Demo Impressions: Fortune Summoners

Recettear, Carpe Fulgar’s first import project for English speaking audiences, succeeded in large part because of its demo. A massive slice of the game, the Recettear demo worked so well because it was immediately apparent why we’d want to play it: Recettear was a snarky, action-packed shopping JRPG with a lot of cuteness but also with jokes that appealed to older players. We played the demo, got past our first impressions (“Otaku gibberish”) and bought the game en masse.

Fortune Summoners, their newest offering, isn’t quite as helped by a meaty demo. Not that I don’t appreciate it, but it won’t change your mind.

I’ll put my biases on the table, so you can compare your own: I’m not a huge fan of magical girls being cute and endearing. I love Japanese mechanics, but I prefer my RPG turn-based. I love schools. These are all what Fortune Summoners is: a cutesy, magical by way of not being magical girl moves to a new town and goes to a new school, a magic school. She fights monsters with her sword in a 2-D plain reminiscent of (but worlds from) Zelda 2. She has a stuffed animal she talks to at night, and it’s all so sweet I sometimes feel like I’m contracting diabetes.

That said, I liked the demo.

Where it gets me is its sword mechanics. Swordplay in games usually feels clumsy and random compared to the precision of guns, but here the swordfighting is tight. By giving you a bevy of useful directional attacks and making your base slash so utterly pathetic the game forces you to use some thought in combat. It’s nice. It’s very intelligent swordplay. The problem it has is that it definitely gives a bad first impression. You’re going to walk out into the woods and try to slash everyone with your base attack, and it’s not going to work. You’re going to get murdered. It takes time to realize what’s what, how you’re supposed to play this game, and I felt the strong urge, after twenty minutes, to turn the thing off and give up completely.

Once you figure it out, though, it opens up. Combat feels a bit like a less punishing Souls game in two dimensions: movements have significant weight to them and combat feels like a very fast chessmatch. Again, at least I think it will, and even then I have a caveat. The enemies you fight early on—snakes, slimes, and bats—don’t move with a kind of predictable intelligence that would make them thrilling fights. Instead, they’re pretty random, launching into scripted attack patterns, and they don’t push the sword fighting very far. Could some enemies later in the game? Of course they could! But this is a reason why the demo doesn’t quite succeed like Recettear’s: there’s no fulfillment of the ideas promised.

The other problem, a real, legitimate problem, is the running. The ground in this fantasy world is made of butter, I swear, and just walking up to an enemy is bound to challenge you for a while. It counteracts the game’s overall tightness, and it makes it very difficult, sometimes, to get into situations where the combat is exciting. Even if there are more interesting enemies later in the game, their presence might be mitigated by the sliding movement.

The cuteness doesn’t have Tear’s mitigating factor, either. There’s no snark here, just wholesome girls going off on quests into vaguely magical caves. As playdates. No one’s breaking the veneer of sugary charm, and I’m not quite sure I can take a full game of that.

That being said, this is a game that does what it does extremely competently. If you think a magical girl going to school with other magical girls in an action/rpg sounds like a brilliant time then you’ll love it. If you don’t, this demo will do nothing to dispel those notions. That’s why it’s less effective than Recettear’s: it won’t open up the market for the game besides Carpe Fulgar’s target, but instead will probably alienate buyers. Then again, with the price point they’ve (smartly, it should be said) settled on, a demo is practically necessity: for good or ill, no one impulse buys non-AAA games for more than $10 anymore. So this feels much more like an obligation demo than Recettear‘s, and it won’t change your mind about the game. By the same token, as someone at least in proximity to the target market, I’m still interested in checking the game out when it releases mid January.