Having finished Chantelise the other night I decided to move straight on to the latest of Carpe Fulgur’s translated Japanese titles, Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone. Unlike Chantelise and Recettear, Fortune Summoners was not originally developed by EasyGameStation, so I knew it was going to have some significant differences from the previous two games — I was curious to discover exactly what.
Fortune Summoners is a side-scrolling platform-RPG in which you play a prepubescent girl named Arche. Arche has moved to a new town with her family, and her father — an ex-adventurer — has decided to settle down with his wife and daughter, and open an item shop.
Arche is an endearingly ditzy little girl, charmingly naïve in the ways of the world. She’s not very bright, she’s terrible at arithmetic and she comes to her new magic school woefully unprepared, lacking the one component necessary for her to be able to begin her magical studies — an Elemental Stone. She does, however, have a strong sense of Doing What Is Right, and so decides not to mention the fact that she needs a stone to her family — who are somewhat lacking in funds due to their move and the start of their new life — and seek out one for herself. Thus begins an adventure that sees Arche discovering a great deal about the true power of the Elemental Stones and the origins of magic, accompanied occasionally by two equally prepubescent little girls.
If this all sounds terribly adorable, you’d be absolutely right. Like Carpe Fulgur’s previous releases — and despite originating from a different developer – Fortune Summoners is awash with bright colours, squeaky Japanese voices and well-defined characters who all have their own distinctive personalities. Witnessing Arche’s endearingly naïve responses to life-threatening situations never gets old, and her interactions with her party members and other characters is always a joy.
But beneath this brightly-coloured, charming exterior beats a heart of pure evil. Like Chantelise, Fortune Summoners isn’t afraid to drop-kick the player into a dirty toilet full of acid-tipped spikes and expect them to come out unscathed, undiseased and smelling of roses. This game is hard, and it is the very definition of “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Each of Fortune Summoners’ three characters has their own unique abilities. Arche specialises in swordplay, while her companions Sana and Stella provide backup with water/ice and fire magic respectively. It’s possible for the player to switch between these characters at will, and during the game’s dungeons this frequently becomes essential to progress. Sana, being a water mage, is able to breathe underwater using her magic, for example, while Stella is able to burn down obstacles with her command of the fire element. Arche, meanwhile, doesn’t have access to magic for the vast majority of the game and thus is the “tank” of the group (and yes, the concept of a little girl being a tank is hilarious), with a higher hitpoint value, better defensive capabilities and an array of fighting moves designed to go toe-to-toe with the various horrible monsters that wander the countryside — and that none of the game’s cast seem particularly concerned about. (“Watch out for the slimes on your way home!” says their teacher at the end of a school day. You’d think they’d arrange a bus service or something.)
Each of the game’s characters make use of their abilities in a different manner. Arche, for example, can only swing her sword if she has drawn it first, which takes a valuable couple of seconds and thus is best done before combat rather than during. Following this, she can unleash various attacks by using Street Fighter-style direction and button combinations, allowing her to slash, thrust, use combination attacks, roll to evade, cartwheel backwards out of harm’s way and leap down on an enemy from above for unblockable damage. There’s a level of depth to combat that you don’t normally see in 2D-perspective role-playing games — and the game will most certainly punish you if you don’t get the hang of it, because wildly flailing at enemies will not get you far.
Sana and Stella, on the other hand, are better at hanging back and unleashing their magic from a distance. Sana has access to an icicle-flinging spell, for example, while Stella is able to create fire walls and homing fiery missiles. Sana also has a healing spell, which means she is really missed when you don’t have her. Spells are cast by making them active from a “hotbar” (or toggling through them with a controller button) and then holding down the “attack” button until a magic circle appears. Getting struck while casting causes the spell to fail, so it’s essential that Arche keeps the enemies occupied — or that the mages hang back before attempting to cast if, for whatever reason, they’re going solo.
The surprising complexity of the combat system really gives the game a pleasing amount of depth, where it could have been something very “hack and slash”. Instead, the game’s sword-and-magic play becomes very technical, and almost Demon’s Souls-esque at times. Different enemies require different strategies, and blocking is essential — though thankfully the game does come with a helpful “auto-block” option if you’re not performing any other actions, which does make things slightly easier — though not by much. Once again, though, like Chantelise, this means that Fortune Summoners is only going to appeal to a particular type of person — the type of player who doesn’t mind taking a bit of abuse from their games, and the type of player who doesn’t mind practicing in order to get better. (They also have to be the type of player who doesn’t mind playing as an adorable little girl, either, and there’s not always crossover between all of the above criteria. I happen to find the concept of a monstrously difficult game starring three very girly young girls hilarious, however, so I’m sure there are plenty of other people like me out there.)
Fortune Summoners, then, is not for everyone — and unashamedly so. This is, of course, no bad thing, as we all know by now that attempting to appeal to everyone is a lost cause that ends up with you making the most generic, inoffensive thing possible as you pander to everyone’s sensibilities. Fortune Summoners is for those who like a challenge from their games; for those who enjoy old-school sensibilities combined with the more complex gameplay or modern titles; and for those who have absolutely no issue with their on-screen protagonist being a loli.
If that sounds like you, then be sure to check it out here. (There’s a free demo, too, and you can even transfer your progress from said demo into the full game.)