Summoning is Stupid

Summoning is the video game equivalent of calling over your big brother to fight for you on the playground. There’s neither skill nor honor. Fight for yourself you pussy.

Summoning is a gimmick that’s been taken too far. While I can forgive the first few who tried it, summoning systems to this day suffer from the same old flaws.

1. The writing sucks

Sometimes the summons are just there. Having little to no explanation for their existence is poor writing in its own way, but it’s not so bad. At least you can ignore it.

The bigger problem is when summoning is so heavily written into the story that you have to use it. It’s a necessary component of the battle system no matter how boring or cumbersome it is. It also keeps the story from moving on to stuff that’s probably more interesting and certainly more unique.

2. The gameplay sucks

Summoning scenes are long and repetitive. A typical weapon skill or magic spell barely eats up a second or two. A typical summoning scene is a lot of hype and fanfare that gets you much less damage per second of screen time. You’re just counting down the seconds until you can launch a new attack.

There’s also a psychological distance between the player and the summon that makes the battle less engrossing. Cloud can die. Bahamut just dissipates into the ether.

3. The management sucks

Leveling up summons is usually different from leveling up party members. In addition to the menu screen bitch work, it also means the summons could end up disproportionately strong or (usually) weak.

In conclusion, I’m still nowhere close to beating Granblue Fantasy after playing for a year.

Also, this is the approximate 11 year mark of the website.

12 Replies to “Summoning is Stupid”

  1. I do love the summons that replace your whole party till the summon dies/expires, and then brings your whole party back to life with full HP/MP at the end. Great for people like me who will roll the credits with every Mega-Ultra Elixer the game has given me still in my inventory.

    Also, if the FF7 remake makes the stupid Knights of the Rounds summon scene unskippable, I’m boycotting Squenix forever. The first time I saw FF7 being played at a friend’s house, he was on some boss and doing that summon over and over. I was like, what did they do? FF6 was awesome and now this is the most boring thing I’ve ever seen.

    • Great for people like me who will roll the credits with every Mega-Ultra Elixer the game has given me still in my inventory.

      You too? I’m somehow even cheaper in video games than real life.

      All that time breeding Chocobos just to spend more time watching summon scenes. But you have to do it for completion’s sake, right? I’m surprised it took me until Nocturne to quit being a completionist.

  2. When I was young and stupid I used summoning all the time. I enjoyed the summoning animations. Nowadays if I’m playing FF7 or FF8 I don’t use summoning at all. They are slow and there is usually always some other way to inflict damage faster.

    That reminds me. I really should finish FF6, FF7, FF8 and FF9. I have finished them before and I have finished FF8 at least 10 times (it’s my favourite FF game). Now I have them all like 95% finished so it would only take about 2 hours per game. After you have beaten the end game and end boss multiple times it’s not nearly as fun anymore. You know that you’re going to make it to the end so what’s the point.

    I should also play Golden Sun 1 and 2 again someday. Those games have some awesome looking summons. It also has pretty unique summoning system. I would explain it, but my english sucks so screw that.

    • But boosting your GFs is an interactive experience!

      FF8 is also my favorite, though I chalk that up to having played it before FF7, or any other Playstation RPG for that matter.

  3. It’s very difficult to resist the urge to complain about the summoner characters themselves, but they’re an entirely different kettle of fish. An entirely different kettle of completely homogeneous fish with no personality.

    Putting that aside, summoning is, just like any other combat mechanic, a tool that falls entirely on gamedev-san to make engrossing. Used poorly, (looking at you here squeenix,) it’s little more than the suits’ demand to have THE MOST GRAPHICS FOR THE MOST SALES bearing fruit in a very pretty spectacle attack devoid of gameplay. You know the one.
    Looking at other models from other games or developers or genres, summoning may be something of a manpower supplement like with roguelikes, a pet class mechanic like with most MMOs, or even an attack functionally coming directly from the summoner his or herself, as is the style in character action games.

    What we’re really talking about with “summoning” is just the idea of “a character that makes more characters.” There’s no rule that it can’t be something engaging, like hurling a meteorite that breaks up into a firing squad of short-lived imps on impact, or a slowly-forming portal that suddenly launches a high velocity hellhound directly at the target.

