Song Summoner: The Unsung Heroes – Encore Review

In a futuristic world dominated by soulless machine soldiers, music is the key to unlocking the power of humanity’s freedom fighters. Of course, there are still plenty of swords and axes lying around. Those help the cause a bit.

Square-Enix’s Song Summoner: The Unsung Heroes – Encore (yikes) is an iPhone/iPod Touch adaptation of 2008′s Song Summoner: The Unsung Heroes for the wheel-bearing iPod. Both Song Summoner games are turn-based strategy RPGs with a unique musical theme; instead of bossing around the standard soldiers or knights, lead man Ziggy is put in charge of ‘Tune Troopers,’ who are capable of unleashing audio hell upon the mechanical fiends who have overrun the world.

Granted, the Tune Troopers still fill standard RPG roles– they’re your average knights, lancers, mages, and warriors. They’re just born of your iPhone’s music playlist, and they have some admittedly wicked character designs going on. Given Song Summoner: Encore’s unusual setting and fun artwork, it’s disappointing to break down just how basic the game actually is. But that’s not an entirely bad thing. If you like your turn-based RPGs as an easy-going vanilla experience, Song Summoner – Encore is a very solid distraction. If you’re looking for something far out and super-challenging, you probably won’t want to drop the ten bucks Square-Enix is asking for.

Eat Prince, robot scum!

Song Summoner – Encore stars a silver-haired boy named Ziggy whose little brother, Zero, is kidnapped by a music-hating machine militia. Ziggy trains over a five-year period to become a conductor, a specialized warrior who can create and order around ‘Tune Troopers.’ Ziggy also pairs up with one of the machines, a renegade he names Z.E.R.O. Together, they track down the militia’s top generals and unravel the whereabouts of Zero.

Song Summoner – Encore isn’t a mere port of the original Song Summoner for the iPod. Encore is spliced with an unreleased Song Summoner sequel, and provides twenty to thirty hours of gameplay. Your rate of play will depend on how much you schmooze around in the Rehearsal Room (the requisite training area for your troops), and how patient you are about creating new Tune Troopers.

Truth is, Tune Troopers should be the most compelling feature of Song Summoner – Encore, but it feels random and impersonal. You can grow fighters out of your playlist, and experimenting with different genres will supposedly yield all sorts of fun classes. There are five basic Jobs (Soldier, Mage, Monk, Archer, Knight/Lancer), and each Job breaks down further with different sub-classes featuring unique artwork (for instance, you might get a Hip-Hop Monk versus a plain old Monk).

Unfortunately, there’s no real way to tell how your choices in music influence character creation. Scrapping a song warrior and choosing the same song again may well yield a completely different fighter, even if it’s in the same Job class. Listening to a fighter’s birth song outside the game will help power it up, but it takes a lot of listening to make the process worthwhile. Believe it or not, it is possible to get sick of Sister of Mercy’s ‘Temple of Love.’

Our imperfection is that our hair goes white at a young age.

Fighting is pretty basic. Your warrior can wheel though the basic turn-based RPG commands: Fight, Skill, Move, Wait, and Item. Spells are the usual fire/ice/thunder fare with some augmented physical attacks. Spell names are fun, however, including ‘Shot Thru the Heart’ for an Archer, ‘Throw It All Away’ for a Knight, and ‘Let It Snow’ for a Mage’s ice attack.

The game’s battle terrain likewise holds nothing new and exciting, but with names like ‘Electric Ladyland’ and ‘The Joshua Tree,’ it’s worth waiting on the next battle just to see how closely Squaresoft dares to poke its toe in the RIAA’s direction.

Song Summoner – Encore has a great soundtrack and energetic sound effects, but the graphics are a mixed success. The character portraits are as flamboyant as you’d expect Square-Enix artwork to be, but given the game’s musically-charged setting, the over-the-top designs work well. The sprite work, however, isn’t very impressive. Zoomed way out, they call back to the 16-bit era. Zoomed in, they’re a jumble of pixels. Worse still, tapping on a particular character and getting them to move to a designated spot is often hit-and-miss, no matter how delicately you work your way around the touch screen.

Song Summoner – Encore is a fine title to pick up if you’re looking for a basic turn-based RPG that will keep you busy for a decent amount of time. But given the game’s premise, it’s a little disappointing to discover that it doesn’t dance to a different tune.

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