Taking place hundreds of years after the previous Summon Night games, the story of Summon Night 5 features a male (or female) character working with a group called ‘Eucross’ – who are focused on keeping order between the humans and spirits/creatures that roam the world. Being that this game features much later than other Summon Night titles in the series’ timeline, you end up seeing a lot of the story play out in a modern setting; there are towns with people wearing modern clothing and creatures/spirits walking alongside humans. This presents an interesting world that is filled with charming characters, a great core cast, and an enjoyable story.
The story dynamically changes based on two factors; who you pick as the main character and who you choose your ‘Cross’ (a partner spirit/creature that is your brother/sister). You can pick one of four crosses – with each one offering a new personality, strong character interactions, and (in terms of gameplay) new ways to tackle combat encounters. The male and female characters do have the same core personality but feature slight differences – allowing the story to have replay value due to different interactions being presented to the player based on which character you choose for your play-through.
The story also has ‘Night Scenes’ at the end of every chapter that allow you to have a moment where you can talk with any of your party members. You can get five chats per party member and depending on how strong your bond with these characters becomes can mean that you get a different ending when you beat the game.
Summon Night 5‘s presentation is very strong considering that this is a late-life PSP title (originally released in Japan in 2013). The character models are detailed and colorful – with the battlefield environments having enough detail to stand out from one another. It is also worth noting that despite having a lot of action and characters on screen at once, the game runs smoothly with no apparent slow-down (with the ability to skip animations and speed-up turns being great). The soundtrack for the game is also strong – the music during story scenes fits the mood while the battle themes help you get pumped up for each encounter. However, there is one flaw to the presentation; the lack of voice acting.
Unlike the original version of the game, nothing in the game is voice acted in either English or Japanese; only translated text. This can be a deal breaker to some, but I can say from personal experience that it does not detract from the enjoyment I had with the story.
The over-world is not as expansive as one might like it to be, considering it is just a flat image with a few landmarks to visit as you explore the map. But with charming character interactions that you can find on the map alongside the story scenes that take up a lot of time, it is fun to explore the game world and find everything it has to offer. You have the shop and the blacksmith to visit and they both offer a lot; upgrades, items, and more.
Summon Night 5’s gameplay is based on two elements; story events and missions. There are no random battles, so the game moves at a linear pace with a tight control on level progression. Event battles can be few or numerous depending on what chapter you are in (the game has 14 chapters, a prologue and a final chapter) and you have up to 70 optional missions to complete. Both offer ways to make yourself stronger and each has rewards; in many respects, it gives the game variety.
Mission rewards include the unlocking of Summon Clusters that give your party more crosses to bring into battle (so for example, you can unlock an Ogre Cross that has powerful splash-damage water attacks for one of your Mage-like party members), so this is another reason to play through missions. You can also replay past missions to complete more battle conditions (which I will cover later) and to gain more experience points.
The battle system is based on the strategic RPG mechanic where you are in control of units that you move to spots on the battle map and select what actions they do prior to the turn ending. Although based on this, Summon Night 5’s mechanics are a lot more complex then this so I will explain this further.
The systems work via a few important factors; brave points, battle conditions, Life Resonance Mode and Waiting Mechanics. Brave points are both the battle timer and a resource for your units – you can use it to activate special abilities like healing 30% of everyone’s health or swapping out to another unit. However, this is limited due to the brave points going down 20-30 points every time you lose a unit (you can gain a skill later on that reduces the cost, taking it down to 10 points), so it’s a matter of managing how much points you spend and avoiding as little death as possible.
The battle conditions are rules that every fight has and in order to win each battle, you have to follow those rules. They are mostly simple, like ‘take down a specific unit(s)’ or ‘survive X amount of turns’ but some can be more complex, such as ‘one unit cannot die’. You also gain metals, which can be used for skills that you can equip prior to battles or save and spend them on rarer items in the shop, from completing the core battle conditions and extra ones. This creates replay value with each fight and pushes you to become a better player across the game.
Life Resonance Mode and Waiting Mechanics are your trump cards for every single battle, as they allow your units to gain the edge needed to live through every fight. Life Resonance Mode is a mode that activates once you reach 100MP and it doubles all of your stats as well as giving you a powerful melee attack. Its length depends on how much you leveled up or skills you have been using.
Waiting Mechanic moves are based around actions your units complete while the enemy’s turn is active; they can block, counter, defend allied units next to you and more. It offers risk-reward system, as based on your wait move, you can do a lot (defend weaker units, counter attack with strong units, etc).
One flaw I found with the battle system is the fact that it downgrades elements from prior Summon Night titles. In past installments, you had a large party of units that could be summoned to the field at a time, however due to limitations of the PSP, the studio behind the game could only put five units on the field at one time. This makes some battles one-sided, as the opposing side in most fights can easily overwhelm your party of units, making battles more difficult than they should be.
The games leveling systems is something I feel also needs to be highlighted, as you use experience points to not only level up, but to also ‘buy’ abilities and various ‘Wait’ actions. This forces you to make important choices; do you level up and increase your stats, or use your experience points towards buying a few skills and upgrading ones you already have.
My only issue with the game is its difficulty. Even on easy, the game can become very challenging, which can become an issue for newcomers to the strategic RPG genre. The difficulty rises a lot around Chapter 9, and that can be an issue if you are unprepared for the challenge.
Summon Night 5 is game that will take you a while to complete, as between the long core story that lasts 30-40 hours, the missions you can complete, and the extra play-throughs for different endings, and experiencing differences with main characters/crosses – there is a lot of content to dig into.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with this game and feel that while it is not the best entry point for newcomers to the strategy RPG genre, veterans of the genre will be at home with this title. Even if you have never played a game in this genre before, this is a very enjoyable game that I feel many will enjoy.