering what you’re getting into when you pick up Summon Night.
Overall, Summon Night 5 is a very enjoyable experience. Even if the story segments can be tedious, I still found myself playing for hours on end. If you have an old PSP, or better yet, a Vita hanging around, you should consider giving Summon Night 5 a try.
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