Summon Night: Twin Age - Staff Review  

Even the Logo is Cute
by Adriaan den Ouden

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Less than 20 Hours
+ Charming visuals.
+ Intuitive, fun gameplay.
+ Impressive use of DS controls.
- No challenge outside of boss fights.
- Short.
- Menus can sometimes be confusing.
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   RPGamers are an odd bunch. No other genre has fans of quite a distinct diversity as the RPG, and this is partly due to the incredible number of subgenres that have emerged over the years. We have our action-RPG fans, our tactical fans, our turn-based fans, and zealous fans of dozens upon dozens of different series. And, of course, there's the ongoing struggle between old-school RPGs and the new generation; the Kirk vs. Picard debate of the new millennium. However, once in a while a game comes out that bridges that gap, providing a new twist on an old formula. Dragon Quest VIII did it, and was followed by Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, all of which combined the classic turn-based gameplay formula of the SNES generation with a shiny new graphical coat. Enter Summon Night: Twin Age, an action-RPG for the DS that manages to do the opposite, combining the classic 2D sprites of the SNES generation with the tight, intuitive controls that have come to define the current generation. The result is a game that is inherently charming and a joy to play.

   Summon Night: Twin Age follows the story of Aldo and Reiha, a summon beast and his summoner, respectively. Since they were young, the two have lived isolated from the human world with the Kascuza, a tribe of half-man, half-animal beings who long ago warred with the humans and lost. When the spirits of the world begin to go out of control, the pair set off to human lands to discover the cause of it all and to learn of their own past. The story is simple and for the most part inconsequential, but it's told in a way that's difficult to dislike. Thanks to adorable character designs, charming, colorful 2D graphics, and fluid, casual dialog laden with silly humor, every scene is sure to inspire an apprehensive smile from anyone who takes the game in hand, even when it should be producing cringes.

Old school heroics. Old school heroics.

   While the story itself brings back warm memories of simpler times, the sprite and tile-based graphics certainly add to the flavor. The sprites are fairly detailed and extremely colorful, and are punctuated by high-quality anime portraits during story sequences. The sprites are well animated, as are the variety of spells and skills learned throughout the game. The ultimate skills learned late in the game are particularly impressive, featuring fancy anime-styled art sequences that, thankfully, can be skipped, as they are quite lengthy. The environments, unfortunately, are not quite as attractive as they could be. Most of the tilesets are fairly limited, and the map design throughout tends to involve sprawling, empty space, but there is usually so much going on that it's easy to overlook.

   The sound, too, provides a nice flashback of the SNES era. The music is composed of catchy midi tracks that provide a good background and little more. There are occasional snippets of voice acting, but most are limited to short phrases. Sound effects are simple and unremarkable, but do the job they need to do well enough.

   The gameplay is where the old meets the new, and this is no truer than in the battle system. Combat is a simple point-and-click affair reminiscent of Diablo, and in fact manages to maintain the same level of intuitive, yet addictive charm that the famed Blizzard game possessed. Tapping an enemy will cause Aldo or Reiha to attack until they are told to stop or the target is defeated. Skills and items can be assigned to and selected from two six-button panels on either side of the screen, and tapping an enemy or ally after tapping these buttons is all that's needed to use them. While it seems simple, the number of enemies thrown at the player at any given time ensures that the game maintains a frenetic pace that requires constant attention. However, once that attention is paid, the game is actually extremely easy, with the exception of boss fights which, contrastingly, can be surprisingly difficult at times, particularly against humanoid enemies.

A confusing menu. A confusing menu.

   The control scheme is excellent, and aside from some strange button combos that may need to be looked up to use certain features, such as switching from a bar to numeric health display or fast-forwarding through scenes, the game is completely intuitive and can be picked up and played by anyone almost immediately. The touch controls are responsive and well-designed, and there are even some features thrown in that would easily be overlooked by most developers. One such feature is an auto-run system. By pressing and holding the stylus to the edge of the screen for a moment, the character will continue to run in that direction even after the stylus is lifted.

   While only one of the two protagonists can be actively played at a time, the other is controlled by fairly intelligent AI. Switching between them is as easy as a press of the touch screen, should the need arise. In addition to the duo, the game allows the player to take an additional AI-controlled party member into combat, featuring a selection of six different characters to choose from, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. The player can also conjure and summon monsters to fight with him by acquiring items dropped by the enemies killed in dungeons. These items are then turned into monsters that can be summoned at any time, staying with the player until they die. Each of the two protagonists also has a large skill tree that they can progress through, again very similar to Diablo. Each level the two characters gain skill points that can be spent improving these skills up to rank seven.

   In the end, Summon Night: Twin Age is simple, fast, and fun. It doesn't really bring anything new to the table, but at the same time, it doesn't really do anything wrong. It's fairly short, only lasting around 15 hours, but the game also provides the player with a number of different choices throughout, including special character scenes at the end of most chapters, giving it a fair bit of replay value. Though it's not likely going to win any accolades, the game is, unquestionably, one worth playing, even if its simply to reminisce about the good old days.

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