RPGs have come a long way in the year 2000. No longer restricted to hack and slash "save the princess" storylines, they can range from the deranged silliness of Earthbound to the urban mystery of Persona 2. In this vein, the developers of Summoner have come up with a new genre of role-playing game: the RPG as soporific. Volition seemingly knows what makes an RPG, and has used its knowledge of these conventions to put us to sleep as efficiently as possible.

 We're all in this together, Flece
"Gah. I'm in Summoner."

   There are several reasons it should have been apparent that a PC-style RPG won't work very well off of a PC, many of which can be seen in the design of the large cities that are a hallmark of the style. The first problem is the aforementioned incredible number of "filler people." Only a few people in each city have anything important to say or anything to add to the quest, and they're marked with double exclamation points. The rest are there for no reason. Not only do they fail to add anything to the game, keeping track of so many unnecessary models is probably one reason the framerate suffers so much. Another reason for that is, of course, the large-scale environments and houses, none of which you're actually allowed to enter.

   Two other hallmarks of a PC-style RPG are large save files and the use of a keyboard, both of which are absolutely necessary for navigating these gigantic environments. Without a keyboard, you can't annotate or mark the map with important NPCs, and when save files must be kept as small as possible to fit on the PS2 memory card, there's no room for Volition to automatically mark them either. The lack of any map annotations makes solving even the most basic quests exponentially more tedious, since you'll have to track down everyone involved several times.

Tear my eyes out

   But problems inherent in bringing a PC-style RPG to a console aren't the only things wrong with Summoner. There are also things Volition did poorly all by themselves. Though they were the ones to figure out how to achieve some sort of anti-aliasing on the PS2, it hasn't done much for the graphics in Summoner. What the game resembles most is some kind of slightly higher-resolution form of a PSX adventure game, but with worse character models. If eyes are windows to the soul, this author would like never to know the twisted, broken spirits that lie behind Summoner's cross-eyed, bloodshot orbs. Together with the rampant flickering framerate and excessively low draw-in distances, the graphics are just short of headache-inducing. The worst offender is the font used for all the game's text. In twelve years of console RPGs, Summoner may be the first to get the font completely wrong. The letters, which are approximately one pixel wide, are all a deep blue or scarlet red against black, forcing the player to move up as close as an inch away from the screen to read the text. All of this put together will make most players want to rest their eyes every so often before continuing or risk eyestrain.

 Kill me now
The blinding visuals of the PlayStation 2

   And that's when the graphics are passable. When they're not, you get something like the world map, which is one big 16-color blur with brown boxes meant to represent cities strewn here and there. Or the time it seemed a shadow was passing over the city, perhaps indicating a large flying monster or armada of airships ready to strike ... but turned out to be nothing more than the city texturing itself before my eyes. When an environment takes 35 seconds to load, one expects it to stay loaded.

   Larger issues than the graphics lie in the battle system, which takes all the nasty "interactive" aspects out of the game. If you turn auto-chaining on in the options menu, it's possible to leave the main character alone in a dungeon, put the controller down, and watch as he automatically dispatches every enemy that approaches. You can even set the AI to "heal" so that he automatically cures any wounds incurred. There's no AI for "solve dungeon" or "complete quest," but it wouldn't feel out of place in this game.

Nothing can save me either, for that matter.
Nothing can save you now

   Even when you leave manual chaining on, it still feels like a shabby knockoff of Vagrant Story's battle system. Where that game featured free roaming during battle and required close attention, Summoner leaves poor Joseph standing still as he resolutely attacks one enemy at a time while receiving triple the damage he inflicts from a gang of enemies that has surrounded him. It's grievously unbalanced and gets worse as party members join. Since you can only control one character in the party at any moment, the rest will resort to their poorly-scripted AI patterns, guaranteed to leave them dead within seconds.

   There are other problems with the game such as the obscene load times, the game's sorry excuse for a premise--a hero who inadvertently brings ruin to his hometown has a staple of RPGs for at least a decade--and the generally uninspired music, but why go on? Does anything more need be said beyond, "It's the PlayStation 2's worst launch RPG and don't buy it?" No.

Review by Nich Maragos, GIA.
Developer Volition Studios
Publisher THQ
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium DVD
Platform PlayStation 2
Release Date  Unknown
53 screenshots