Indie publisher Carpe Fulgur made a name for themselves with their widely successful release of Recettear: An Item Shop Tale. Their second game, Chantelise: A Tale of Two Sisters, didn't rise to the same meteoric level that Recettear did, but was still successful for the company in its own right. Carpe Fulgur's back with their third indie release in the form of Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone. Unlike the first two games which came from Japanese developer EasyGameStation, Fortune Summoners comes from a new developer, Lizsoft. Coming from a new developer and featuring a radically different battle system, the question begs itself: is Fortune Summoners worth your investment?
The story follows the exploits of a young girl named Arche who, after her family moves, enrolls in the area's only magic school. She quickly finds out that she neglected to read the memo stating the required materials for the class which called for an elemental stone. After learning of the astronomical price of said stone she hears a rumor about a stone being hidden in the nearby cave from one of the local boys and decides to investigate.
Of course, being an RPG there's more to the story as Arche eventually joins up with two other girls on a journey to unseal the powers hidden in the stone she eventually finds. But instead of going for a serious story, Fortune Summoners has a surprisingly light and tactful air to it considering the age of the girls involved. It's more about the small interactions between the characters and the townspeople that bring the overall story to life. There are a few issues with the plot of course, but overall the story ends on a respectable note with all things considered. This is helped by Carpe Fulgur's excellent localization which brings a lot of life to the title and helps lift the player's spirits in some of the game's more trying places.
However, while the story is well-done considering the setting, the same can't be said for the controls. You take control of one of three girls: Arche (sword fighter), Sana (ice/water magic) and Stella (fire magic), with the former two trading their physical prowess for magic and vice-versa for Arche. The latter two control similar to most other mage-type characters in other action-based Japanese RPGs, but Arche controls very much like a character in a fighting game. And this is where the game's fundamental design when it concerns controls comes into question.
Imagine the action games of the early NES and SNES era --- the ones with the movement controls that would keep the character moving ever so slightly after letting go of the controls. This is exactly how Fortune Summoners controls. Due to a design decision by Lizsoft, if you are playing with a gamepad the directional buttons can't be remapped to the movement, forcing the analog stick to be the only way to control the characters outside of third-party tools to manually remap the buttons. Granted, one could use the keyboard for this, but the rest of the controls feel more natural on a gamepad, so it's a disappointment that Lizsoft wouldn't budge on changing this for the western release.These oddities also carry over into the early gameplay aspects of Fortune Summoners, especially concerning Arche. Unlike Chantelise, which utilized the classic hit-hit-hit combo system, Fortune Summoners uses a system similar to Street Fighter in the sense that it requires almost perfect execution. While most enemies generally allow for learning this system, there's a select few, such as those who fly in the air, which are an exercise in frustration until you get Sana or Stella in your party.
Lizsoft also had some odd design choices in the layout of the overworld and the dungeons. Instead of going for the zone design that Recettear and Chantelise utilized, Fortune Summoners uses a Metroid-style mapping system that links everything together into one giant map separated by towns, roads and dungeons. There's nothing inherently wrong with this design, but Lizsoft ran into some issues when they took their own spin on it. Dungeons don't have any way to check against a map as you progress through them so most players will inadvertently retread their own steps by accident since most of the rooms look identical to one another. And in the towns the NPCs generally aren't that helpful during the game's numerous fetch quests that take place between dungeons, so players will have to wander around until they happen to run into the trigger they're looking for.
This all may sound incredibly negative and early on it's close to the truth. But as the game progresses and you get more accustomed to its intricacies many of these issues start to fall to the wayside. In terms of combat, all of the characters learn skills over time that extend their combo potential (which especially helps Arche). And the quests generally aren't as obtuse to track down since the game expects you know the general layout of the world by that point. It still doesn't give the best initial impression of the game by far, but it's nice to see the entire game isn't plagued by this to the same degree it is initially.
As far as the graphics and music are concerned, they are serviceable but not exceptional. The spell effects are a nice touch and the backgrounds are varied enough, but the overall monster design is typical for the genre. The music isn't grating on the ears but it isn't memorable either. It is impressive that one person created all this as Lizsoft is only comprised of a sole developer, however.
Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone is an interesting game from multiple perspectives. The story execution is surprisingly refreshing but it's marred by an obtuse battle and questing system that gives the game the wrong impression of what lies beneath. If you can stomach the initial few hours and stick with it you may find it a rewarding experience, but it's certainly not a game for everyone.
|Story works well.|
|Map is huge.|
|Once you get used to all the design quirks, things come together.|
|Obtuse battle and questing system.|
|Music isn't very memorable.|
|Support for gamepad is poor.|