Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but in the case of Gaia developed Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner what we have here is nothing more than a straight up tracing paper job. Although the graphics are distinctly beefed up in comparison to the Game Freaks creation for all of Nintendo’s various handhelds, the immediate impulse I get in my brain while playing this game is to hum the Pokemon TV show theme. I don’t even need to go so far in the series as to hum Johto, I can just stick with the first season’s catchy tune and be right on track with Jewel Summoner. I guess though you can’t really complain with this title though because at least it gives a slightly better story, although it’s plodding and feels very straightforward and in the end is made all the more forgettable by a cast that you don’t care about.
I guess I can’t be totally negative on a game that replicates another title’s systems so well, aside from the fact that it runs much slower than Pokemon. Battles seem to drag on as the monsters you control take forever to act and some of their moves have additional animations that just exacerbate the situation. Hell even the introductions to battles can waste a good amount of time after putting up with the load time to enter battle in the first place. Another thing that makes this game feel slow is the rate at which the monsters will level up, they take quite a while, and then even if you spend time leveling them up, there is the possibility that they are not going to obey you. For you see, your summoner’s rank will determine what level your monsters will cap out at when it comes to listening to you, and you raise this intermittently by completing objectives and jobs that the game shovels your way.
Each monster has an elemental type that has its rock-paper-scissors type weakness to another element. You can also augment monsters by adding elemental crystals to them which will unlock new abilities and allow them to learn more moves. Like Pokemon each monster can learn up to four abilities and then when learning a new one, an old one has to go. Something I liked about this over Pokemon though is that there are skills that target multiple enemies at once, and some skills can heal hit points inside and outside of battles. So unless Pokemon Diamond and Pearl have somehow sneaked these types of tweaks to their game I must say that Jewel Summoner has offered a better alternative. Are you getting tired of the Pokemon comparisons yet? Okay I think I will stop now. Oh wait one more, the monsters, yeah they can evolve. By combining a certain amount of elemental jewels to a monster you can cause it to evolve. Ok now I am done. Another slight plus here though is the ability to level up your monsters outside of battle by spending points that you acquire as a result of battles, so you’re not wasting a huge amount of time grinding and you can get those low-end monsters up to speed quite quickly.
In battle this game looks really nice. Each of the monsters is finely detailed and for what the PSP can offer they all look really detailed. This is to offset the typically bland backgrounds and dungeons that you’ll be wading through. And when I say wading I mean it because there is no map system while in dungeons. Also there are not a terribly large number of monsters. There are one hundred and ten in the game and there are a number of palette swaps, so you’re really only looking at about sixty to seventy unique monsters. But the monsters that are there do look really nice and the PSP screen is well utilized as monster attacks are highlighted by giving them a larger chunk of the screen to show off their special attacks. Most of the game is told through very simple stock character sprites who speak to each other, and it is a good and a bad thing that they do that because some of the dialogue scenes go on for quite a while.
If you’re not prepared to pay attention to those dialogue scenes then make sure you save often, and make separate save files. I can’t count the number of times I forgot where I was supposed to go because I put the game down for too long. Then there are the times where the directions are a bit cryptic and you have to find specific people who don’t stand out in the crowd of recycled sprites in any way. Not my idea of fun and most certainly not anyone else’s as far as I know. Jewel Summoner could have really benefited from a diary that just highlights the major events so that way the user gets a rough idea about what to do. But this title is already pressed so we can only help developer Gaia will learn from a few of these mistakes. Though I do find it a little odd that they took the time to develop puzzles and dungeon specific events but didn’t find time to add a map, I suppose it is due to the relatively small size of the dungeons. But I still can’t help but feel a map would have been way more helpful than actions that occur by pressing the square button.
I must say it was hard to pay attention to the dialogue when some of the characters are voiced in a hammy manner. Some characters had lines that sounded rushed, some very bland. In all it’s adequate and there is certainly much worse out there. But I found myself turning the voices off and did that ever make things worse. I found myself struggling to stay awake at some points. So to avoid such a fate, I recommend putting up with the voice acting. The music itself is nothing special, and truth be told as I write this I fail to remember how it sounded.
I also almost fail to remember the story. It is fairly weak. You assume the role of an anti-hero jack-ass named Vice who is on a mission to kill a monster called an “Abomination” that was responsible for his mother’s death. In his hunt he gets lumped in with a group called The Order that is responsible for training summoners. From there you can assemble your party of summoners that will be accompanying you for the game. You can either have the other young punk that is more of an ass than Vice or you can have the really annoying country bumpkin ditz girl. Or you could go with the really quiet party of a girl that can continuously fail at attempting to predict the future and the teacher’s pet character who appears wise beyond his years. From there it’s a hunt for the Abomination that killed Vice’s mother peppered with little side events that come in the form of orders from the… Order. Sprinkle in a potential villain who once betrayed the Order and you’ve got a wonderful story that takes forever to go anywhere and fails to keep attention for much longer than the average battery life of a PSP.
Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summon shows a lot of promise, but it spends too much of its own time wasting the player’s. Between long, overly processed battles and boring dialogue you’ll be hard pressed to make it through this game’s very cookie cutter story. Gaia has some good ideas and definitely has talent in their graphics department, but beyond that it feels like they borrowed way too much from their source material and forgot to include an interesting story to go along with it. If this were to be the PSP’s answer to Pokemon then I think we have a problem.