Fortune Summoners is a perfect embodiment of the phrase “two steps forward, one step back.”

Fortune Summoners looks like it has everything it needs to be the perfect homage to old-school action RPGs. It’s got adorable characters, stellar production values, and starts out with a promising story. So how do things become so mediocre so quickly? The answer, it turns out, is a little complicated.

The story here begins with cute-as-a-button Arche moving to a new town with her family. Her father’s a famous soldier looking to settle down and open a shop, which means that Arche’s been taught the way of the sword since she was very young. This makes her a bit of an anomaly in the area, since all the children attend a magic school and swords actively interfere with magic. Also, because Arche’s family doesn’t have much money, they can’t really afford the elemental stone she needs to perform magic, so you’ll have to spend some time trying to get one for her. As the story progresses, you eventually wind up recruiting the arrogant (yet well-meaning) Stella and the sweet-as-sugar Sana into your party.

Fortune Summoners

Fortune Summoners is a 2D action RPG that contains an incredibly easy-to-use keyboard control scheme. Movement is intuitively tied in to the arrow keys, while switching between party characters is as simple as hitting “enter.” Each character has a different combat style, though I found it was easiest to simply control Arche and let the game’s AI control my companions. This usually worked out fine, but there were a couple of times where party members would go off on their own and fight enemies I had no interest in battling.

The game also features some really excellent graphics and sound. In spite of the retro-styling, there’s a ton of detail to appreciate here and the animations are beautifully fluid. The music, too, is great fun for those of us who grew up playing 16-Bit RPGs. It’s too bad that these wonderful production values can’t save the game from the rest of its content.

The biggest problem here is Fortune Summoners’ pacing. It arguably contains the slowest RPG story you’ll come across this year, especially during the first couple of hours. It feels like forever before you get to the point where you have all three girls in your party, and things feel even more sluggish thanks to the fact that you’re literally forced to talk to every character on the screen (for no discernable reason) before you can advance to the next part of the story.

Fortune Summoners

Another noticeable problem is that gameplay often consists of you going from Point A to Point B to Point C, heading back to Point A, and then running over to Point C again. There’s a part of the game where two of the girls go on an adventure, only to reach a door, and then one of them says “it’s getting late, let’s go home.” So it’s back to town for your fearless heroines (which means another romp through enemy-infested areas) only the next scene requires you to run all the way back to the door again.

Meanwhile, the game often doesn’t provide you with much guidance on what you’re supposed to do in order to progress. There’s a great example of this early on: After her first day of school, Arche decides to explore a nearby cave. Once she gets to the cave, she’s only able to spelunk a little ways before she reaches a dead-end chamber that’s blocked off by a pool of water. It turns out that you need to get Sana, since her elemental stone allows her to breath underwater, but the game doesn’t actually explain this (nor does it tell you where to find her). It’s maddening that nobody caught this during the QA process, because it’s something that could have been fixed with an extra line of dialogue.

Finally, there are some definite irritations with the gameplay. Combat sequences aren’t really all that fun. There’s a little bit of delay between when you press the action key and your onscreen attack. Battles take way longer than they should because you’ll often wind up missing your enemies. Also, there doesn’t seem to be an option to manually load or save sequences. Instead, all you can do is select a save slot when the game prompts you at certain points; if you quit to the main menu, your progress isn’t saved, either.

Fortune Summoners starts out strong, but it weakens quickly. Sure, it’s got an impressive amount of gloss, but the sluggish storyline, irritating mechanics, and back-and-forth gameplay do their best to kill as much fun as possible.