Indie Review - Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone (PC)

Originally developed by the almost-one-man dev team Lizsoft and released in 2007, Fortune Summoners is the latest game to be translated for Steam and Gamersgate by quirky localisation kings Carpe Fulgur of Recettear fame. Have they brought over another hit?

Fortune Summoners is a side-scrolling action RPG that follows the adventures of nice-but-dim swordsgirl Arche Plumfield and her friends in the country of Scotsholm. Arche starts school on the outskirts of Tonkiness (after surviving the school run which is actually crawling with monsters- as amusing as I found this on my first playthrough, it gets funnier later because the game provides a plot justification for it!) and is excited to learn how to wield magic, but can't afford to buy the required Elemental Stone. So she decides to drag her new friend, the shy water healer Sana Poanet, to a monster-filled cave outside school and finds a sealed Elemental Stone and a sentient elemental, the flying rabbit thingy Chiffon. From there, Arche journeys across the land with Sana and later the fire-wielding Stella Mayberk to unseal the stone by collecting the three Wind Crests, which eventually leads to a greater threat.

It's the kind of story you've seen before with nothing out of the ordinary, but Carpe Fulgur's translation brings the game's world to life- a bit soft at times, perhaps, but sprinkled with goofy humour, making it worth going out of your way to examine everything and talk to as many people as you can (some of our screenshots highlight the funnier lines). In particular, Arche has some pretty funny dialogue as she has a 'never give up, never think things through' personality (the ideal attitude for an action RPG, of course). Fortunately, unlike some localisation companies I could mention, there's scarcely any pop-culture references ham-fistedly thrown in, although we did spot some nods to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Zork. Other elements of the game, such as the ability to find underwear in almost everybody's house (I had five pairs by the time I was done), the fact that you can change the colour of your character's socks (I, er, didn't bother) and the rich Playstation-era sprite graphics (complete with cute animations like Sana feebly parrying enemy attacks) give the game a lot of humour and charm, and reminded me in a few ways of cult SNES classic Earthbound (although Arche is considerably chattier than Ness).

Let's go! Destination: Forever! Maybe!

The structure of the game is the genre standard, for the most part- do a few tasks to move the story along, go into a dungeon and beat a boss monster (sometimes more than one per day)- although in a slight changet the game is divided into individual days (plot-wise, at least). Some days are fairly slow (like one halfway through which is devoted to finding sweets for a field trip) and others are jam-packed (a cross-country trek and two dungeons in one day!) but it helps break the game up a bit. It starts off fairly slow- I was nearly put off by the fact that you revisit the same cave several times in a row (albeit getting a little further each time)- but once you actually find the Elemental Stone and Chiffon, things pick up and Arche and friends start going further afield, visiting the towns surrounding Tonkiness and the numerous dungeons around the land (seriously, there are more dungeons than towns in this game).

The main problem in the inbetween-dungeon sections is that at times you'll have no idea where to go- more than once, the only solution to a problem, such as a broken bridge or a meddlesome guard, is to talk to everyone in town (and sometimes outside town) until you find the right person, and this can be frustrating, especially since a few times the solution isn't obvious. The game tries to alleviate this with the Message system- every day you'll receive a letter or two telling you where your next destination is- but the 'how' is usually less clear. I'm not sure if this is an intentional homage to how story-driven games like this used to work (I was half-expecting someone to tell me to hit Deborah Cliff with my head to make a hole) but it can be off-putting for some (when I got stuck, I found a review with the same problem that luckily pointed me in the right direction!). Fortunately, the dungeons are simpler- a bit sprawling at times and a brutal fight from beginning to end, but making progress is usually a case of either finding a key or solving some simple crate-pushing puzzles with Arche. However, later dungeon puzzles that require all three characters to be alive and force you to either go back to the surface or die and get sent to safety (goodbye, 10% of your money!) if one member is dead will annoy you, and could've been resolved if the game let you control dead characters for just these puzzles (although if one of your characters is dead in a dungeon, you're best getting the hell out anyway).

Alright, slimes! Taste hot Arche justice!

Whether you're travelling between towns (the roads are infested with monsters, of course) or a few floors deep into a dungeon, though, the combat is the meat of the game, and the part I enjoyed the most. It works surprisingly well considering two-thirds of your party are computer-controlled- the AI is so good it's probably better at the game than you are and will rarely annoy you with their antics, but you can switch between Arche, Sana and Stella at your leisure and alter their attack behaviour (whether to use magic as much as possible, only heal or use it conservatively, etc.). I spent most of my playthrough as Arche though, as her sword skills were the most satisfying to use- the two spellcasters are interesting enough in their own right (you have to keep foes at a distance as their magic, activated by holding the attack button down, is rarely instant) but Arche has more command attacks like a downward stab (Zelda II-style!) and extended sword combos as she levels up. Some of her attacks can be difficult to pull off consistently (it took me a while to get the hang of the dropkick) but for the most part, the attacks you really need (the lunge and the upward strike in particular) will become second nature in time.

