The newest build of THQ's first PS2 game was available for play at ECTS, and GameSpot got the opportunity to sit down with Joseph and his friends.
Summoner is a North American RPG in development by Descent creators Volition and features a storyline set in a fictitious fantasy setting and focuses on a timid but powerful man who has the unique ability to summon and control fantastic creatures from other realms. The game is only a month away from release at the US PS2 launch, and it's looking pretty amazing.
Every few thousand years a child is born special, with marks on their hands that distinguish them. They are people that, when trained, can use mystical rings to summon and control monsters. The game's main character, Joseph, is one of these children. When he was young an aging shaman took it upon himself to start training Joseph, but before he could finish his training Joseph's village was attacked by the legions of the evil king. Still a novice, Joseph summoned a demon to defeat the legions, but couldn't control the horrible monster when it decided to destroy Joseph's village and family as well. Since that time, Joseph has vowed never to use his summoning powers, and is still not fully trained in the ways of summoning. The story begins with Joseph as a young man, as he returns to his new village he finds it in ruins, decimated by the king's forces, who's motivated to kill Joseph as it's been prophesized that a summoner will destroy the king. From there Joseph realizes he will always be hunted, and beings his quest to deal with the evil king.
The game definitely feels like it belongs on a PC more than it does on a console. The game features huge, lush environments and some incredibly detailed graphics, but more importantly it offers you real freedom. Unlike most console RPG's that force you into the story and control your interaction with other characters, Summoner allows you to go where you want, talk to who you want, and even chose the way your character interacts with others through different conversational options. The game also touts detailed equipment, summoning, and item systems yet guides you through them with an intuitive and easy to use control scheme.
The game's battles all take place in real time, and feature an almost acade like attack system that allows you to string different attacks together if your timing in precise enough. You'll be able to switch to different members of your party and give them commands at any moment, and can even set the AI to control the characters if you're not up to it. Joseph will be able to summon up to 15 different monsters, depending on how many of the mystical summoning rings he's found. Magic will also play a big part in the game, and some of the characters you'll meet will have both the traditional styles of offensive and defensive magic.
Graphically, the game has come a long way since we last saw it at its official unveiling. The game is now fully anti-aliased and the jagged lines that plagued the initial screenshots have been smoothed considerably. The game is looking very clean and detailed, and when indoors features a very cool transparancy effect. All of the cutscenes are rendered using the in-game engine, and really show off the level of detail found in the game. Visual effects like the actual summonings, environmental damage, magic effects, and armor and clothing affecting your character are pretty amazing. Unfortunately, THQ had the sound to their games turned almost all the way down, with the exception to the punk rock soundtrack to their extreme motocross game, which was turned up so loud it was almost unbearable.
The level in Summoner I played had you playing as the thief character, who had to sneak into the palace from the sewers and steal something vital. You had to carefully negotiate corners, as guards were constantly on patrol. You could pick locks and talk to people in the palace, but you often got a negative reaction from the game's characters, as you were a grubby thief sneaking around the royal palace. The scene ended with you negotiating some stairs, sneaking past some guards, and reaching your objective. Once there the game shifted to a cutscene that helped explain what happened next.
Though Summoner isn't being developed by an RPG powerhouse like Square or Enix, the game looks like it has the potential to open the RPG market to North American developers. With an interesting storyline, some excellent graphics, and the prime slot of being the first RPG for the US PS2, Summoner could change the RPG genre. We'll just have to wait a month to find out.