Brutal First Half drags Game Down
Download Size: 300 MB
Time to Finish: 22 hrs.
Difficulty Level: Normal
Maps Drawn: 8
Total Party Kills: 9
What I'd Pay: $15
Steam Price: $20
Has Demo? Yes
If I wasn't reviewing this game, I would've quit it before it got good.
About 10 hours in, I had had it with the floaty controls and fighting enemies that seemed to move faster than me. And now I had just gotten my healer taken away from me (again) and had to go solo into a monster den with only a limited amount of herbs to heal me. When I got in, I learned they had unblockable attacks too. A lot of them.
I swore for a couple minutes, then got to work. After barely finishing that dungeon, I finally had a full party for the first time in the game. I was blazing a path to town as a new music track kicked in to celebrate.
"Alright, game, let's see if you improve from here."
It did. If it all played like the second half, I would've given it 4 stars easy. However, the first half was some of the most frustrating gameplay I've had in a while. I had an easier time with Dark Souls than with this game. And I'm gonna analyze why in some detail, because the dealbreaker for this game is whether you can get past that first 10 hours.
Fortune Summoners is a RPG platformer; think Secret of Mana meets Tales of Phantasia. You control 1 girl in your band of 3 as they blaze a trail through the countryside, casting magic and stabbing monsters in a 2D world that looks like something Japan would make back in the SNES era. Two of the girls are magicians, weak in direct combat but capable of laying waste to the whole battlefield if they can get off spells. Arche, the main character, is a swordswoman instead. Her job is to pummel the foes with a flurry of blows long enough to keep them off her pals until they can unleash the inferno. She has the most activities and is the most important party member (without her running interference, the other 2 quickly get mangled), so she'll be your go-to girl for most of the game. It's a pity she handles like a greased trout at the start.
It took hours to get used to how she moved & jumped; they all slide across the floor, but since she moves the most, it's most noticeable on her. And her sword attacks, which require hitting certain directional buttons at the same time as you attack, don't do what you want them to some of the time, even at the end of the game. The game demands directional taps; hold a button too long and you default to a basic sword swing. Don't even get me started on the moves that require two directional taps; I only pulled them off mid-combat when I didn't mean to. This is a control setup that should've had more Smash Bros. and less Street Fighter.
It wouldn't be so bad if the enemies didn't feel like they were just plain faster than you. Even the slimes have lightning reflexes, leaping away from your thrusts unless you smack them while they're distracted. If you're fighting them by yourself, you're gonna be smacked around. Luckily you have 2 teammates running interference for you; between the 3 of you, you can juggle enemies long enough to interrupt their spells and kill them.
At least, that's how it should balance out. The game's biggest problem is that it locks up all the elements that make its combat system work during the first half. You can't even use half of your attacks (they're unlocked as you level up) and you often have to go through dungeons alone. Being alone doesn't stop the game from sending groups of 3-4 monsters at you; they can and will juggle you in a corner until you're dead. Even if you have a partner, sometimes they're not a healer, so you have to deplete your item stores after almost every battle and eventually restock in town. The worst part had to be the underwater sections, where you're forced to send one of your spellcasters, by herself, to take out the aquatic enemies. It was nearly impossible, and it felt clumsy and awkward compared to the well-honed 3-gal wrecking crew you get for the second half of the game.
Make no mistake, once you get your party of 3, the game takes a turn for the better. Luckily for us, the game recognizes it & never makes us travel with only 2 or 1 members again. Your allies' AI is scarily competent, automatically healing you, wasting enemies, and dodging traps (I was so happy I didn't have to babysit them around spikes...), and you can fine tune their positioning and magic usage as well. (I'd argue you can customize the AI more than your own control scheme, which for some reason doesn't let you use anything but the arrow keys for movement.) A few levels after you get a full party, you unlock enough to rip through combat as well, and although the game never lets up on the difficulty, fighting is much less frustrating as a result. What was unbearable during the first half became fun during the second half. Was it worth it, though?
Well, the characters are cliche, the story is kind of stale, and the most interesting thing about the setup is that it's about middle-school adventurers, but the plot is competent (if unoriginal) and there's quite a few jokes, espeically about the absurdly dangerous field trips. If you don't like the core gameplay, though, it isn't worth the playthrough. And you'd have to really like the core gameplay to get past the first 10 hours to the good stuff.
If you're still interested in this game, though, you'll need an old-school mentality. There's a few fetch quests with maddeningly vague hints; talking to everyone is your best bet. MP and revival items are also expensive for most of the game, so you'll often have to make multiple trips into a dungeon. If you push yourself too hard, you'll end up dead. Many of the save points are also a bit off the beaten path, so leave no stone unturned. Some crude mapmaking is also recommended; I started sketching maps after I died in the 2nd dungeon because I couldn't remember where the exit was. Take the dungeons slowly, explore everything, and always keep your items stocked, and you'll find the game much more bearable.
This isn't a game for everyone. It fills a specific niche, and it can be maddeningly challenging even for them. If you have a craving for a 2D action RPG and about 20 hours to spare, give this a look. If not, give this one a pass.