The Summon Night series has a bit of a niche following in the strategy role-playing game genre. To the surprise of many, it was announced that a localized version of Summon Night 5 would not only get to launch on the PlayStation Network, but would also nab a physical release here in the West. So, is it worth dusting off the ol' PlayStation Portable – or, more likely, the Vita – for this rare opportunity?
Being the fifth title in the franchise, it's only natural that it's going to reference some of the previous games, but prior knowledge isn't necessary to appreciate the story that's being told. However, those interested should know that it does contain some spoilers with regards to its predecessors.
The story starts off as you select one of two playable characters: Foith or Arca. It's a choice that causes minor difference in dialogue, but overall, either option yields the same story. The main character learns at an early age that they are a summoner, and the role of a summoner is to protect the balance of the world. Essentially, you're a powerful protagonist who needs to save the world from ultimate destruction – it's basic stuff to say the least.
Early on, you'll also need to make a special bond with another member of the cast. This inseparable bond is called a 'cross', and will affect everything from battle style to story, since the four different 'cross' characters will behave differently in combat and offer unique story endings if you can build up a strong enough relationship. It may not be enough for some players to experience a second playthrough, but it does at least offer some replay value.
Proceedings might not provide the most exciting or unique plot, but that isn't to say it's boring. The many different characters, plot twists, and nicely paced scenarios make for a memorable experience. After finishing the game, it'll likely make sense as to why fans of the series have been asking for an official English release for quite some time.
That said, while it may now be in English, the localisation shows room for improvement. This is a dialogue heavy release, and by dialogue we mean reams and reams of text. There isn't any voice acting, so expect to spend a significant amount of time actively reading if you want to get your head around the narrative. Due to the sheer heft of the script, some translations errors can perhaps be overlooked, but the misuse or the misspelling of words is frequent enough to be noticeable, and will no doubt be distracting for some.
Meanwhile, the characters themselves start out a bit bland in personality and follow typical clichés that you may expect from a Japanese RPG, but thankfully, over time, they grow to be more interesting and unique – but you have to wait quite a while for the cast to blossom nonetheless.
It may be a PSP title, but the gameplay is anything but dated. The Brave battle system is simple enough to learn, but offers plenty of depth and becomes surprisingly addictive. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the system revolves around brave points and brave medals, which can be earned by accomplishing goals throughout combat. For example, if you kill two enemies with one spell or if you're able to attack first, you'll be rewarded. Brave medals can then be exchanged for character attacks and abilities.
On the other hand, if you keep allowing your party be defeated in battle, the brave counter will eventually reach zero, rewarding you with a fancy game over screen. In contrast to the Brave system, the rest of the combat is what you would expect from a strategy RPG: you move around a grid, manage MP, use abilities, and try not to die.
Before you can get too comfortable, however, we should warn you that there's a fairly substantial difficulty spike about halfway through the game. This can be alleviated with a bit of grinding, but the difference between the simple battles in the beginning to the difficult stages later on is both jarring and frustrating.
Elsewhere, the visuals are impressive for the platform, and offer a very pleasant gameplay and story experience. The character dialogue sports some slight animation, and the 3D battle animations look spectacular – even if a few seem very similar. The same goes for the audio: the musical score is catchy, and although it may not be a soundtrack that you'll want listen to outside of the game, it's also not something that you'll get sick of hearing – even after spending lengthy sessions with the release.
For the first main Summon Night game to get an English release, Summon Night 5 for the PSP does a great job of showcasing the enjoyable combat and descriptive storytelling that the series has come to be known for. While not all that unique or different, it is still an experience that strategy RPG fans will appreciate – localisation issues and all.
Update (20th February, 2016): Since going to press, it's been brought to our attention that the "localisation issues" mentioned in this review are intentional and are used to reflect the personalities of some of the cast members. This clearly went over our head during the reviewing process, but it's important that we add this correction to the review.
Despite this error, the "localisation issues" that we noted in the review did not affect the score, and so our 7/10 stands. Apologies for the confusion.
Sammy Barker, Editor