Fortune Summoners: Secrets of the Elemental Stone Review
ESRB Rating: TEEN
Publisher: Carpe Fulgar
Developer: Lizsoft Game Studios
Platform: Windows PC
Spiffy: Mad doujin role-playing mixed with fighting game elements in an extremely challenging world.
Iffy: Challenge might be too much for some players, solo moments can be soul crushing, objectives are often unclear or understated.
Carpe Fulgar’s third JRPG import, Fortune Summoners: Secrets of the Elemental Stone, is equal parts frustration and fun that may give Demon’s Souls fans more than a few flashbacks. The game combines doujin-style, 2-D action role-playing game elements with an odd fighting game control scheme that makes button mashing an unforgivable sin punishable by death at the hands of even the lowliest of RPG enemies. Death by slime, bat, or other seemingly harmless denizens of the world is a sad and common occurrence – even as you try to adhere to the disciplines the game requires such as patience and timing. Yet, for the RPG masochists or the faithful and patient players among us, this kind of game can be pure unadulterated bliss.
At the heart of all this tumult is Fortune Summoners’ unique combat system; a queer mix of simultaneous attack and directional button presses, with an occasional jump thrown in for good measure. This mostly applies to our protagonist Arche Plumfield, who serves as the melee anchor to the AI controlled healer Sana Poanet, and the fire-wielding psycho and resident snooty rich girl Stella Mayberk. The playable characters are rounded out by a wind elemental named Chiffon who hovers around the screen doing nothing, save adding some distraction to the busy landscape before your eyes (thankfully you can’t control him, but you can dress him up in colorful clothes, for some reason).
Stella and Sana are wonderful when they are being controlled by the AI, but not so much when controlled by the player – particularly when you are forced to play them solo. The game adds another layer of punishment (beyond the controls and brutal AI controlled monsters) by making certain areas only accessible to these characters and forcing you to use them. Because their magic skills require perfect timing to execute properly and the enemy AI is so very competent, it is easy to kill one of these fragile flowers off while clearing one of these special areas. Often you’ll be stuck in a frustrating state of limbo until you can overcome the area either by sheer dumb luck or by grinding until your magic users level up. Sometimes the best tactic is to simply make a mad dash towards whatever switch you need to hit to make the area accessible to the entire party.
Luckily, the punishment for your party taking a dirt nap is a 10 percent penalty to your money in exchange for a safe place to be resurrected. The alternative is to “try again” at the nearest entrance with your party in the condition it was in right before you were foolish enough to enter.
All of these odd elements come together to create a challenge that you’ll either love or hate, but it can be frustrating – particularly in an area where only a character with a special ability can go. For example, many of the areas that require Sana’s innate ability to breathe underwater are usually teeming with monsters that she is almost always incapable of defeating.
Sadly, many of the “dangerous monsters” that will kill you off in these areas would be considered harmless in any other game; the bizarre and unpredictable movement of these foul creatures coupled with an AI that seems to anticipate your every key press, can be a maddening experience.
The other key area where Fortune Summoners irritates is in defining what it is you are supposed to be doing in the game at any given time. This leads to the arduous task of speaking to everyone in a given area until you can guess what your next move is. Short of finding a walkthrough online, you’ll have to endure this kind of activity frequently in order to move the action along.
But even with all of these challenges it is hard to deny that Fortune Summoners’ difficulty is also its strength, and once players realize that button mashing must be abandoned in favor of a more nuanced style of play, the game becomes much easier to stomach – and very enjoyable.
While I’ve spent the lion’s share of this review highlighting the game’s difficulty, much of this can be overcome by using a supported game pad (I used an Xbox 360 controller for my play-through) and by good old fashioned preparedness and level-grinding. For example, if an area proves to be too difficult at a certain level, spend all of your money on supplies, save your game and go into the area where you are getting your ass kicked. Keep playing the area ad nauseum until you hit your level limit. If you die in the process, simply take the ten percent penalty to the money you’ve earned and go back in, until you become strong enough. Sooner or later you’ll be tough enough to defeat the feistiest of slimes, bats, skeletons, and merkids the game can throw at you…
I mentioned Demon’s Souls at the beginning of this review, and with good reason: it is a game that requires some real effort to complete, and sometimes makes the player feel like the risk is greater than the reward. While Fortune Summoners may feature cotton candy colored landscapes and doe-eyed killers, its gameplay is as bleak and as brutally unforgiving as that hardest of hardcore RPGs. Fortune Summoners can be a cruel mistress for sure, but it can also be a rewarding experience once you come to terms with her idiosyncrasies and shortcomings. Embrace her or leave her for a more gentle soul that accepts your shortcomings.
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