A Fast-Paced Strategy RPG in the Wrong Market
In an era where mobile game developers are still trying to emulate and combine the successes of cash-grabbers like Clash of Clans with the addictiveness of MMORPG-style gear progression, LINE Games’ First Summoner sits comfortably ahead of a lot of its competition. It offers no autoplay, and there is no hard paywall preventing you from progressing through the main story. Instead, Line Games delivers an experience that is mostly honest with the player, thoroughly engaging and free-to-play even into the endgame. But it is defined also by its many faults. It stands above notably lesser games of its ilk. Unfortunately, it eventually succumbs to the same microtransactions and content-locking that dominates modern mobile gaming. It’s maybe just a little more fun in the meantime.
A Fun and Simple Concept
Contrary to games like Bloons Tower Defense, First Summoner puts the player character in an active role. You control Rachel, an archer, by clicking on the screen to map her to her location. In this way you run down a range of high-fantasy themed locales, fending off hordes of monsters. The camera is locked and the pathways always point forward. This simplicity allows the player’s attention to be more focused on the game’s primary mechanic: summoning units.
Following industry suit, Rachel summons friendly units using collectible cards which she finds throughout levels via chests or upon mission completion. These cards range from small foot soldiers and archers to large orcs and fliers. With over 50 cards to collect, the challenge quickly becomes deciding which units pair well together against the obstacles of the moment.
Card Combat with Unique Units
The cards are wonderfully diverse. You have the option to use, air units, magic units and melee units. Summoner additionally provides you with units capable of AoE, single-target destruction and even healers. To my delight, each unit comes with detailed notes. for those looking to break out the spreadsheet, a menu breaks down hp/mp values, DPS and other valuable information.
You can swap cards pre-game, allowing for sharp customization as well as variety. Likewise, each card has a fixed mana cost roughly relative to its power, deepening the strategy both while picking units and making split-second decisions.
An Overabundance of Other Genres
First Summoner, however, bogs itself down with all the accoutrements that we come to expect from mobile titles. While cards are the heart of what makes this game fun, there is so much to distract from that.
The player automatically collects gear during progression, but this gear doesn’t do much; Rachel, too, has character levels, but her stat increases are marginal at best, only slightly impacting her time-to-kill. Perhaps I could craft better gear instead of wearing what the story quests give me, but I am provided little incentive to do so – the crafting system is convoluted and expensive, and most times, all five of the materials you will need to craft an item need to be bought with either an in-game currency or cash.
Leveling cards is similar. Re-running levels will allow you chances to receive more of the same card, through which you can level it up. The cost to level is understandably exponential, and you need more copies of the same card for higher levels. The problem is the rarity of good cards. Before spending money on this game, your only option to fish for valuable cards is available once a day. But this free option prevents access to the highest tier of cards, legendary, and makes the rather nice (while spiky) difficulty progression begin to feel like it has hit a full stop. This is combined with many cards’ AI simply not working as intended, thus lessening the wide-seeming pool of cards from which to choose.
Filled with Clutter
The rest of the issues are related to poor choices on the part of LINE Games. There’s an underdeveloped achievement system, grindy dailies for tiny amounts of premium currency, an unnecessary guild system, a PVP arena dominated by premium users and a challenge quest mode that was superior to the main story, locked secretly away until the latter half of the game. Perhaps in an era devoid of microtransactions, First Summoner would have come into its own. For now, it is fine in context.
Is it Hardcore?
First Summoner is fun but makes me wish that it was developed as a one-time purchase game. Its good gameplay mechanics are overshadowed by its redundant and profit-driving systems.