One probable reason that indie games are so popular among hardcore gamers is the way they in which many pay tribute to the classic generation of games, particularly those during the 8- to 16-bit era. By tapping into our nostalgic gaming memories, indie titles such as Cave Story and Super Meat Boy have gained worldwide acclaim thanks to their marriage of old-school designs and new-school mechanics. It’s like sifting through a garage sale to discover an obscure classic. Only in this case, Steam is the garage and the worn-out cartridges are nonexistent (but the prices are still a bargain).
Japanese RPGs are no stranger to the indie market either (also known as “Doujin”). One of the most recently celebrated offerings was Recettear, a unique RPG that put players in the role of the item shop keeper rather than the adventurous hero. The game gained a huge following for its unique premise, expert localisation and adorable visuals.
Seeing how there is a market in the West for Doujin games, publisher Carpe Fulgur is hoping to win our hearts (and wallets) again with Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone. Featuring a more traditional gameplay system than Recettear, this 2D side-scrolling Action RPG may not be as unique as its predecessor, but it is every bit as charming and fun.The story of Fortune Summoners centres around Arche, a young girl who recently moved to the town of Tonkiness with her mother and father. The family runs an item shop that also doubles as their house, but instead of working to keep her family’s business afloat, Arche attends the Minasa-Ratis School of Magic in order to gain an elementary education - and also learn magic.
But in Fortune Summoners’ world, even an everyday stroll to class is filled with dangerous monsters looking to cause our hero to be tardy (and also dead). Fortunately, our pint-sized heroine happens to be quite adept with a sword, courtesy of lessons from her retired father. Determined to find adventure and friendship in her new residence, Arche quickly gains both as she seeks to unlock the mystery of a sealed elemental stone as well as its adorable (but also amnesiac) wind spirit Chiffon. With the help of her fellow classmates Sana (a kind but reserved wielder of water) and Stella (a wealthy but stuck-up fire user), the three adolescent adventures will traverse to far-away towns, explore underground caves, and scale huge towers to seek their fortune while also unravelling the devious plans of a dark witch and her forces of evil.
For anyone who has seen a Magical Girl Anime or two (and we all have, don’t deny it), the story does not break new ground. You’ve got your typical energetic heroine who enjoys exploring and eating snacks rather than studying for the next maths quiz, her magical creature sidekick who conveniently resembles a rabbit, and the usual heartfelt speeches about friendship and using your powers for good.But it’s the characters of Fortune Summoners that define the premise, as well as the professionally-handled writing, courtesy of the same folks behind Recettear’s top notch localisation. Arche in particular is a refreshing (if familiar) heroine, thanks to her prowess with a blade as well as her willingness to always help anyone in need, especially her new-found classmates. By all accounts, she is a female version of Link, which fits in nicely with the Zelda II-inspired gameplay.
Combining 2D side scrolling and action RPG elements just like Nintendo’s cult classic sequel, Fortune Summoners has you traversing between four types of areas: outdoor locations filled with enemies; indoor dungeons; caves filled with even more beasts as well as an end boss; and towns where you can rest up, purchase items and gather information. Though the game features a chapter-based system that serves to move the plot forward, the majority of locations can be re-visited at any time in addition to your next objective.
During combat, defeated enemies will yield experience points and gold, which both serve to make Arche and her friends stronger with new abilities and sturdier equipment. A carefully concealed treasure chest may also contain a rare weapon or accessory (and occasionally a poisonous trap, so it’s always best to stay prepared), and with the tenacity of these enemies, you’ll need all the help you can get.
Don’t let the simple sprite-based designs fool you… Fortune Summoners can be a deceptively difficult game. In addition to the notoriously difficult Zelda II, the game also takes a page from the original Mortal Kombat trilogy by having its AI opponents instantly react to your inputs. While this method of rubber-banding keeps players on their toes, it can also lead to more than a few frustrating moments, especially when the monster has the high ground advantage (or worse yet, when they continually knock you off the nearest ledge). Several of Arche’s skills also require a combination of directional inputs, making the investment of a compatible PC gaming pad an absolute necessity… especially one with a functional D-pad.Sure enough, simply spamming attacks is bound to get you punished, and the game offers a further incentive to carefully time your swings; with each chained attack, your combo meter rises… the higher the chain, the more damage you’ll deal to enemies as well as earning extra experience and rewards. This also includes the attacks landed by your two AI party members, who can perform adequately on their own or receive specific commands from the player, such as conserving MP for healing, or to stand still while you decide to scout ahead.
While Arche’s speciality is in swordplay, Sana and Stella’s magical talents extend beyond battle support; several puzzles require utilizing one of the two’s elemental attributes in order to proceed further ahead. Sana, for example, can traverse underwater with a magical air bubble to activate switches, and Stella can burn down overgrown vines blocking the group’s path. There are also rotating platforms, falling spiked traps, hidden doorways and everything in-between. Even save points, which come in the form of life-restoring water fountains, can be obscured from sight, and if you aren’t fully healed up before a big battle, your chances of victory decrease significantly.
Fortunately, the game also features a forgiving checkpoint system. Reloading the game after being defeated in an area will set you back one screen back, offering you plenty of chances to undertake a difficult battle without any backtracking. Should you find yourself lacking in munitions, or just want to head back to town to buy a stronger weapon or armour, the “give up” option will instantly send you back at the cost of 10% of your current cash. That being said, the lack of a map can result in inadvertently running around the repetitive-looking areas, which can only become taxing when being forced to fight respawned enemies.
Like Recettear, the game’s visuals are done via sprites, with the 2D side-scrolling perspective calling to mind PSX RPGs like Valkyrie Profile. Each of the characters and NPCs feature simplistic but suitable animations, made all the more impressive when you realize that all the work was handled by one programmer. The character portraits and full-screen illustrations also convey the expressions of Arche and her friends perfectly, lending an overall art style that runs the risk of cavities from its sweetness. If you’re the type of gamer who is too prudish to be seen playing something so adorable, then you’d best stay away. But even the most hardened of players might find themselves stirred when our young heroine learns that not all adventures result in fun and games.If there’s one thing that everyone can admit to enjoying, however, it’s the music. Featuring a surprisingly professional instrumental quality, the soundtrack is an absolute delight filled with classical motifs, dramatic piano medleys and plenty of cheerful adventure music. Hopefully a digital soundtrack release will be considered down the road, as the melodies make up some of the best I’ve ever heard in an indie game.
In the end, Fortune Summoners does not break new ground with its gameplay or story the same way Recettear did. Instead, it succeeds in reminding you how these timeless mechanics can still work in this day and age when coupled with a strong presentation that makes even the most mundane of events (from attending a class field trip to having a sleepover) appear more important than the latest convoluted plot of a certain big budget RPG. With just a few notches below perfection, Fortune Summoners is another fantastic triumph from the world of Doujin RPGs. Let’s hope there’s more where that came from.