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Song Summoner is among the first in a wave of original iPod games, cropping up like corn at harvest time. Available for the iPod, iPod Nano, and iPod Classic of the current generation, Song Summoner is an SRPG in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea, and it uses your personal music library as a major component of its character creation system.
What a Wonderful World
The game's plot is its weakest point. If there's an RPG out there that proves that a story is not necessarily the lifeblood of an RPG, Song Summoner is it. Boy shows up, boy is thrashed by world-dominating villain en route to conquest, boy trains with James Brown until he's ready to save the world.
Running rampant throughout, musical puns and allusions pepper the game's dialogue without pause. The hero himself is named Ziggy, and as any David Bowie fan will know, is merely missing "Stardust" as a surname. A clear James Brown reference is the Soul Master, who serves as a catalyst for the game's core mechanic: character creation. It's all very silly, and yet somehow suitable to the game's overall feel.
Holding Out for a Hero
Creating your party can take up a large chunk of time. Character creation is one of the most important aspects of Song Summoner, using your own (hopefully wide) variety of songs to generate each unit. Every song will generate something different, although I'm sad to say that the actual interpretation isn't as complex as it could be. Songs with "hero" or "love" in them tend to yield higher stats, and you can basically roam a few boy bands or girl groups from the 90's to gain an edge.
Despite the limited generator, character creation is rather enjoyable, and customising your party can take a good while. There's an excellent tutorial (run by the Soul Master, of course), and the game tends to be as lenient as possible in letting you get into the thick of things.
WAR (What is it Good For?)
The battle system is your standard SPRG fare, taken from an isometric perspective with tile-based movement. It's a solid system and it works surprisingly well with the iPod's clickwheel. You just scroll your thumb around the clickwheel until the cursor is on your desired unit, select a command, and then scroll until the cursor is on a square you want to move to, or a unit you'd like to attack.
There's nothing particularly special about the system, but it's nice to see it adapted so well to a fairly unique control scheme.
One of the items worth mentioning is that there's no turn ladder present. Instead, both sides of a conflict get a round in which they make all of their moves. It makes the game less dynamic, but slightly easier on the player–a good thing considering the limited abilities of the clickwheel. On another console, however, this mechanic would probably irritate more than help.
The Sound of Music
The actual soundtrack in Song Summoner is excellent. I'm personally not a fan of the sound effects, which sound tinny and rather primitive given the iPod's abilities and even how far MIDI has come, but they aren't so ear-scraping that I can't deal with them.
The soundtrack ranges from uptempo modern beats to more calm, classical piano compositions. It's all very nice, and while some of the music is a little too "funky" for my liking, the majority is well worth spending time with. Make sure you have a nice pair of earphones though; the sound effects are still fairly piercing, and you may want a bit more aural fidelity to appreciate the music despite them.
Take a Picture
In terms of graphics, Song Summoner is pretty standard fare. It features isometric sprites and backgrounds, the kind we've all seen before. While they are by no means bad, they're simply serviceable. The art is similar: standard mainstream anime designs. A few of the villains are outstanding, such as Number 42, but the majority are rather generic and boring. They're not colourless, but they are bland.
Morning Has Broken
It's a new world of gaming on the iPod, and Song Summoner is there to herald the realm of RPGs. An earnest, thorough work by Square Enix, the game isn't spectacular but does its job well. If you can get past the corny dialogue and a few ugly sound effects, the game is a solid SRPG experience and will provide quite a few hours of enjoyment. Here's to an iPhone/iPod Touch port in the near future!