Wrapping up the Carpe Fulgar collection this month is Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone. As with Chantelise: A Tale of Two Sisters, I went in without knowing much beyond some screenshots (which didn’t show much) and the title screen. Looking easier than Chantelise, I thought of giving it about 15 minutes to see what this ridiculously cute game had to offer.
Two hours later, I reluctantly took a break. If it weren’t for the play time counter that appeared when saving, I would have kept right on going well past midnight. Fortune Summoners shot past my lone expectation, proving to be challenging, but not unfair, action-RPG.
The first 10 minutes or so focus on establishing characters and introducing you to the controls outside of combat. Soon after that it sets you against your first slime, a common pushover in every game that has them. Except Fortune Summoners. Any thoughts about how easy it would be to trample the slime are immediately trashed as it hops forward and tries to take a bite out of Arche, the main protagonist. Its attack pattern isn’t set into something you can memorize like “hop, hop, hop, bite” and button mashing won’t help. None of the monsters in Fortune Summoners have a straight forward attack pattern, forcing you to adapt to near unpredictable hostiles.
Honestly, the challenge a simple slime provided was surprising as was the competency of allies. Usually I accept that sooner or later I’ll be carrying the team, throwing out healing items to keep everyone alive. So when a fragile-looking girl suddenly sweeps through slimes and bats that I’m still trying to fend off with a blunted sword, while keeping my health up with no prompting whatsoever, it’s a pleasant feeling. The AI on both sides of battle is programmed well. Enemy encounters don’t become monotonous and partners can take care of themselves.
Party members are pretty smart outside of battle, too. If you’re crossing a dangerous chasm where your allies would likely fall to their doom if they followed, then they will stay back while you continue. If the room is a dead end, you can switch control to another party member and exit safely without having to worry about the character on the other side of the area falling off a cliff. If you need them to stay in one place for a puzzle, say a basket for weight purposes, they will.
The music is ambient, the sprites are well done, and everything is colorful and cute. Definitely not the sort of game you would expect to have excellent AI. Or have little girls accidentally finding lewd material in someone’s home.
As you might expect with such challenging conditions, dying is a given despite the awesome partners. Instead of sending you back to town though, you are given the chance to try again. Doing so places you in the nearest safe location with the same amount of health you had when you were last in that area. If you’re tired of monsters you have a second option. By paying 10% of your cash, you can be sent straight back to the safety of town.
About the only thing so far that has bothered me – besides dying by slimes, of all things – is the fact that it took over two scripted days to get through one cavern. Each time you visit you’re unable to get through for one reason or another, forcing the character(s) to turn around and head all the way back to town from where their progress was halted. This is justified as you are without a means to continue and the kids, having parents, aren’t allowed to stay out after dark. Since it is evening every time you hit an obstacle and step out of the caves, returning is mandatory.
On the upside, heading back home means you can save and stock up on items. Saving can’t be done outside of places you can sleep in, so having an excuse to head back to town every once in a while gives the opportunity to do just that as well as advance the story.
Even though the game is very cutesy, Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone seems quite promising. It doesn’t hold your hand, but it does feel like it is holding back on combat early on in the game just so players can get the hang of fighting before being bombarded with the undead and magic-using enemies. Instead of a lengthy tutorial, you learn by talking to NPCs, checking out the abilities screen from the pause menu, and from experience. The system takes getting used to as it takes careful timing to slay enemies and judging by how deadly the AI can be, becoming an expert would mean crushing anything in the way of Arche getting an elemental stone. (And Arche starting to pull her own weight.) If any of this sounds appealing, there is a demo of Fortune Summoners on Steam if you want to try it out. I recommend doing so just for the really good AI.