    While I could witter on about how the east and west schools of game design tend to be diametrically opposed in how the summon is treated, or what’s ultimately better, fuck that. Even within the same franchise, summons have occupied every known mechanic and then some in different installments, mostly because there’s almost nothing Final Fantasy *hasn’t* done yet. Glorified big-ticket attack spells, show-stopping temporary party replacers, an integral component of character growth and Brobdingnagian grindy time sink… The only consistent thing is that no matter the system chosen, Squeenix will ALWAYS have a complete and utter contempt for your time.

    • I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the schools of thought concerning east and west schools of summoning magic. And maybe magic in general.

      • Well now.
        That bit about “a meteorite breaking apart into a bunch of short-lived imps” is a pretty good general summary of how western designers treat summon magic in general. A lot of the proud tradition traces its roots from D&D and roguelikes, where a lot of the obvious survivability benefits of these spells were curbed by either making them weak enough that they’re utilities or mere distractions for the enemy at best (a la familiars), or requiring resources, sometimes unusual, such as a costly reagent or a particular corpse (and obviously there’s a limit in character alignment THERE too), as well as the expected hefty spell slot cost or hunger cost to bring this brand new summon onto the field in the first place. Point being, while the summoner in these games is definitely leveraging superior numbers, the summons, however powerful, are anonymous tools or weapons to be used and disposed of.
        And really, putting aside the vagueness for a second, there’s a lot of fun to be had here with this model – conjurers in Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, necromancers in diablo 2, demonology from world of warcraft, et al. I’m quite partial to the design; it really helps you break free from that mentality of “too awesome to use” AND of overreliance on any one tool.
        The big difference between east and west in terms of attitude towards ANY weapon, really. It really helps put into perspective just how damn disrespectful Miyamoto Musashi was being when he chose to show up to duels with “just whatever” against men with named swords made by famous blacksmiths with pricetags that would make a modern Italian supercar jealous.

        Let’s look back to the “Dungeons and Dragons” Vancian system of specific prepared spells per day – a “charges” system on a per spell (or spell level) basis, forming an arsenal, rather than MP free to be used on whatever. The very first Final Fantasy used this system for all of its spells, and frankly, it was way better for it. You never had to worry about not being able to NUKE the boss because you’d cast CURE a couple times earlier, and at the same time, you couldn’t just abstain from casting at all and just chain-NUKE the boss’s face clean off with the excessive MP.
        It’s way easier to balance charges than it is to work with MP, particularly when that number never means the same thing with MP growth rates and MP restoratives.
        With MP, the focus may seem like it’s more on the characters themselves because you’ve removed a level of abstraction, but the end result is that the strongest spells practically become their own characters as you naturally gravitate towards just using them for everything. HERE’S LOOKIN’ AT YOU, PURSEOWNER.
        (As a bit of an aside, later recreations of FFI changed the spell slot system to the MP one and had their difficulty trivialized by the mages as a result. Golly, maybe you want to lessen up the spell impact if they’re always going to be available!)

        At any rate, with eidolons/espers/fayth/summons in a lot of eastern RPGs, with the way they appear from nowhere and replace a character or all of them or else represent little at all besides “different set of spells”, I really feel like they wind up feeling less like a physical presence being added to the battlefield and more like…well, the player being given another set of spells.

    • That’s what you see in Akihabara when a new FF game comes out: nothing but summoning scenes in all their glory. Hate to admit it, but it sells.

      I ought to give Western RPGs a shot, assuming I ever have the desire to play any kind of RPG again after Sunk Cost Fallacy. I mean, Granblue Fantasy.

  4. I keep trying to think of a Summoning system that doesn’t fall into these traps, but all the games that have them are older jrpgs, so there ya go. Legend of Legaia’s magic system is nothing BUT summons essentially. Leveling them up can be a grindfest, but that’s cuz its an older jrpg, and those tend to be a grind everywhere you look. The reason they are around at least makes sense within the narrative, and the healing summons can be used out of battle like potions, so they can be the easiest to level up (no sitting through cutscenes). Plus leveling up healing summons lets them cure a broader variety of ailments and provide maybe a buff or two. Essentially its like you’re playing a pokemon side game integrated into the main game. If memory serves, you can speed through the cutscenes, but I might be thinking of Chrono Cross which also has summons, but they don’t level.

  5. Indeed. And a day after my birthday, too. Thanks for the (unintentional) birthday present. So you would prefer a system like Chrono Cross then?

    • My memory of Chrono Cross is hazy…perhaps intentionally. But I remember liking the battle system. And the music.

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