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Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner
Platform: PSP
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Gaia
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: UMD
Released: US 02/13/07
Japan 02/23/06
Official Website: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 81%
Sound: 62%
Gameplay: 63%
Control: 89%
Story: 67%
Overall: 66%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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And you look more like an angsty pretty boy than a hero I'd actually care about.
 
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Do you like this dungeon? Do you like it enough to go through it two or three times?
 
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The amalgamy interface is needlessly twiddly and time-consuming.
 
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Admittedly, monsters do look good in battle.
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Neal Chandran
Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner
11/27/07
Neal Chandran

Kouji (nickname: "Cozy") Okada is a respected name among RPG fans. He and Kazuma Kaneko are the tag team responsible for the Megami Tensei series. Now, this power couple has split. Kaneko now holds the reins for the Megami Tensei games and they remain as darkly twisted and awesome as ever. Okada now heads his own development team and their inaugural offering is Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner. This game screams Pokémon clone, as you collect, train, and battle monsters. Given how past Megami Tensei games had players taming and recruiting demonic minions, this is not a stretch for Okada. In fact, considering how envelope-pushing and controversial the Megami Tensei games have been, Monster Kingdom is disappointingly safe, tame, conventional, even conservative by comparison. To be quite honest, I thought the game was bland, dull, stale, boring, and generally unenjoyable.

In typical Japanese fantasy RPG style, your alter ego is Vice: a spiky haired, cold, arrogant, cocky, slightly misanthropic hunter who's after the beast that killed his mother. His only memento is a jewel his mother gave him that allows him to summon a powerful monster, despite his lack of Jewel Summoner training. He's either quiet or a complete jerk to people so he's not a likeable character and does not develop at all. In order to find answers regarding this mysterious Mommy mauling monster, Vice finds himself unwillingly enrolled in Jewel Summoner school where he has to deal with monsters, as well as classmates. From that point on, Vice selects two classmates to be his permanent three-person squad throughout the game; they go on multiple fetch quests and save-the-monster quests until the last part of the game when Vice's story finally gets resolved. Since captured monsters do all the fighting, there really is no difference between any of the human classmates besides their personalities and the ultimate monsters they can summon. Cutscenes throughout the game obviously differ depending on the two classmates you selected as your permanent squad members. The classmates are one-dimensional archetypes, are often annoying, and are as equally unlikeable as the protagonist.

Unlike other monster collecting games, such as Pokémon, Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner actually attempts to write a lengthy story. There is a lot of exposition and dialogue throughout the game, but despite the often lengthy non-interactive cutscenes, I felt as if the characters talked a lot but ultimately said nothing. Despite the copious amount of text and non-interactive story cutscenes you have to sit through, the tale woven is dry, stale, boring, and unsatisfying. I appreciate the ambition to put a storyline in a subgenre of RPG that typically doesn't have thick storylines, but the tale here is dull enough to be coma-inducing. The game is very linear and the various missions Vice's team is assigned to all sound the same. There is a decision near the end of the game that determines the final dungeon and outcome, but since the game has only one save slot, it's impossible to witness the other outcome or different party members without replaying the game from the beginning, albeit with some New Game Plus features. Even with that, the game is too dull to play through a second time.

In looking at the team of music composers in the instruction manual's credits (a whopping ten in total) names such as Yoko Shimomura, Yasunori Mitsuda, and Hitoshi Sakimoto jumped out at me. These are well-known and talented composers. So why then is the music in the game so generic, bland, and unmemorable? Is this a case of too many cooks ruining the stew? Even if there was no music at all, it would not have made a difference, because there is not a single piece of music in the game that stands out. Even worse than the music is the horrendous English voice acting. None of the voice actors deliver their lines well at all. They make every possible voice acting faux pas imaginable. Dry, out-to-lunch reads? Check. Annoying overacting? Check. Putting the wrong emphases on the wrong words and syllables? Check. Voices that simply do not fit the characters at all? Check. Many of these voice actors sound familiar to me and have done excellent work in other games and anime/cartoons, so perhaps the blame lies in the voice director rather than the actors. Thankfully, there is an option to turn the voices off, save for battle cries.

The graphics are good on a technical level, but lack points for style. Towns, locations within towns, and the overland consist of unremarkable 2D prerendered backdrops navigated with a point-and-click interface. The design of the towns and in-town areas are bland and the backgrounds of in-town areas, such as shops and residences, are heavily reused. Similar sentiments can be said for the character designs. They don't look as generic as character designs I've seen in other RPGs, but there is nothing in the character art that is visually striking or original. To me, the character designs look like cobbled together ideas from other artists' designs. In addition, there is nothing interesting about the monster designs either. They don't have that enticing cuteness that pokémon have, nor do they have the cool and badassed look that Megami Tensei demons possess. The dungeon and battle environments are polygonal and look like early PlayStation 2 era graphics. The texturing in dungeons looks very plain and environments are quite repetitive. The camera is usually panned far away in dungeons, so the polygon characters do not possess much detailing. The best graphics are reserved for the fairly large polygon monsters during battles.

So how about the gameplay? Well, if you have played a monster collecting RPG, there is nothing you haven't seen before here. It's your basic town-dungeon-town RPG where you collect monsters while following a linear storyline through linear dungeons, many of which you go through multiple times (hooray for dungeon recycling!). Even though dungeons are linear, the high encounter rate, slow pace of battles, and long distance between save points make dungeons seem longer and more tedious than they really are. Since this is a handheld RPG, I am surprised that it uses a limited save paradigm–only in town, on the overland, and at dungeon save points–rather than a save-anywhere or quick-save system to facilitate gaming on the go. The game can be completed in 18-20 hours, so it's a decent length for a handheld RPG.

Monsters are aligned with one of eight elements. Light and Dark are the two superior elements, and the others fall under one category or the other. Under Light are Thunder, Fire, and Wind; under Dark are Earth, Water, and Ice. Elemental strengths and weaknesses are said to work in a rock-paper-scissors fashion, but many monsters do not seem to hold the elemental weakness that you would expect them to. The random battles occur in a turn-based fashion and play out quite slowly. The battle engine works similarly to the Press-Turn system in Digital Devil Saga where a critical hit or exploitation of a weakness knocks that enemy back and delays his or her turn.

You capture weakened monsters with items called prisms; the prism you use must match the element of the monster, which is revealed through the turn-order icons in battle. Prisms are only available in one shop in the entire game or as dungeon spoils. Money is also a limited resource, only given to you after completing missions or found in treasure chests. Monsters can be trained and given new skills through fusion with special jewels using a needlessly twiddly and time-consuming process called amalgamy. Amalgamy is also the only way monsters can evolve and because it's such a twiddly and time-consuming process, I did not use it very often. Control in the game is fine, but I found the menus somewhat clunky to navigate.

The bottom line regarding Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner is that the game is a colossal disappointment. Despite the pedigree of Cozy Okada and various gaming luminaries involved with the project, every aspect is ultra-conventional and ultra-boring. I never dreamed I would use negative adjectives to describe a game that Cozy Okada directed. If this is Cozy Okada's idea of a good game, then I do not think I will be supporting any more of his new team's projects. The only redeeming quality this game has going for it is that it's an original PSP RPG and not a shovelware port. However, RPG players would be better off waiting for more interesting RPGs to emerge on the platform.



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