Carpe Fulgur has craved itself a nice niche. Its first release, Reccetear: An Item Shop’s Tale, proved to be a surprise hit with a focus on captialism (ho!) and time management in trying to make that next payment along with some dungeon crawling. Its second title, Chantelise: A Tale of Two Sisters, wasn’t quite as well received, but still had its good points, like the magic system and the soundtrack. Let’s see where Fortune Summoners falls.
Fortune Summoners takes place in a world where magic is part of daily life, with everyone using magic stones, and stars three girls who are classmates at the Minasa-Ratis magic school. Arche is the plucky newcomer who recently moved into the town of Tonkiness. She uses a sword in battle and doesn’t always pick up on cues right away, which results in some amusing conversations. She lacks a magic stone at first, so she cannot participate in practical application class. She’s reluctant to ask her parents to buy one for her because of their less than ideal financial status due to having recently moved and their item shop having just been opened. She finds one later, but only gets a fledgling wind elemental named Chiffon for her trouble. She has to find three wind crests before she can actually use it, and this search serves as the focus for much of the story. Sana is a shy and docile water magic user who focuses on healing and support spells. Stella is the aloof fire magic user packing more offensive spells who’s also the heiress to the Maynard estate. The plot and characters are nothing new, but they’re full of charm and they help carry the game. The story itself does start slowly, but picks up as you progress through the game, and the localization conveys it well.
In addition to the story mode, there’s also a versus mode and an auto mode. Versus mode lets you fight against an AI controlled opponent or pit two AI controlled characters against each other. You can select the characters and stages, and the farther you are into the game the higher level the characters and the more of each are available. Auto mode lets you watch as the AI goes though a part of the game, which can be somewhat usefuul if you’re stuck and not much how to proceed through a dungeon. They’re decent extras, but they don’t do much for longetivity.
The in-game graphics are bright and colorful, and the backgrounds are lush with detail. When playing outside of the native resolution (4:3 640×480), things look stretched out, though playing in the native resolution makes everything things look sharper, but also gives you a smaller viewing window. You can change the color of clothing each character in your party wears, including Chiffon, which is a nice little touch. The character art and in-game portraits are on the simplistic side, but also cute and colorful. The soundtrack is on the upbeat side and fits the overall feel of the game, but no one track stands out. There’s snippets of voice acting in Japanese when characters attack or perform some other actions, but not much else.
You can use either a keyboard or a gamepad to play and bind keys to your liking on either. You can even use both if you so desired (i.e. use the keyboard for spells instead of cycling through each on the gamepad), though that would involve a lot of juggling of the two. I used an Xbox 360 controller and mapped the buttons as close to the layout in the manual as possible, which worked out well enough, especially with being able to dash depending on how far you push the analog stick, but executing Arche’s moves took practice. The button combinations require you to press them almost simultaneously without holding either down too long. This can be a bit tricky to get the hang of at first, especially if you’re used to being able to hold down a directional button and hit an attack button and still get the attack you were expecting. Arche’s attacks are short ranged, so learning to combo and chain moves together is key. It’s better to think of controls for her as more akin to those in a fighting game and old beat-em-ups like Double Dragon than a button masher or hack-n-slash. The mages have a melee and a magic attack that doesn’t consume MP, the latter of which involves almost simultaneously tapping the attack button and a direction. They also get spellbooks, which you can switch between as needed. On a keyboard, you can assign each spell to a key, but on a keyboard.
The controls generally respond fine once you’ve practiced with them (and binded keys to your liking), but they do have their quirks. At times it would take a bit before I could turn around and attack an enemy that’s behind me, which resulted in them being able to get in hits as I watched Arche attack empty air. The movement controls can feel floaty, especially when it comes to platforming jumping. It doesn’t help that they always skidded like they were on ice, so if you weren’t careful they could slide right off the platform you just landed on. Talking to people is finicky, as involves positioning yourself at just the right distance from them – you can’t be too close or too far from them or the game won’t register that you’re trying to talk to them.
The game plays much like a typical sidescrolling action RPG with some puzzle elements. You control one character at a time, but can switch between them on the fly. You’ll need to do this at various points, as each character has a skill that can be used in the environment. Arche has super girl strength that lets her move heavy objects, Sana can stay underwater indefinitely, and Stella can burn down thorns and brambles blocking a path and light torches. You can also quick-heal, which uses a healing item best suited for the situation, as needed. Outside of combat, item use is instantaneous, while in combat you have to wait until a meter fills before the item’s effects activate. You can save in inns and the nurse’s office at school, and status ailments (including death) go away when you’re in a safe zone like a town.
