Being a game critic is a little like being a soldier. Armies keep their countries safe; we play problematic games so other people don't have to. Spending 45 hours with Summoner: A Goddess Reborn won't get me the Medal of Honor—Daniel Weissenberger deserves that award, hands down. Nevertheless, I hope that I can protect others from the game's badness. Don't get me wrong—Summoner: A Goddess Reborn has some good ideas. They're simply crushed by its technical flaws and boring, boxed-in gameworld.
One of the game's good ideas is its heroine, Queen Maia of Halassar. Women in role-playing games tend to assist the male heroes or need an entourage of men to protect them, but Queen Maia is second to no one. She's been ruling Halassar since the age of four, and has plenty of experience dealing with insurgents. Legend says that Maia's the reincarnation of the goddess Laharah, who abandoned Halassar after the Tree of Eleh shattered. This sacred tree gives life to the universe. It's Maia's job to heal the tree and save the world.
To fulfill her destiny, the queen must do something a lot of role-playing game heroes—male or female—don't: fight in real time. She and her court of warriors can kick, dodge and block. Players attack with the B button, and pushing it two or three times quickly executes a "combo move." Swinging at enemies at just the right time can interrupt their nasty spells, while catching them unaware deals more damage.
Characters can also better themselves with skill points, which they get whenever they level up. These points can be distributed between abilities like Cold, Sword Weapons and Necromancy. Each skill can be raised up to ten points; more skill points mean more fighting moves, more spells, and more physical power. It's a bit like the skill system in The Sims, except with more killing.
But Maia doesn't just kill things as a human being. She can also turn into monsters (i.e., summons) by finding rune stones. Unfortunately, there was only one summon I really liked and using it was a pain in the butt. Summoning takes a huge chunk of magic power, and in the beginning Maia can only do it for thirty seconds at a time. Nor can she summon if she doesn't have a lot of room. Despite being integral to Maia's character and the game's title, summoning is much more trouble than it's worth.
So was using weapons in the optional First Person Mode. Long-range weapons like crossbows can, for fun, be shot in a perspective that drenches the screen in the emerald hue of Paris Hilton's sex tape. The picture becomes fuzzy, as if I'm not only seeing in the dark but underwater as well. I'm expected to futz with the C-stick while hordes of monsters rush at me, too.
A large part of the problem is the camera, which sucks no matter what mode one's playing in. Cameras are rarely flawless, but Summoner: A Goddess Reborn's gets off to a rockier start than most. I don't know whose idea it was to put a swiveling camera on a rolling ship, but it made me almost as nauseous as watching Moulin Rouge did. Things improve once Maia gets on dry land, but the camera is still bad. Its controls would always whip back and forth, hypersensitive to my thumb.
Visually, the characters in Summoner: A Goddess Reborn didn't excite me any. Maia looks and sounds like Lara Croft after breast-reduction surgery, and everyone else looks neither detailed enough to be realistic nor cartoony enough to be charming. They sometimes fade into the camera and often get stuck behind a certain booth for several seconds. Then there's the game's annoying habit of slowing down. If there are lots of monsters on the screen and the player does a combo move, the action slips momentarily into slow motion. Not severely, but enough to be irksome.
Even if I could forgive these graphical issues, there's still a lackluster universe to contend with. The game doesn't let players wander from one level to another; instead, it forces them to choose locations from a map via a cursor. Nor are levels introduced with awe-inspiring camera pans. A black screen proclaims in white letters: "Now Entering ___." Explorer's joy is killed by these pauses in the action.
Playing Summoner: A Goddess Reborn was like running through a rat's maze. I wasn't really exploring—I was just hacking through monsters to get to the next checkpoint. After a while I started asking myself probing questions: Does beating up waves of monsters really matter? How much farther? Does the children's hospital take videogame donations?
Summoner: A Goddess Reborn taught me that political correctness does not make a game good. I'd much rather play as a horny male chauvinist in an engrossing game than as a strong woman in a bad one. Playing the part of a warrior queen should be fun, but my enthusiasm was gone by the time I beat the game's final boss. "I never have to play this again," I thought. "Thank God(dess)."
But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).
Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.