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DS Fanboy Review: Summon Night: Twin Age

RPGs, by definition, are immersive – hence the name "role-playing game." Yet, the existence of the fourth wall in video games is an obstacle when it comes to such follies, so the software must rely on a number of charms to keep the player engrossed. The story is often the driving force behind such immersion, but gameplay is equally important so that the title is actually enjoyable, too. Factor in the visuals, controls, music, and so forth, and you realize that a lot of things must fall into place to make a truly memorable RPG.

While Summon Night: Twin Age doesn't hit all these aspects square on the head, each element is addressed to satisfaction, making Flight-Plan's title both charming and addictive. To see what works, what doesn't work, and what kind of works, check past the break and read our review.

When starting up a new game, you must choose to have your session focus on one of two protagonists (a boy named Aldo or his faux-sister, Reiha), who live on the island of Jarazi. Jarazi is inhabited by the Kascuza, a race of "Demi-beasts" that work in harmony with the world's spirits. Kascuza and humans are at odds morally, though, since humans call forth and enslave Summon Beasts to help them control these spirits.

All this chaos soon causes some turbulent events, which in turn beget monster attacks. Aldo and Reiha must then journey with friends to end these disturbances, so that they can put the spirits at peace again.

Of course, if we had to choose between being captivated by a story or having fun with the gameplay, the latter is infinitely more important. The beauty of Summon Night: Twin Age is that it doesn't make you choose, but while the story is decent, the gameplay is this title's true strength.

At the beginning, all the customization options might seem overwhelming, but after the first hour you'll have everything down pat. Before delving into these complexities, though, let's start with the basics of combat. The battles in Twin Age take place in real-time. Tapping on enemies will launch your attacks -- Aldo uses melee weapons, and Reiha uses magic. The most important tool when fighting is your Command Palette, where you put skills or items that you want to use during battles.

The vast number of skills in this title add a lot of depth to the gameplay. The system is simple enough: as you level up, you're given points that can be used to learn or upgrade skills. Most skills are used for attacking, but you can also learn supportive ones like "Heal." Your success in battle will depend a lot on what skills you have and how you use them.

Interestingly, you can also add summon creatures to your Command Palette. You either have to collect a beast's essence or conjure it yourself, but once that's taken care of, you can have creatures fight with you in battles. Support skills (like "Heal") work on these allies, too, which is a nice perk.

Your relationships with the other character will have an effect on the number of beasts you're able to conjure. Relationship status will also dictate how your characters perform in battle, so bonding with your party members is very important. This support system is therefore just another interesting facet to the already deep gameplay. Fighting together is one way to increase your Support Rank with another character, but night conversations (which occur every few chapters) are important as well. While your allies' AI can be disappointing at times (especially when they run onto spikes or poisonous pits), increasing your supports will make your companions extremely helpful in battle.

It's also worth mentioning that while you make your way through the levels to slaughter enemies, you'll come across a lot of loot. At first, many of the items you pick up seem arbitrary, but these things actually help you forge weapons, armor, and other items. Since you don't get all that much gold, forging your own stuff becomes a vital (and compelling) process. The forging system also provides a lot of incentive to examine every nook and cranny of each stage, so that you don't miss out on any items.

Speaking of missing things, completionists won't be satisfied with just one playthrough. You have to play at least twice to get a full bestiary, since you must choose between dungeons at one point. If you enjoy the story, you might also feel the need to play again as the other protagonist, so that you experience the events and night conversations through a different set of eyes. Because you can fight with either character regardless of whom you choose in the beginning, though, the gameplay will remain almost exactly the same.

Controls: Although Twin Age includes some button support, you'll need the stylus to take part in most of the action. A combination of both schemes allows for "advanced combat" techniques, which essentially save you the trouble of constantly clicking on the same attack or support skill over and over again.

Overall, the stylus implementation makes the tap-and-slash combat both fluid and intuitive. Menu interface, map navigation, and character movement are other aspects of the software that also benefit from the stylus controls.

Visuals: The game is very bright, cute, and colorful, which some might find appealing, but others might consider a turn-off. Also, the graphics aren't top-notch, but Twin Age makes up for it in other ways; the art and character sprites look nice, for example, and the real-time skill animations add flair to the battles.

Sound: There's a wee bit of voice acting in the game, which is a pleasant surprise. The sound effects are done well, too, especially for the battles. Unfortunately, the music is mostly mediocre, with just a few smooth tunes scattered throughout.

Twin Age also features a jukebox-esque option, which not only allows you to play the music you've unlocked along the way, but also lets you listen to all the characters' spoken phrases.

Story: Like the visuals, enjoyment of the story comes down to a matter of preference. The plot is compelling and thought-provoking (albeit clichéd in many ways), but despite some of the subject matter, the tone throughout is generally light. Only those who subscribe to the schools of angst and emo will probably be disappointed by this, however.

Difficulty: Herein lies the game's biggest flaw. Twin Age has a lot of great things going for it, but there's one major problem: it's just too easy. That's not to say some parts aren't challenging, as a few of the bosses are definitely capable of giving you a run for your money. Once you start mastering good healing and SP-charging skills, though, the game becomes much less difficulty.

According to various message boards, the North American version was simplified from the original Japanese game. Whether Atlus or Flight-Plan is responsible for this change, having the option to choose a difficulty level rather than being forced to take it easy would have been a better decision.

Final Score: 8.5/10Summon Night: Twin Age leaves some things to be desired, but the incredibly fun gameplay and micro-management options make up for most of its flaws. You won't find much that you haven't seen before in this dungeon-crawling, tap-and-slash title, but if you're an RPG-lover, that shouldn't deter you from trying out this pleasant addition to the Summon Night series.

Looking for a game? Be sure to swing by our extensive review archive, where you can easily jump to conclusions based on score alone, or access our full reviews, if you're so inclined.

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