You can change the difficulty level at any point, so you can adjust it as you wish. On higher difficulties, you take more damage but gain more experience. The AI can seemingly read your moves and react accordingly – many a vexing time I’ve attacked only to have them block or jump over my attacks. Blindly running in and button mashing won’t turn out well, so varying your attacks and learning to chain them will yield much better results. However, it’s rather satisfying to watch them explode in a burst of coins when you do manage to beat them. One saving grace for those having trouble is that if you do get a game over, you can restart in the same area you bit the dust (minus any items you consumed) or return to a safe zone for 10% of your gold. Fortunately, your AI controlled allies are competent and can hold their own as long as you keep an eye on their HP. Still, expect to use lots of healing items and have plenty on hand, especially if you don’t have Sana in your party (plus you’ll want to conserve MP for the boss anyway). Since you can’t use your allies’ abilities if their HP is depleted, backtracking to a town or burning a Revival Drink is necessary, which does slow things down, but is ameliorated somewhat by keeping some of said Revival Drinks on hands. Progressing to the next plot point requires finding very specific triggers, the existence of which are only vaguely hinted at at best. Getting the guard in front of the Wind Shrine to step away is the worst culprit of this. Plenty of exploration and experimenting are needed to find them (unless you’re using a guide), which can lead to moments of frustration but doesn’t get to the point where you’re completely stonewalled for continuing.
After you beat the game, you’ll get a code to unlock a door and find books that let each character learn some skills early. You can then go through the game again on another difficulty level – in paticular, nightmare unlocks after you complete the game. You can also try to find the other special photos and complete all of Arche’s father’s requests. Otherwise, there isn’t all that much to serve as incentive for going through the game again.
I did need some practice to get used to the way Arche attacks, but I found the combat system interesting and I wanted to keep going until I got better at it. While the dungeon crawling did get long and an exercise in endurance, I enjoyed it and didn’t want to stop until I’d found all the treasure within and beaten the boss. Wandering around towns, talking to the townsfolk, and looting their drawers (and sometimes getting their drawers) was amusing, though the backtracking did get a bit monotonous at times. It was rather easy to go, “Just let me finish this dungeon” or “Just let me get to an inn to save,” but then find myself wanting to keep going. There was one somewhat part where you have to take control of Stella alone, and playing as her was a different experience than playing as Arche alone. It’s a lot harder to get a spell off when there’s a few enemies hounding you at once and no one there to keep them at bay, and as a mage she’s less built for combat in close quarters. You would think that would be a point where one throws up their hands in defeat, but even with that section, I still wanted to get past it and finally have Stella in my party.
The combat system and controls (mainly Arche’s) will likely not appeal to everyone, and there is a learning curve to them. For those who really dislike the way Arche controls, there is the option to stick with one of the mages. The ability to adjust the difficulty level at any time also helps make the game a bit more accessible, though even easy mode won’t be a complete cakewalk. The art style may prove to be cute overload for some people as well. Those that enjoyed Carpe Fulgur’s previous releases would probably enjoy this one first. Those on the fence can try the demo first, which offers a heaping sample of what the full game offers.
The really impressive thing about this game is that almost everything was done by one person. The package assembled here is solid overall, even if some mechanics might feel archaic or clunky for some. While the main storyline does get resolved, there’s enough sequel hooks for another game to be made. At the very least, it’d be nice if we could get the Deluxe content at some point (only the graphical enhancements made it here) in some form. But even as is, Fortune Summoners is a fun experience while it lasts.
Story/Modes: Above Average
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Below Average
Balance: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Fortune Summoners‘s adorable and colorful graphical style belies a game that packs plenty of challenge. The localization is rather solid and makes the whimsical and cliche story entertaining to go through. It does have its quirks, and not everyone will like the controls or more archaic RPG elements. While lacking in replayability, it does provide a reasonable amount of content for the $20 (or $15 if you bought it during the first week) asking price, and it’s worth at least giving the demo a spin if you’re not sure whether it’d appeal to you.