Swords & Zippers: Secret of the Elemental Stone

I’m a big fan of unconventional JRPGs that buck the trends of the genre. That’s not to say I don’t have any love for good old “ATTACK, MAGIC, ITEM” — quite the opposite, in fact — but when something combines the strengths of the JRPG genre (strong characters, heavy focus on narrative, over-the-top drama, colorfulness) with some fun mechanics from another type of game altogether, I sit up and pay special attention.

Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone, then.

Fortune Summoners is a Japanese-developed title by Lizsoft which was localized and brought to Western audiences early this year by Carpe Fulgur, the small but dedicated team who handled the fantastic translation jobs on EasyGameStation’s Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale and Chantelise: A Tale of Two Sisters. Like its spiritual (but unrelated) precursors, Fortune Summoners is overflowing with moe thanks to its adorable little girl main characters, but rather than taking place in a 3D world filled with cartoonish monsters and egg on toast, it’s essentially a Metroidvania-style platform/RPG hybrid.

You take on the role of Arche, a young girl who’s just moved to a new town. Her parents have opened an item shop, and she’s been enrolled in the local magic school. Arche is an accomplished swordswoman (swordsgirl?) but has absolutely no aptitude for magic whatsoever, a fact not helped by the fact that she doesn’t have an Elemental Stone, a magical thingy that allows its holder to channel their will and produce various effects. Over the course of her 20-ish hour quest, you’ll find her a mysterious “locked” elemental stone (which, naturally, must be unlocked through an Epic Adventure), journey into deep, dark dungeons and eventually, as these things tend to go, uncover a Sinister Plot to Destroy and/or Take Over the World.

As plots go, it’s fairly conventional, but Fortune Summoners pulls it off with such wilful and self-aware silliness that it’s hard not to be enraptured by its adorable charms. Arche is a wonderful character, alternating between being a diminutive wannabe Hero of Justice and demonstrating her spectacular lack of worldly knowledge. Her companions Sana the quiet, shy girl and Stella the spoiled little tsundere rich kid, meanwhile, are perfect foils for her endearing sense of innocence — and the fact that they are all prepubescent girls makes it all the more amusing when they engage in combat with the numerous enemies who are wandering the landscape. (Including on the way to school, which neither the kids’ parents or teachers seem overly concerned about.)

The combat itself is a lot more than straight hack-and-slash, too. Assuming they are in the party, players can choose to control any of the three girls at will, while the other two are handled by a mostly pretty good AI system. If in control of Arche, Street Fighter-style direction and button combinations (best executed with a gamepad) unleash a variety of different sword strikes, while both Sana and Stella are mage-type characters — Sana focusing on more supportive water-based spells and Stella on causing fiery death to all and sundry. Arche is an “up close and personal” sort of fighter, helped/hindered by the fact that her sword doesn’t really have a particularly long reach, while the others are more suitable for ranged combat.

It’s pretty tough. The game is very unforgiving of players who don’t take a bit of time to learn at least a few of Arche’s moves and the two mages’ most helpful spells. You can expect to die a great deal, particularly early in the game when it’s difficult to deal with things like flying enemies and status effects, but Lizsoft thankfully had the foresight to include a feature that prevents players from getting into “unwinnable” checkpoint situations — die in a dungeon and you can either continue from just before where you died, or be transported back to town in exchange for some of your gold. While in the latter case you then have to fight all the way back through the dungeon again, it does at least mean you won’t get into a situation where you’re stuck below ground with 3 hit points and no healing items. Which is, you know, nice.

The gruelling, challenging gameplay would be nothing without an incentive to continue, however, and fortunately the plot, while clichéd to the extreme, is entertaining and well-paced. There’s a fair amount of backtracking across the relatively small game world, but as you level up enemies that once gave you considerable grief become minor inconveniences easily despatched with a single sword swing. This is always a satisfying part of any JRPG, but as Fortune Summoners’ enemies explode into glittering showers of coins and treasure, there’s something even more gratifying about it.

The fact that you know when you get to your destination you’ll get to spend some more time hanging out with these endearing characters provides sufficient incentive to proceed, too. Despite their respective skills in fighting and magic, Arche, Sana and Stella really are just little girls at heart, enjoying sleepovers and getting excited at the prospect of going to the big city purely to buy some delicious treats for their school trip. This juxtaposition is consistently played for laughs throughout, helped enormously by Carpe Fulgur’s exemplary job of naturalizing the dialog. There’s a wonderful sense of these kids being just kids and going out into the world for the sake of childish adventure.

But disappointingly, the tale of Fortune Summoners as a game has something of a sad ending. The story concludes with an obvious cliffhanger intended to lead straight into a sequel — a sequel which never came. Given that the game came out back in 2008 in Japan and relatively little has been heard out of Lizsoft since, it’s fair to say that we probably won’t be seeing any more of Arche and the gang. This is a terrible shame, as the characters and setting are certainly established well enough in Secret of the Elemental Stone to support an ongoing series.

Still, the fact that the ending hints at things that will never happen certainly doesn’t spoil the run-up. Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone will give you at least 20 hours of endearing, colorful entertainment for just $20 — less when it puts in one of its regular Steam Sale appearances — and for those feeling starved of JRPG-flavored fun on PC, it’s a very worthy investment.

You can grab Fortune Summoners right now from Steam.

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Swords and Zippers is our weekly JRPG column in which we explore the best, worst and most interesting of this diverse and long-standing genre that has fallen somewhat from grace in recent years. You can follow Pete, author of this article and GrE’s managing editor, on Twitter.

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