Oh Fortune Summoners, you're so adorable! Arche is just a disgustingly cute little girl who goes on adventures with her equally cute friends as they explore dungeons, caves, ruins and just have a great time!
Wait... Arche. What's that terrifying look in your eye? Stop it! Put that down! I don't want to die! Oh no... please... AGHHHH.
*insert blood curdling scream here*
The third game released by Carpe Fulgur, Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone, is every bit as charming as Recettear and Chantelise. The characters are adorable and funny, the dungeons plentiful and the visuals delightfully old school.
Fortune Summoners will also kick your ass.
The story follows little Arche Plumfield, new girl in the town of Tonkiness. Having recently moved their with her parents, she is enrolled in the Minasa-Ratis Magic school. With her father only just managing to set up his new shop, the Plumfield family is tight on money. Unfortunately for Arche, her loving parents can't afford to buy her an elemental stone; a powerful gem that allows the wielder to use magic. This doesn't stop Arch from going on adventures and kicking ass though; the energetic little girl wields a sword like nobody's business. Making new friends and exploring dungeons after school is all in a days work for our tiny hero. Maybe if Arche searches hard enough, she'll find an elemental stone to call her own?
Fortune Summoners is a 2D, sidescrolling action rpg for the PC. Initially only controlling one character at a time, you're able to make Arch run, jump, defend and attack with her sword. At first it seems relatively basic, but as soon as you begin to experiment a little bit, the depth of the battle system becomes apparent. Unlike many action rpgs, Fortune Summoners has a combo system that requires a keen attention to timing and enemy placement. Your first instinct will be to mash the attack button when you encounter an enemy. This tactic will fail you right out of the gate. Defense is equally as important as offense, and if you try to rush at your enemy you'll only find yourself dead. Each new attack you unlock (performed via different button presses) is applicable toward certain situations, and it's how you use them that will be the key to completing the game. Additionally, Arche has to draw her sword before she can attack, meaning there's a gap of time in which you're completely vulnerable if you're not ready/anticipating a fight.
As you progress in the game, you gain two more party members; the bashful water mage Sana and the fire mage Stella. These two girls attack using magic, meaning the way you approach controlling them is completely different from Arche. You're able to switch between characters pretty much on the fly, though they'll always be onscreen, assisting with attacks and taking damage. You can issue some minor commands to characters, but most of the time they'll be controlled by the AI.
Fortunately, said AI is extremely competent. When I died, it was rarely the fault of the AI party members doing something inappropriate to the situation. In fact, I'd argue that they handled many of the battle situations better than I did, initially at least. Enemy AI is also very sharp, making simple looking encounters a test of endurance and skill. Early on you'll run into magic using skeleton enemies that heal themselves if you back away too much. Up until that point in the game, I'd been using a hit and run tactic on the harder enemies, attempting to shave off HP without taking too much damage myself. These skeletons caused me to completely rethink my tactics. It's that type of gameplay that I really wasn't expecting to find in a small, niche title like this.
This brings me to my next point; Fortune Summoners is hard. You will die. Beneath the cute exterior of this game rests a sleeping beast, ready to bite your head off at a moment's notice. I don't want you to misunderstand what I mean though. The game is never unfair; it simply puts up a wall and expects the player to use all the skills they've learned to overcome it. This isn't just inherent in the enemies but also the dungeons as well. There are no maps and sometimes it feels as if dungeons go on forever. Places to save and heal mid-exploration are cleverly placed, but it sometimes seems as though the odds are stacked against you a little bit too much. I loved the difficulty level, but I definitely would have appreciated an auto-filling map in dungeons.
Fortune Summoners is very old school in its design at times. There were instances when I was positively lost as to what I was supposed to do or where I was supposed to go next. For some people this could be a positive or a negative, depending on what your concept of good game design is. It didn't bother me much due to my experience with older games, but for those of you out there who hate that kind of thing, just keep in mind that it happens.
Visually, Fortune Summoners is not going to blow your socks off. That isn't to say they aren't wholly appropriate however. Using 2D pixel art, characters are expressive and adorable. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the victory dance that all the characters engage in after a tough boss battle. So. Cute. On the flip end of that, many of the dungeons and caves are kind of bland and lack inspiration. It's not a deal breaker, but I would have loved to see more interesting locales.
On the music end, I was surprised to find just how catchy and occasionally grand the soundtrack was. The first time you get into a battle and the stirring orchestral music kicks in, it's certainly a shocker. Voice acting is kept to a minimum save for in-battle lines, but it's suitably adorable. If you hate cuteness levels that rot your teeth, you might want to stay away.
Of course, outside of the surprisingly deep combat, the other major selling point (in my opinion at least) is Carpe Fulgur's hilarious localization. Having never played the game in its original language, I can't speak to the accuracy of the translation but I can attest to the fact that the finalized dialogue is amazingly funny, charming and filled with character. If you liked either of their previous localization efforts, you could do a helluva lot worse to pick up Fortune Summoner's on the strength of its dialogue alone.
I had an absolute blast with Fortune Summoners. It took me a while to get a good grasp of the controls and the initially slower style of combat, but after a few hours it all started to come to me. There were moments I was frustrated beyond belief, times I was lost and unsure of what to do next, and times when I had to put the game down for a little while. But when it was all said and done, I was satisfied with the 23 some-odd hours of gameplay that it gave me. In the current market, it's very easy to overlook smaller titles that do a whole lot right. Don't let that happen.
8.0 -- Great.
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