Developer: Cranky Pants
Release Date: Febr 4th 2003
Summoner: A Goddess Reborn is actually a straight port of Summoner 2, which was released last Fall on the PlayStation 2 and is the sequel to the original Summoner that launched with the system back in 2000. Save for a few cosmetic enhancements and minor gameplay tweaking, the two titles are basically identical. That isn’t to say, however, that GameCube owners should turn a blind eye to this game, for the fact that it was even released for Nintendo’s system is something to be thankful for. The GC hasn’t exactly been known for its vast selection of RPGs lately – there have been a few gems in the rough (read: Skies of Arcadia, Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II, Lost Kingdoms) but on the whole ‘Cube owners just haven’t been feeling much RPG love. THQ has apparently gotten the memo because A Goddess Reborn is exactly the kind of shot in the arm the GameCube needs right about now to keep it from turning into another N64 fiasco.
Summoner: A Goddess Reborn may be a sequel to a game that was never even released on the system, but if you’re worried that you won’t be able to get into it on account of having never played the original, don’t be. A Goddess Reborn seems to be only a spiritual successor to the first game and its storyline shares only a passing resemblance, though there are more than a few nods to the original throughout.
The game’s main protagonist, a buff yet feminine warrior Queen named Maia is believed to be a goddess reborn (hence the subtitle) as was foretold in the ancient book of the prophets. Her destiny is to revive the Tree of Eleh, the source of all creation, but her journey is not a lonely one. Aside from commanding a vast army and overseeing the well-being of her kingdom and its people, she’ll be accompanied by a cast of other like-minded warriors as they hack and slash their way through countless foes, make small talk with various townsfolk, and take on a multitude of mini-quests that range from capturing invisible monkeys to publishing the written works of a jailed madman.
While A Goddess Reborn doesn’t exactly revolutionize the RPG genre it does manage to be fairly unique and innovative in terms of meshing different styles of role-playing into a single experience. Players will control Maia or her cohorts via a third-person 3D perspective and conduct battle in real-time via a fairly sophisticated combat engine. All the niceties that one would expect from a action/RPG are present; Zelda-style lock-on, lots of sword swinging, offensive and defensive spell-casting, and an assortment of special attacks. The non-combat controls are just as fleshed-out, not that an intricate system is needed for striking up conversations and interacting with objects. But the process of getting things done is substantially more convenient than a lot of other RPGs for the sole purpose that a floating icon appears above the characters head anytime a special action can be taken. Being in close proximity of an NPC, for example, will invoke a talking mouth icon, a treasure chest icon means there is loot at your feat, etc.
One of the most unique aspects of A Goddess Reborn’s gameplay system is the ability to not only travel with and fight alongside up to two additional characters, but to switch user control over to any one of them on the fly by simply pushing left on the D-pad. You can choose to have your teammates follow closely behind and help you out with swarming baddies, or you can go into solo mode and venture alone. To further increase the potential strategy of this system you can customize the overall fighting style of your party by selecting from a list of A.I. behavior. Depending on the style you choose your teammates may play it safe from a distance while they tend to your HP needs or they might dive headlong into a cluster of foes and provide you with some wiggle room, or even a combination of both.
Each character in your party has their own unique set of attributes and special moves that require ability points, but Maia is definitely the all-around more entertaining fighter to use. This is because of her ability to summon up various colossal monsters, in effect transforming into them. As you make your way through the game you’ll come across various spells that will allow you to do this. Transforming into a range of huge monsters is an empowering prospect that pays off in dividends when you are in the heat of a battle. You’ll only be able to maintain monster form for a short time, but when you are a hulking monstrosity of devastation incarnate a short time is usually all that is needed.
Those familiar with RPGs like Morrowind or Icewind Dale will feel most at home with A Goddess Reborn. It uses the same style of quest progression in that as you speak with various locals and other key personalities you’ll be apprised of various tasks that need doing. These tasks are separated by being crucial to the story and completely optional, and are marked as such in the rather elaborate menu system. Also, the way the player allocates earned points to beef up their character’s stats is similar to the PC RPG convention. But don’t think that this game requires a vast understanding of relatively-obscure Dungeons & Dragons rules, it’s more of a streamlined and simplified version thereof that console gamers should have no trouble utilizing after a half-hour or so.
Where A Goddess Reborn most shines is in its non-linear quest progression that allows the player to basically play the game the way he wants to. But while this does contribute to the originality and initial appeal of the game it also tends to serve as a roadblock further down the road. It is not uncommon to find yourself in a situation where you aren’t sure where you are supposed to go to further the main story of the game. And in particular there are a couple towns that are so absurdly intricate and visually repetitive that exploring them and tracking down that one important building or character quickly turns into an exercise in frustration. But these instances are relatively rare and true fans of the genre will push forward and jump through all the annoying hoops (or just visit gamefaqs and be done with it).
Visually, A Goddess Reborn isn’t all that different from the aging PS2 game on which it is based. Some textures are noticeably updated but where are the lighting improvements, additional animation, and updated character models that THQ promised when they announced it was being ported over to the GameCube? Oh well, the game didn’t look that bad to begin with and at least the frame rate has received a generous boost. The aural presentation fares a bit better boasting a diverse and eclectic mix of sound effects and musical accompaniment. A lot of the dialogue is spoken so the utilization of professional voice actors is appreciated.
Overall, Summoner: A Goddess Reborn is a genuinely unique, albeit slightly lackluster, take on the RPG genre. It isn’t often that a game comes along that can so elegantly make use of conventional PC-style RPG dynamics and exciting real-time combat, so it goes without saying that A Goddess Reborn is certainly worth checking out. But if you’ve already played Summoner 2 on the PS2, or haven’t yet played the recently re-released Skies of Arcadia then there isn’t much reason to pick this one up.