February 14, 2007 - The PSP has gotten a rare and decent RPG that isn't just a port with Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner, but the news is so delightful and underwhelming at the same time. Sure, Jewel Summoner may be a PSP-specific role-player and hurray for that, but that doesn't necessarily make it great. Truth be told, there are as many areas to boo at Monster Kingdom as there are to cheer for it. The results are fantastically "okay", but at least it's unique.
What sets Jewel Summoner apart is its presentation, which includes a distinctive take on the voices, music, graphics, and the battle system. Well over 90% of the dialogue has been done by talented actors and the music is pretty good. Each of the characters also gets nice, crisp art for the conversational scenes. This is fortunate, since there's plenty of talking. In fact, there's a little too much talking -- especially in the beginning.
For the first five hours or so, expect to watch characters talk, walk a bit, talk quite a bit more, stumble about for a second, and then fall into another lengthy discussion. The storyline is interesting on its own and deals with modern issues such as the price we pay for the cheap and plentiful energy around us (no, really), but there is so much badly-written dialogue that it gets overbearing and tiring. It feels like several of the characters talk just for the sake of talking and every time they reappear on the screen it's a frantic race of button-pushing to get their uninteresting comments and meaningful pauses off the screen.
The only guy that doesn't do a lot of talking is the nearly mute and sullen lead character, Vice (who's on a path to find the Abomination that killed his mom). Since Vice is a Jewel Summoner, he uses various charms as weapons and each gem contain monsters that fight other monsters. New monsters can be gained in battle by weakening them and then capturing them in prisms for future use, much like Pokemon.
The battles are interesting in that the player's party has three characters and each one can summon one of their three monsters at a time. In each battle, the party faces one to three monsters at a time. The health bar belongs to the character, but the magic bar belongs to the summoned monster so swapping monsters mid-fight helps to give an extra bit of juice, even if you lose a turn in the process. The extra twist is that each monster belongs to one of eight elements to create battles strongly influenced by a rock-paper-scissors scenario.
The elements are broken down into two main groups: light and dark. Light gets the more ethereal elements of fire, wind, and thunder while the dark group gets the more solid elements: water, earth, and ice. Fire beats ice, ice beats wind, wind beats earth, and so on until the loop closes up with water beating fire. Monsters can also be the light or dark element itself. Mastering these elements can be the difference of a drawn-out battle versus a short one or between defeating a boss and not having a hope in the world.
To make things more complicated and interesting, monsters have elemental attacks according to their type, but can learn attacks of other elements as well. By fusing creatures with pieces of quartz, it's possible to make a fiery dragon cause a blizzard or make an earthy golem cause a flood attack. These are done by fusing them together with an unbearably slow process that can take a few long trips to the dungeon to complete. Unless you get an extra item to speed up the process it really isn't worth it.