Summon Night 6: Lost Borders - Review  

Stars Fell on Fillujah
by Joshua Carpenter

40-60 Hours
+ Solid battle system
+ Addictive minigames
- Story structure is repetitive and annoying
- Inconsistant voice acting
Click here for scoring definitions 

    I had mixed feelings about Summon Night 5, the first mainline game in the series to see a release outside Japan. It had an appealing art style and likeable characters, but a spotty localization and gameplay quirks held it back from being something special. I went into Summon Night 6: Lost Borders with high hopes that this release would fix those issues and create a standout strategy RPG. Unfortunately, while many of the flaws were fixed, Summon Night 6 loses the charm that helped temper the previous iteration's shortcomings.

   Summon Night 6 opens with pieces of buildings falling from the sky like meteors. This is how Cocoon World Fillujah is introduced, a place where food, weapons, and buildings tumble from the sky, allowing its three residents, Raj, Amu, and Ist, to survive. Events change when not just things, but characters from earlier Summon Night games start falling into the world as well. This forms the story loop for the first half of the game: new characters fall into the world; Raj, Amu, Ist, and their collected companions go to save them; misunderstandings occur as the newly fallen characters inevitably come from a different game and don't recognize them or are from a different timeline where they are enemies; a fight occurs and afterwards they become friends, rinse and repeat. This quickly becomes frustrating as any plot development concerning the story of Fillujah is consistently interrupted by new characters that need saving. This persists into the second half of the game, as the bigger issues around the nature of the world and how to return the characters to their appropriate timelines continue to be interrupted by rescue missions. It is frustrating that so much of the story's length relies upon a character not explaining things, with everyone being unwilling to actually press them for answers. Ultimately, once the story gets going, the mystery surrounding Fillujah is interesting, and there is a satisfying conclusion, but it was trying that almost three-quarters of the game had passed before the origin of the three main characters and the world of Fillujah were addressed.

   Despite a frustrating story structure, Summon Night games usually focus on the characters and their mundane interactions and Summon Night 6 is no different in this regard. This is an excessively chatty game; every time an event happens, multiple characters will chime in with their thoughts. There are loads of optional side events such as characters talking about the joys of potatoes, discussing pirate life, or the proper way to make coffee. This sort of banal errata is further supplemented by Night Conversations, which are one-on-one personal conversations between the main character and a chosen ally. In addition to providing more information about the ally's background, these chats also increase affinity for the main character, which in turn provides bonuses in combat and unlocks some of the twelve potential endings. However, the characters themselves become another failing of the game. In the designer's desire to feature characters from all the mainline Summon Night games, the cast has ballooned to dozens. With so many characters receiving equal attention, even with a massive script, there isn't enough depth to form strong bonds with many of them.

There is always time for discussion in Summon Night. There is always time for discussion in Summon Night.

    When characters aren't chatting about puffy pirate shirts or the virtues of the potato-based dishes, turned-based strategy combat is the order of the day. Summon Night 6 uses a typical grid-based layout where height and orientation affect the amount of damage dealt by physical attacks. The maps are medium-sized for a strategy RPG, with eight allies available in most battles. The main twist that Summon Night 6 has on traditional strategy RPG combat comes in the form of Summon Assists and Summon Bursts. Summon Assists allow characters to be chained together at a small MP cost to boost the power, range, and class of spells that the summoning character can perform. On the other hand, Summon Burst allows two characters to pair together and use most of their MP to pull off one massive magic attack. These combine with traditional melee, ranged, and magic attacks to form the core of combat. Summon Night 6 also brings back Brave Orders, where bonuses are given for accomplishing certain tasks in battle, such as killing the map's boss with a specific character. Experience is doled out in a giant pool after each battle, allowing the player to decide which characters who fought in the battle receive experience and provides a useful way to level up characters that have fallen behind. There is also a class system where characters unlock classes as they level up. The classes control the types of usable weapons, the level of spells that can be used, and the growth rate of character stats. It's not a deep system, with each character only having access to certain classes, but it does allow for some customization.

   It's been said that a game can't be a JRPG unless it has a fishing mini-game. If so, Summon Night 6 qualifies with an unfortunately basic implementation. The fishing boils down to mashing the X button when prompted and then banging on any of the face buttons to reel the fish in. While it is simplistic, there are good rewards for putting up with the system. Of more interest is the other mini-game: Dispatch Quests. This is a miniature action RPG that's almost entirely controlled by AI. The player chooses three characters, each with different strengths and weakness, and the selected trio fight off waves of enemies while capturing loot filled chests. The only player interaction is choosing when to pull off character-specific special moves that might be a large attack, party buff, or healing. It is an odd addition to a strategy RPG and it plays like a mobile game, but it is addictive and fun.

   The visuals in Summon Night 6 are impressive for a strategy RPG. Developer Media.Vision incorporated stylish 3D models of characters even in story scenes that only have text boxes. This allowed for lots of expression and movement, which is welcome in a game with so much text to read. Maps, although the variety is limited, have a realistic look. The textures keep the terrain from having a blocky effect that can be common in grid-based strategy RPGs. However, it leads to occasions where it is difficult to determine the exact height and whether a character can overcome an obstacle. Summon Night 6's isometric camera allows for maps to flow seamlessly into beautiful backgrounds, but there are times — particularly with Summon Bursts — where its limited range of motion makes it hard to see the entire area being attacked. This is a problem both because combatants can be difficult to see and the game's use of friendly fire. Also, there is little difference in visuals between the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita versions; both look excellent, with the Vita version simply having slightly longer load times.

The maps are visually impressive. The maps are visually impressive.

   Music is also a strong point of Summon Night 6; many tracks return from Summon Night 5 and there is a wide variety of music that always fits the mood. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the voice acting. The problems appear to be character-specific; some characters are fine while others sound like they are reading the lines verbatim rather than acting. The voice acting also highlights portions of the script which seem fine as text, but sound awkward when spoken. Thankfully there aren't any characters that are grating, but there are too many times where the voice acting is flat and misses the mood of the scene. Unfortunately, there isn't a Japanese audio option available to remedy this issue.

   Summon Night 6 is an odd game. As the fifteenth anniversary project for the series, the creators produced an experience that resembles a crossover title rather than a typical mainline game. There is an expectation that players will be excited by each chapter's reveal of characters from an earlier Summon Night game, but can a person have nostalgia for something that wasn't available to experience in the first place? Because of the multitude of characters incorporated, the deep connection with characters and the cute asides that made Summon Night 5 stand out are lost. Ultimately, Summon Night 6 is a visually impressive, mechanically solid strategy RPG, but the repetitive story beats, weak voice acting, and overflowing number of characters keep the experience from shining.

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