While iPhone developers most are busy making short, easy, pick-up-and-play games, one company is taking the platform seriously and treating it as any other portable console: Square-Enix. The JRPG giant’s Song Summoner: The Unsung Heroes combines familiar game play of an SRPG with the unique attribute of unit creation through music.
Units are generated through music tracks in the iPhone/Touch library. When I gave the unit generation a try, it was both disappointing and addictive. It was disappointing in the fact that I could not figure out what the algorithm was for generating more powerful units — it was a little better than random. Picking the same song over and over again would generate slightly different units. The more units I generated with one song, the more I wanted to make more, just to see if something rare would pop up. That was the addictive part.
To encourage players to create more units out of songs, each unit has a limited number of uses, or deployments. Each time a unit is used in a fight or has its HP wiped out, it loses a deployment point. When all points are gone, the unit is then retired and cannot be used. This can be counteracted by using Rewind items, which gives the unit back a deployment point. It’s a much-needed way to keep around rare or better units.
Players familiar with Square-Enix’s console games will come to expect no less than detailed, whimsical character portraits and Song Summoner is no exception. Cutscenes are full of static yet detailed anime-like characters. It’s a sharp contrast to the basic (almost too basic) isometric sprite work of the fight scenes.
Also typical of Square-Enix’s games, there’s a long-winded story that unfolds in lots of dialogue scenes. The dialogue got pretty annoying thanks to the plethora of music puns. Thankfully, there’s a skip button for most scenes. But pressing that button unfortunately does not let players skip through tedious loading screens. That’s one feature I wish did not make it onto the iPhone/Touch platform. As a whole, even in battles, the game felt slow.
As for the SRPG aspect, it doesn’t make any leaps or bounds over what’s expected: movements and attacks are turn based, there are normal and special attacks, there’s a rock-paper-scissors-type balance of weapon affinities, etc. Instead of units automatically leveling up with experience, they have to be manually upgraded by using spheres earned from the end of battles. There’s also an aspect of building up a song’s energy meter by listening to it more often.
While the game doesn’t offer any breakthrough ideas in terms of how its played, fans of the SRPG genre may do well to pick this up. Just be warned that character animation makes the battles go fairly slowly. The unit-creation aspect seems a little gimmicky to me, but I have to admit it was one of the main reasons I was interested in this title in the first place so I guess the gimmick worked.