I don't normally review games I haven't finished. There are loads of games I just don't like and I couldn't bring myself to finish. I never bothered to give them a poor review simply because they weren't my cup of tea; to me, that's a bit disingenuous. However, if I cannot finish a game due to design flaws so astonishingly glaring and blatant, well... then it's fair game. And Fortune Summoners is definitely fair game.
This game is broken. Full stop.
Let's start at the beginning. Fortune Summoners is a side-scrolling action RPG developed by former indie game dev Lizsoft. Apparently their games haven't sold enough to warrant further investment, so I heard they shut down. It's a very
charming game with graphics reminiscent of the 16-bit era's "last hurrah" during the mid 90s. The characters are adorable and well-designed while the story is simple but cute and a nice refreshing break from all the blood, metal and grime that seems to permeate gaming these days.
The story may be simple but the game's combat system has a lot of depth. There's quite a bit of different techniques you can pull off, with Arche, the protagonist, having a wide variety of sword skills that can be used to deal with various enemies. Sana and Stella are the mages, where water-aspected Sana fills the support and healing role with only sub-par offensive magic, Stella brings the pain with fire-based damage dealing. The AI scripting controls two of the characters while the player controls one--you can swap between them on the fly in the middle of a fight and it feels like the developer expected swapping character control to be a major facet of gameplay.
So what's the problem, you might ask? How is Fortune Summoners broken, if it has no major bugs and seems to be a cute little Japanese indie title?
Two words: difficulty
Fortune Summoners suffers from the absolute worst difficulty curve
seen in any game I've ever played. Part of the problem here is that everything is so extreme. Arche can take a reasonable amount of punishment, but when she does damage she might as well be wielding a feather instead of a sword. Even basic enemies at-level can take such an enormous number of hits before they go down. It's simply tedious. Sana and Stella have the defense of wet tissue paper and enemies can rapidly kill them, especially since all of their best offensive powers--their magic, of course--takes some time to activate and any
hit will interrupt their spell-casting. It doesn't help that Sana's first offensive spell cannot be aimed directly forward, but forward and down
, making hitting anything at all nearly impossible without getting right in its face (and then being interrupted forever). The magic-users hit hard, but they also take hits hard and trying to set them up to kill things is quite a chore (though Stella does make things a lot easier once you get her on your team).
The difficulty of this game is beyond challenging and enters the realm of punishing. Monsters can strike you repeatedly and you do not
get a moment of invincibility after being hit, so you can easily be juggled to death by a small group of basic enemies around you. The enemy AI scripting is way, way too tight--enemies will read your moves as you use them
and dodge your more powerful techniques with annoying regularity. This, to me, is poor game design--if you want to make a side-scroller where the enemies are very good at dodging attacks and the skill factor is placed on precision and timing, you really can't also
turn every basic mook into a damage sponge. That's just absurd.
The difficulty settings don't seem to do much, either. Setting the game to "Easy" didn't seem to affect damage dealt or received. Monsters seemed to still have exactly the same number of HP. The only real difference I could even detect is that you receive less
XP from monsters (how backwards is that?) and the number of healing items that drop from slain enemies seems to be higher.
The difficulty curve is bad enough, but it's exacerbated and amplified, cranked up to eleven, by the controls. The controls in this game are an utter trainwreck
. I've played unlicensed hacked NES cartridge games with better controls than this game. Movement is very imprecise and "slidy" with a significant amount of inertia to almost every movement. Turning around is slow, especially when enemies are hitting you (and, of course, you get no invincibility frames after being hit). In order to perform any of Arche's special moves, which you'll need to do in order to fight effectively, requires that you tap out a combination within a very narrow window. It feels like a bad fighting game in some ways, where instead of rolling your thumb across the d-pad in a quarter circle and then pressing Attack, you have to tap down, tap left and, while you tap left, also tap the attack button. It's terribly unintuitive and needlessly finicky.
For a lighthearted title like this, combat should be relatively easy to learn but potentially hard to master with a smooth curve from being able to kill the enemies and progress to pulling off insane combos and specials in rapid succession once you've practiced. This game is not like that at all. The gameplay is brutally demanding of precision and exact button timing to the point where the entire combat system feels like a giant disjointed string of quick-time events rather than smooth and fluid action.
The combat system in Fortune Summoners could
be a joy to play if they fixed the absurd precision requirements. For example, you should be able to hold
the direction while using the attack button to perform a special move, rather than having to tap both buttons within a few milliseconds of each other else the attack simply fails and Arche performs a basic standing attack. Turning around should be faster. Executing a dodge roll should be a single button press or a double-tap of left or right, and the dodge roll should yield invincibility frames for the entire animation.
Even running and walking is needlessly clunky. To run you have to double-tap the d-pad... and it doesn't matter which
direction you double-tap. I can't count how many times I've run off an edge and fallen into a pit in the middle of battle because I tapped two opposing directions too rapidly in succession. That should never
happen; in a game with two movement speeds, you should be able to hold a button down to run or walk! The jumping mechanics in the game are extremely strange as well, allowing a great deal of movement while in mid-air as well as your run speed unaffecting your jump distance. You can leap over a large pit from a dead stop and trying to get a running start adds no distance to your jump. This is unintuitive and runs counter to basically every platform side-scroller ever made. The controls in Fortune Summoners are so horrendously awful and counterintuitive that I spent the entire time playing
, all six hours or so, trying to intentionally forget the muscle memory I built up from years of 8- and 16-bit console gaming.
I really wanted to like this game. I really did. It ticks most of my boxes when it comes to RPGs and being a side-scroller had me feeling a bit of nostalgia. Cute characters, a charming and light-hearted plot, something nice to balance out the endless waves of "grimdark" games that seem to dominate the market these days. Unfortunately the game is, in my opinion, so frustrating that it's virtually unplayable. If you're in the market for a side-scrolling hack and slash action RPG, don't buy Fortune Summoners. Do yourself a favor and pick up Dust: An Elysian Tail, which has many of the same elements as this game (and more besides) with excellent controls and fast, fluid combat.