A game for the iPod? Don’t make me laugh! It’s one of those puzzle games, right? Maybe trivia? Rhythm-based? Well, “rhythm” is getting a bit closer. Of all the genres I thought I’d see on the iPod, a Strategy RPG would be last. Hence why, a mere day after hearing about Song Summoner, I bought it and gave it a try.
When you’re not expecting much, a game can amaze simply by being mediocre. This game cost me about the same as a fast-food meal, and I expected it to keep me entertained about as long. It exceeded my expectations – with decent style and good artwork and music – even though I can’t recommend it against many other strategy RPGs.
If you’re comfortable with the iPod track-circle controls, Song Summoner is pretty easy to get a hang of. Tracing the circle scrolls through selection options or movement squares, the center button confirms, and pressing the top of the circle cancels. If you’ve got an oversized thumb like I do (and insist on using your thumb to control) you can expect to overshoot or undershoot on a movement or selection, but there is usually a confirmation dialog to help you out.
The main appeal of Song Summoner is in making troopers. That’s the one thing it does that nobody else has. Basically, you pick a song (or have one picked for you) and it generates a class and stats. Each class has several subclasses, often named in reference to music. For example, a Knight could be a Neon Knight, or it could be a Supernova – each has a different set of special moves, but the stats are on a per-song basis. You could have two Neon Knights with different stats. As for how it generates the stats, I have no idea. It must do some analysis of the song itself, because I’ve given it a song named “4” by “?” and it created a moderately detailed stat-set. I never had any problem finding good troopers – although apparently the music I listen to makes for a bunch of archers and very few mages.
The trooper system is also a weakness of Song Summoner. Once created, your song-soldiers have a set number of Deployment Points – the number of times they can be used in story battles. You can replenish them with somewhat rare items, but the mechanic still prevents you from creating a core team. I find one of the main appeals of an SRPG is putting together a group that works well together, and having to juggle your team every so often makes troopers feel too expendable. This is really unfortunate, because, between the colorful designs and fairly detailed stats, I prefer certain characters over others, but am unable to use my favorites for fear of “wasting” their deployment points.
Song Summoner’s story is pretty standard cheese-fare early on, if innovative in theme. Music-hating robots aim to destroy all those filthy composers and artists in the world, and are doing a pretty good job of it. Ziggy (our bizarrely white-haired young hero), and his younger brother Zero (also with white hair) are running away from them. Zero is captured, but Ziggy is rescued by a crazy old man, who uses Ziggy’s pendant to summon a Song Trooper.
Five years later (with nary a training montage), Ziggy has completed his Composer training and can go on a quest to save Zero. The crazy old man, of course, decides to chill in the “Hip-o-drome” instead of actually helping out in battles. A few evil villains and heroic heroes (both groups of which are fairly drab) later, there’s a pretty well-done ending that opens up the way for the sequel.
Naturally, Song Summoner is filled with music references. Nearly everything is a bad pun (or at least named strangely – I’m unfamiliar with a lot of genres). If you think you would mind having Her Majesty use a Singsong on Original Gangsta to restore his health, this may be a bad game for you. I had no problems tolerating it, but it’s so pervasive that it gets old fast. It’s another addition to Song Summoner’s style, but it’s a questionable one at best.
Other than its song-soldier creation system, the actual gameplay of Song Summoner is somewhat bland. Each turn is done Fire Emblem style, with each side moving all of their characters at once. Spells are all cast instantly, and are none too complicated. Characters have no equipment, and characters are leveled by spending points (gained in battle?). There are only four levels, so there’s not a whole lot of depth to each soldier.
Though the TRPG aspects of the game are a bit shallow, Song Summoner is a much prettier and better sounding game than I expected from the iPod, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. For the price and the medium, it’s impressive, and it has a couple of neat ideas that I hope other development teams pick up. I’m planning on picking up the sequel when it comes out.