Another in Carpe Fulgur’s line of translated Japanese indie games, Fortune Summoners is an unexpectedly difficult 2D side-scrolling action-RPG that is almost, but not quite, more trouble than it’s worth. It’s an odd core of satisfaction wrapped in a painful, spiky ball of terrible controls and eyestrain.
As usual, Carpe Fulgur’s translation efforts make what could be a terribly boring JRPG experience fairly enjoyable, although the story is incredibly slow-paced. As a small pre-teen girl who has recently transferred into a new school for magic-users, you’ll spend much of your time dungeon-crawling with friends in search of an elemental crystal and its associated power-ups. That’s about it.
The RPG elements are actually fairly minor, revolving around stats, experience, and items, but lacking any true sense of player agency; the most you can do is level up your characters and equip a threadbare selection of items. The action, on the other hand, is fairly satisfying once you get the hang of it. It’s no button masher, instead requiring precise timing, blocking, and counter-attacking to pull through. Other playable characters have rather helpful magics – healing spells, walls of fire and so on. As they take time to cast and are completely vulnerable while casting, you’re better off relegating control over the mages to the (unexpectedly great) AI while you tank with your sword character.
A comparison could surprisingly be made with console hit Dark Souls, but the two games don’t just differ in tone. Where the pessimistic, enigmatic Dark Souls is frustrating because it is incredibly, brutally unforgiving, the cheerful, optimistic Fortune Summoners is frustrating because it can be stupidly unfair – an altogether different proposition. This has two core reasons to it.
The first is that the controls are terrible. There is what feels like the slightest of delays on nearly every aspect of movement, something incredibly critical in a game with such a precise combat system. You’ll never quite feel as though you have complete control over what your character is doing. Additionally, characters will ‘slide’ just a bit before coming to a standstill or changing direction, which is not only infuriating in the midst of battle, but also while performing (admittedly rare) platforming challenges.
Secondly, enemy AI seems to be clairvoyant. Enemies can predict your movements with ease and block or dodge, unless you catch them in the middle of their attack animation – and even then there’s a pretty strong chance they’ll hit you first, stun-locking you with no chance of response.
And yet... and yet despite these amazingly frustrating and painful problems there’s just something to the game, a certain je ne sais quoi that drives you onwards. The game can be unfair, but it’s not quite impossible if you approach it in the right way. There’s a weird sense of satisfaction to conquering it that is difficult to explain. It’s like the glorious culmination of one’s eventual triumph over adversity, only that triumph is accompanied by the ring of enemies exploding into coins, and the adversity was the actual game itself trying to stomp on your face while you were tied to a chair.