In my book, the only thing worse than a mediocre RPG is a mediocre RPG that could have been great. Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner is the perfect example of solid ideas that should have come together in an above-average experience, but got tripped up on its own misguided intentions. In this case, I blame the tragedy on an irrational devotion to its "dramatic" elements and an insane desire to tell an uninspired, undercooked tale regardless of the impact on the game as a whole.
Calling a spade a spade, Jewel Summoner is effectively nothing more than a darker version of Pokémon. The style in art design and graphics may skew towards an older audience, but things are mostly familiar save for the details. Things like Jewel Summoner's elemental and combat systems aren't directly analogous to what Game Freak came up with, and the mechanics of leveling up and modifying monsters' abilities is much deeper than anything Pikachu or Charizard ever asked of players. However, a global view clearly reveals that these two games are simply opposite sides of the same coin.
Given the amazing staying power and cultlike following of Nintendo's cutesy juggernaut, I can't exactly say it's a bad idea to crib from that formula. I'll state clearly for the record that I deduct no points for Gaia following in Ash's footsteps, but the problem is that in contrast to Nintendo's focus on "catching ‘em all", Jewel Summoner takes a disastrous turn by subjecting players to unbearable amounts of dialogue from a cast that left me coldly apathetic.
The game's story is complete twaddle and achieves nothing save to interrupt the fast-paced and pleasant combat with endless interludes of nonsense. Regular readers will know that I abhor spending time leveling up or getting overwhelmed with random battles, but Jewel Summoner's dungeons are (surprisingly) too short. In fact, after accomplishing any given mission, I often found myself wishing that the characters would simply shut up and let me get back to actually playing the game. Interrupting enemy turns with well-coordinated attacks and forcibly recruiting with faux Pokéballs is completely engaging; listening to unlikable morons wear out their lungs (and my patience) is not.
When I'm taking a system on the go, I want to spend my time actually playing, not clicking through screen after screen of text and listening to line after line of voice acting. I'm not exaggerating when I say that Jewel Summoner is at least half dialogue, if not three-quarters—a fatal mistake when the quality of such is so unappealing. The solid battle system and monster-collecting offered here are exactly what the PSP needs, but all its positives are fatally smothered with a mountain of RPG babble-baggage that a smart director would have left on the cutting-room floor.