Release Date: June 3, 2008
It is the way of the world: When you find something that works, everyone is going to want to take a crack at it, in hopes of finding the same success. For every Final Fantasy, there was a Paladin's Quest. For every Street Fighter, there was a Fatal Fury. As a result, it's difficult to find a successful property that hasn't been imitated (usually poorly) thousands of times by companies striving to make a quick buck off of gullible gamers based on the theory that if they like Game X, they'll like anything similar to Game X. One such property is Secret of Mana, a title that blended character development with real-time action gaming on the Super Nintendo back in 1993, when gaming dinosaurs still roamed the earth. Atlus has apparently decided to correct this little oversight by coming out with Summon Night: Twin Age for the DS. Does this modern attempt add anything to the underutilized genre, or does it at least live up to its predecessor and do its spiritual ancestor proud? Unfortunately, it doesn't — not by a long shot.
The story line for Twin Age is more than a little arcane and difficult to comprehend. The general gist of it is that in the world of Clardona, spirits are involved in pretty much every aspect of nature. Earth, grass, lightning and wind: Everything happens because spirits cause it to happen. Humans and "Kascuza" are the two races living on the world, and whereas humans try to bend the spirits to their will, the Kascuza live in harmony with the spirits. At any rate, one human girl is forced to summon a spirit, causing a big accident in which the hero — who is, for some reason, a human-looking boy — is brought into the world. The girl and boy live together as family, adopted by the Kascuza, until their ceremonial rite of passage is slated to occur. That time is also apparently the cue for the local spirits to go crazy and start wrecking the place, prompting the pair to go on a quest to figure out what's going on and how to stop it.
Graphically, Twin Age is adequate. Sure, the backgrounds are fairly lush and expansive, and the portraits of the various characters look like somebody spent some time conceptualizing them. The real gripe is that the sprites look very much like they belong on the Game Boy Advance, with nondescript characters so vague that you're forced to rely on these portraits to determine what they look like.
The sound is an equally mixed bag. The background music is pretty decent a lot of the time, and there's a satisfying "thwack" when your weapon is introduced to your enemy, but the voice acting leaves much to be desired. Voice acting needs to come in one of two flavors: say what the dialogue is saying, or don't do it. An abbreviated, dumbed-down version of the text just makes the game seem cheesy and underdone. The female lead shrieks, "Booooo!" whenever you choose a dialogue option that she doesn't like, and if I hear it one more time, I'm going to track down actors and start my own collection of vocal chords. Play this game with the volume up, but turn it down whenever you see a conversation start.
Early on, Twin Age asks that you choose a main character, either the girl who is skilled with magic or the boy who knows his way around a weapon. This choice is rendered somewhat less important by the fact that tapping an icon on the screen will allow you to switch control back and forth between your main character and your companion, but it does affect some of the conversation branches. Of course, it's a small icon because there are so many icons on the screen, all of which you have to accurately tap if you want to do anything more complex than swing your sword. Want to use a skill? Tap one icon to open the menu, then tap the skill, then tap the opponent you want to send to that great monster generator in the sky. This doesn't sound like a big problem until you realize that you will want to use your skills fairly frequently, making for endless tapping.
Throw in the fact that the icons for your skills are fairly small, and that enemies tend to cluster so closely together that it becomes very difficult to take down the enemy you had in mind, and combat rapidly becomes an exercise in just hitting the baddie till he falls. The addition of the skill trees is a nice bonus, allowing you to customize your character's abilities to better suit your combat style, but the game's tendency to require lightning-fast reflexes to actually use any of them puts a damper on the enjoyment. Using items in combat is hindered by the same menu system; if time stopped outside of combat while you were accessing your inventory, that would be one thing, but this reviewer died too many times while trying to click on a potion and then his own character because the opponents couldn't be bothered with a time-out.
Your companions aren't exactly much of a boon, either. Sure, you get quite the assortment of characters to follow you around throughout the game, but the enjoyment fades when you realize that, for some reason that goes completely unexplained for the entire game, you can only bring one of them with you at a time. Even if you've gotten eight different stalwart warriors to dedicate their lives to your cause and follow you to the ends of the world, all but one of them will be forced to warm the bench. Your ally will also be spending a large portion of the time pushing up daisies, so not only are you perpetually forced to remain short-handed, but the artificial intelligence likes to run into walls and charge heedlessly into large groups of powerful enemies. The only mercy in this is that if you just wait around long enough, your partner will simply pop back into existence as if nothing ever happened. Even death is inconsequential in Twin Age, so long as it isn't your main character who's doing the dying.
Overall, Summon Night : Twin Age might be passable for people with fairly low expectations, but the drawn-out combat mechanics, poor party support, and agonizing voice acting really drive a knife into this title's back. Those who never played Secret of Mana will be disappointed, and those who did may find themselves nauseated at this slipshod attempt to capitalize on the genre's success.
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