By Jeriaska . July 9, 2008 . 8:09am
The hero of Square Enix's strategy role-playing game for the iPod is a determined lad. While committed to saving his brother from the hands of tyrannical robots, Ziggy never loses his enthusiasm for music. It's a good thing too, because in the world of Song Summoner the power of tunes is the primary force in service of protecting humankind from heartless, rampaging machines.
Ziggy's brother Zero is kidnapped in the introductory chapter of the game by the villainous robot, Number 42. The boy then takes up residence at the Hip-O-Drome, a futuristic cross between a dojo and recording studio, to learn the martial art of a "conductor" from the affable mentor known as the Soul Master.
This is the preliminary setup to the game's iPod-specific content. The hero recruits his team members at the Drome through the use of a massive speaker system. You are invited to select songs from the available space on your music player, which will be used to generate Tune Troopers to round out your party. The allies you generate based on individual songs chosen from your playlists will last for only seven battles–that is, unless you earn a "rewind" item to extend their deployment. There is no limit to the amount of characters you can generate, including strategy RPG staples like soldiers, archers, mages and "hip hop monks."
Every so often the Soul Master will offer tips on creating stronger allies, such as choosing tunes with 1 or 7 in the title. Selecting "prime #7" from the Echochrome soundtrack, for instance, led to recruiting an archer with high enough accuracy "to shoot the legs off a flea." The Master encourages you to convert a whole mess of songs to troopers and switch them up between battles for optimal effect. Listening to your playlists between battles is also recognized by Song Summoner, and ups the stats of your troopers upon returning to the game world. You can also partake in mock battles in VR between quests to earn pitch pearls that raise the levels of your individual units.
You can deploy up to three of your troopers to assist you on the battlefield in standard strategy role-playing fashion. Your sprite-based characters are visible in an overhead three-quarters view and take turns attacking the enemy. You can select an icon in the shape of boots to move, then cycle through the available squares on the battlefield using the click wheel. There are also buried treasure chests on the field that can be discovered by chance.
The first few battles are a breeze, allowing casual gamers the chance to get used to the conventions of the genre. Robots explode upon being so much as glanced by your sword, and your offensive magic spells will not accidentally harm inconveniently located party members. If your character is positioned next to someone with a complementary job, a powerful harmony attack will automatically be performed that takes off extra damage, though troopers sometimes are afflicted by status abnormalities like poison and paralysis upon being hit by low level spells. Ziggy soon discovers the "deserter" the militia is hunting down is a robot whose love for music has compelled him to join the humans' cause. The hero dubbs the unnamed machine "Zero" after his missing brother, and the character joins your team.
Despite walking a thin line between cleverness and hamming it up with all the broad references to music and role-playing cross-overs, Soul Summoner: The Unsung Heroes offers a surprisingly deep play experience for a casual game title. Having been a trailblazer of digital game music distribution, the appearance of Square Enix's first iPod title makes a certain degree of sense when you think about it, even if the game's international launch came entirely from out of the blue.
Images courtesy of Square Enix