Arche also exemplifies the nature of combat in the game- this is not for button-mashers. Each enemy type has a different style of attack- the Kobolds are vicious and attack blindly, while the Cocorats prefer to pelt you with acorns from a distance- so the key to fighting is learning enemy patterns, parrying their attacks, and waiting for the moment to wail on them with well-timed sword combos (the longer your combo, the more damage each strike does). Although there are plenty of concessions for the player- you can use a quick-heal button to use a healing item in the heat of battle (although there's a waiting time, and you can disable it) and items drop from enemies are common- the game encourages you to master the combat system and learn useful strategies/combos rather than powerhouse your way through with healing items, button-mashing and grinding, and this makes the combat very engaging. In particular, your party's maximum level and wallet amount is kept in-check by the Marks of Heroism found in most dungeons- each one lets your characters go up one extra level, so grinding to get through is impossible. You're going to have to learn to fight properly!

I didn't do anything but be violent to you.

That said, the combat isn't perfect. For a start, character movement feels very floaty initially, especially when jumping, and it's a feeling that gets less noticable as you play on but is still there throughout- even by the end Arche was still skidding into walls and spike-traps on ocassion. The other criticism is that by the time you have all three party members and they've started to learn their more powerful spells, battles begin to devolve into total magic chaos, with Stella in particular bringing horrible, firey death upon anything within spitting distance before Arche even has a chance to stab them- it can become hard to keep track of what's happening at times (especially if your party's behaviour is set to 'cast like mad') and when this first starts to happen, it really feels like the skill gets taken out of combat. To a certain extent, that's true- the upgraded version of Sana's Diamond Dust can tear enemies to shreds, and has enough range to hit any threats!

However, Arche remains the strongest fighter throughout the game (Sana's physical attacks are hilariously feeble) and without her sword attacks weakening the enemy, Sana and Stella can't quite manage by themselves, mostly because of the charge time on their magic spells. Many times in the later dungeons I found myself with just Sana and Stella left and, instead of fighting the remaining monsters, I ran away like a little girl to safety (ho ho ho) because without Arche to lead the charge and provide cover, their magic isn't quite as useful. This idea is further beaten into you when you have to play a short section as one of the spellcasters solo- luckily the enemies are a little weaker than normal, but it's a pretty rough section until you regain control of Arche. I will admit the feeling that the magicians are doing all the work will nag at you a little, but Arche's sword moves are so satisfying to pull off (it must be those great sound effects when you land a hit) that the combat is still enjoyable.

Gameplay Footage:

I am going to burn the entire world to cinders, I swear...

 Overall, though, I enjoyed almost all of my time with Fortune Summoners- all 30 hours of it. The game can probably be done a bit faster than that, but I took my time talking to all the people in town for their humourous dialogue and taking in the pleasant, charming atmosphere of the game- with its bright and detailed graphics, this is a Blue Skies game if ever there was one. Because the dungeons are tough but relatively short (and plentiful) it's a great game to play bit-by-bit- personally, I played through one, maybe two dungeons a night for about a week, and still felt that I was making progress. Even stranger, I was actually a little annoyed when I'd finished, because the combat with Arche was so much fun I wanted to keep at it! (That's what the secret section of the final dungeon is for, natch). The fact that my teammates were cutting a swathe through the enemy masses at times did grate a little near the end, and I did get stumped every now and then, but even so I found myself quite sucked into the game- the ratio of dungeons-and-combat time to in-town time is just right (for the most part), the combat is satisfying and intuitive (as Arche in particular), and with its overall charm, attention to detail and cheery atmosphere (try playing it after something like Skyrim for a real shift of tone!), Fortune Summoners is a very enjoyable, very playable homage to older action RPGs, and comes recommended.

... And really, one of the most amusing things I've done in a game lately was unsheath Arche's sword in mid-air to smack a blue slime in the face, then dropkick it to death. That's the kind of ridiculousness I want from my video games!

Please note: I played Fortune Summoners on my hilariously -outdated laptop with a Street Fighter IV Fightstick for the gamepad, so if I can run it, your PC/laptop almost certainly can too. In 2009, an upgrade to the original game, Fortune Summoners Deluxe, was released which included enchanced graphics, a few new quests and an arcade-style 'Arche Musou' mode. This localisation only has the enchanced graphics from that release and not the extra content as Carpe Fulgur only obtained the license for the original game. You can read the Fortune Summoners FAQ on Carpe Fulgur's website for more information on the game and how/where to buy it.

Last Updated ( 22 February 2012 )  

Tepid Snake

Wait, what do I put in this box again? Oh, it's about me. I like playing weird and unusual games- the sort you're likely to forget about- and I hope you like reading about them because they're what I write about. And game trivia too. Please look forward to it!

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(Link to this comment) Cauterize 2012-02-23 21:35
This looks absolutely fantastic and is exactly my kind of game! Fantastic review, Ant. Definitely going to check this out on Steam now :)

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