Summoner 2 looks like it might be quite good. It certainly appears to have all the credentials of an accomplished adventure game, it's got some RPG staples in its armoury and real-time combat to boot. An intriguing, exciting and entertaining sequel to "one of the PS2's biggest selling role-playing adventures" then? Weeeell...
Fight for your right
This is Summoner 2 in three words: Hack, run, slash.
This is Summoner 2 in more words: While the game certainly has aspirations to action-RPG greatness, it falls far, far short of the mark by instead boiling down to a trudging mess of relentless combat, character statistics and more quests and side-quests than you could shake some kind of magic stick at. It actually starts off quite well, as you're dropped straight into the thick of things fighting off invading pirates on the deck of your ship in the middle of a typhoon. Dropping you snippets of information here and there to help you along the way, the game eases you into your role as Maia, the Queen of Halassar, quite elegantly. You have no idea as to the history of your character or the world you inhabit, though, aside from a completely baffling FMV just after starting a new game.
It is after that short bout of introductory battling, however, that the dialogue starts up and kicks the grossly bloated, complicated and bewildering plot into gear. We're immediately expected to know all about the Prince of Neru, who's nicked off with your Book of Prophets into the Wyrmlord's Palace in... well, you get the idea. So the adventuring proper starts on a small island littered with ruins inscribed with completely meaningless... inscriptions. Joining you on the island is your assassin sidekick, who you can also take control of whenever you feel like it and take advantage of her particular skills if you can be bothered. You will at times have a team of up to four characters assisting you in your quests, each with their own abilities and each customisable with the application of skills points that are earned when levelling up.
So you go on your way, looking for this Neru fella, finding stuff in chests and the like, and battling off hordes of random floating ghost things, big spear-throwing plant things and pirates every couple of minutes, and it starts to get really, really tedious. While there appears to be some kind of story behind all the ruins and inscriptions - which does become quite interesting - the constant interruption of the random respawning enemies hampers your ability to properly investigate, and so your interest eventually just turns to getting your quest over and done with. And so it goes for the rest of the game.
While pushing the mostly impenetrable plot along with dribs and drabs of dialogue and cut-scenes, the game rarely deviates from the stop-start approach of running about, finding things and then fighting off some enemies. I wouldn't mind so much if the combat were at all exciting, but it's just pretty basic button-bashing mediocrity. Some interest is created in being able to use one of your several "summons" - Maia at certain points throughout the adventure comes across giant runes which grant her the ability to summon a beast of tremendous power for a limited time, forcing you to use your summoning ability strategically and appropriately in times of need.
The game pads out its lack of engrossing combat with an enormous collection of quests to complete, which would take even a hardened player a good few days solid playing to finish up completely. As a queen, you also have a kingdom to run, and occasionally returning to your palace you're able to listen to advisors and petitioners asking for your funding, permission and input into keeping your people happy. You can even take the time out for some sparring in your palace grounds, just in case you weren't tired of randomly bashing the square button already. This creates a sort of diversion from the action, and would be pleasant if there were more to do and see without the threat of whatever random beast feels like squaring up to you next, as per the regular quests. As it is, though, there are a lot of corridors, and a lot of stairs and a lot of talk about prophecies that need fulfilling. If I hadn't spent half an hour trying to find the way out of the place the first time I was there, I would have done so sooner.
Summoner 2 is also visually below par. The graphics occasionally rise into above-average levels of detail, but the low-poly character models, stilted animation, blurry textures and, for the most part, blocky location design knock the game back a few years aesthetically. The acting is actually surprisingly good a lot of the time, but the mostly humourless dialogue lends an unavoidable flatness to the speech - you're more likely to nod off to sleep than sit on the edge of your seat waiting for the next shocking plot twist to be divulged.
Summoner 2 is average. There isn't another word that more pointedly describes the experience; the graphics are average, the plot is average, the adventuring is average, and the combat is decidedly average. It lets itself down with the rubbish fighting bits, and by taking itself far too seriously, particularly with a plot that is so sprawling and hard to decipher that you lose interest before it even gets a chance to get going. If the combat engine had been more considered and dynamic as a compliment to the adventure elements instead of being a tacked-on attempt to appeal to more action-oriented gamers, it could have improved the underlying game immensely. Only then would it be worth more than a passing glance on a rainy Sunday when there's absolutely nothing else to do.