Currently scheduled for release in North America toward the end of July, Summon Night: Swordcraft Story for the Game Boy Advance is an action role-playing game in which you'll get to craft your own weapons and then wield them in real-time battles. You'll assume the role of a young craftknight apprentice who is attempting to follow in the footsteps of his (or her) father--a great and respected craftlord who died a few years before the start of the game. The only way for you to become a craftlord is to win a large tournament that pits you against other hopefuls, and the only way you're going to stand a chance of winning is to become proficient in the forging and use of weapons that include swords, axes, spears, knuckles, and drills.
Shortly after your Summon Night: Swordcraft Story adventure gets underway, your mother will place you into the care of a skilled craftknight, where you'll be groomed for the upcoming tournament alongside several other hopefuls representing the same guild. The bulk of your training will focus on the forging of weapons, which involves collecting items and materials, separating those into raw minerals using a forge, and then crafting a weapon using one of the designs that you've been taught by your master. Furthermore, you'll have the opportunity to improve upon your existing designs using rare materials that imbue your weapons with the elements of fire or water, for example.
In addition to your weapons of choice, you'll go into each battle with a "guardian beast," whose job is basically to support you using any special abilities and items that it has available. Guardian beasts will come in a number of different forms, and the one that is summoned for you will be determined by your responses during an in-game conversation on the subject. The guardian beast summoned for us was a small flying robot, whose only useful ability initially was to apply bandages to us during battle. As it leveled up alongside us, though, it learned to enchant our weapons with lightning, heal and shield us with spells, and even to launch attacks of its own. The game's controls when in combat are uncomplicated, with the directional pad being used for all movement; the left shoulder and A buttons being used to switch between and use weapons, respectively; and the right shoulder and B buttons being used to switch between and activate your guardian's abilities.
Although some of the raw materials that you need to make weapons can be purchased at stores in the various towns that you get to explore, the majority of them will come from the areas that you fight monsters in. Before crafting our first weapon, for example, we were told that our local store had sold out of the iron ore that we needed, and so we were tasked with venturing into a labyrinth and smashing open barrels and crates until we found some. Numerous random encounters with monsters hindered our progress through the maze, but since many of them dropped items that we could later smelt for use in weapon forging, these brief battles against up to four monsters simultaneously were actually welcomed. As we descended farther down into the multistory labyrinth, the monsters became increasingly varied and challenging, and the materials and items became more plentiful and valuable. By our third or fourth visit to the labyrinth, we were already finding that the battles and rewards on the upper levels were basically pointless, and we were pleased to find that we could use previously activated teleporters to instantly move between some of the levels that we'd visited previously.
The monsters that we encountered during our time with Summon Night: Swordcraft Story included nondescript blobs, fire-throwing gremlins, bouncing pumpkins, magical floating swords, and flying machines armed with guns. Each of the enemy types could most easily be beaten using a different weapon or strategy, but even when they came at us four at a time from both sides, their apparent lack of artificial intelligence made them predictable and easy targets. The only really challenging fight that we've had thus far was the first round of the aforementioned craftlord tournament, in which we were pitted against a hulk of an opponent who was armed with a blade that was about the same size as our character. This arrogant opponent had chosen to enter the battle without the aid of his guardian beast, and it was only when we figured out how best to use ours that we were able to defeat him.
After a few hours of gameplay, we've only scratched the surface of what Summon Night: Swordcraft Story has to offer. What's clear, though, is that the game has the potential to become more interesting and more challenging as you get further into it and are forced to think very carefully about your weapon choices and such. Look for more information on Summon Night: Swordcraft Story, which also boasts a two-player mode that we haven't had an opportunity to check out yet, in the coming weeks and months.