Summon Night 5 Review
First off, I assure you that you haven't traveled back in time. I could see why you might think so, as you are reading a review for a PSP game. PSP? Isn't that the Sony handheld that was retired years ago? Yup, but apparently games are still being produced for the handheld nearly everyone forgot about. Late to the party or not, Summon Night 5 is a solid SRPG that fits nicely with PSP showstoppers like Jeanne D'Arc, FF Tactics and Tactics Ogre. By combining a dating sim, visual novel and tactics-based gameplay, Summon Night 5 manages to breathe life into a long dead handheld. And before you ask, yes, the game is fully playable and just as enjoyable on the more recent Sony handheld, Vita.
So I remember the Summon Night series from way back in the Game Boy Advance's heyday. SN: Swordcraft Story and Swordcraft Story 2 were hugely enjoyable SRPGs that I played for quite a while. What I didn't know is that both games were spin-offs from the regular Summon Night series; Summon Night 5 is the first time western gamers have had access to a numbered main series title. That's a good bit of info to possess going in, as this game feels more like an episodic visual novel with SRPG gameplay moving things along. Generally, it works but a few points hold the game back a little.
Since the visual novel business is the real bulk of the gameplay experience, we can start there. As you begin to play, you almost immediately begin to see how things will play out. For better or worse, Summon Night 5 is primarily about finding who you need to talk to next, and following the text exchanges that result. And while the story can be good - eventually - it can be a bit of a drag thinking you picked up an SRPG and instead you find yourself reading conversations for sometimes as long as an entire hour. Even more damning is that fact that the story seems to go nowhere until just before the game's halfway point, giving the impression that all the little interactions aren't really going anywhere for far too long. And worse yet is the fact that you can often find yourself looking far and wide for that next bit of dialogue to move things along only to realize that the person you need to chat with is either in your party or someone that you've already interacted with dozens of times already. Once things get going, Summon Night 5 tells a compelling tale and has some characters that break away from the usual anime/RPG stereotypes. The issue becomes how long it takes to get there and whether or not you knew that the game would be less SRPG and more an interactive (with limited interaction) novel.
When you do get to the SRPG stuff, Summon Night 5 looks a lot more appealing. The gameplay is pretty classic SRPG stuff, but a monster collecting element makes these segments really shine. Each character as a Cross, a monster that allows each player to use attack, use spells, etc. Other monsters can be purchased or won in battle, and can be added to each character like a piece of equipment, changing and adding to that character's pool of abilities. Not much gets me as charged up as "catching 'em all" and this game provides real, deceptively deep customization through doing so. This feels a lot like Shin Megami Tensei-lite, but it works fantastically well in the context of this adventure. There are also Brave Points, a system that allows for group actions. Collecting BP on the battlefield can reap great rewards, but adds an element of risk as well. Running out of BP provides and instant game over, so it's kind of like Stella Glow's witch songs if not activating them could end your game entirely. These two SRPG wrinkles, in addition to the visual novel stuff giving you real insight and understanding of your characters, makes the SRPG parts of Summon Night 5 more than just another turn-based strategy game.
Summon Night 5's story is certainly a good one, and the SRPG gameplay is above average, but I can't help but feel like the game tries to be something it simply isn't. It becomes a question of who the game is really meant for; visual novel fans may not like the SRPG stuff, and SRPG fans may not be too keen on reading text box after text box for hours on end. Both segments of the game definitely entertain, but feel a bit disjointed as an overall package. So while Summon Night 5 might be a novelty by being playable on a deader than dead system, it only gets a halfhearted recommendation from me.
Final Rating: 70% - For strategy-RPG fans who wish that games had more text, and who still own a PSP.