I don’t exactly know what Stian had in mind himself when he challenged me to this list, but it was perhaps the toughest countdown I’ve had to do so far. Something as specific as summoners in video games was hard to pin down, especially because it’s often just a small thing powerful mages can do besides all their other magical tricks. Nevertheless, I set out to find 10 characters for whom summoning other creatures is a major part of their strength.
No doubt I missed something super obvious, so if you have suggestions of your own then I’d love to read about them in the comments below.
#10 Sorcerer – Age of Wonders 3
What I struggled with the most in writing this list is that a lot of games with cool summoning magic will let you play as a customer avatar. If I were to include all of those, then it’d become a countdown of the best magic systems in games, rather than a countdown of cool characters. Instead I wanted to pick out just one custom characters, which led me back to Age of Wonders 3.
The sorcerer class in this strategy game by Triumph Studios is hilarious to play thanks to the large roster of magical creatures you can summon. Whereas other classes need to create buildings and march units all across the map to merge them with their armies, sorcerers can just magic entire hordes of creatures together on the fly. This includes some very powerful mid-game creatures, as well as class-exclusive units like the teleporting node serpents or the frightening Eldritch Horror.
They are so powerful and fun to play as that it’s genuinely hard for me to ever play any other class in the game.
#9 Throt the Unclean – Warhammer
Throt is one of those edge-cases because his summoning powers aren’t strictly magic, but do abide by the logic of the game’s magic system. Skaven are already absolute bastards to go up against in Warhammer: Total War on account of their roster of meta units, powerful campaign mechanics, free spells, and their ability to summon forth a unit of rat bastards anywhere they please.
Throt, being the biggest bastard of them all, doubled down on this summoning. Whereas other Skaven lords get to summon a horde of weak Skaven slaves—only useful for morale damage and delaying tactics—Throt gets to pull entire units of Rat Ogres out of his ass.
And that’s not even mentioning his campaign mechanics, where Throt gets to cook up all kinds of horrific monstrosities straight out of his laboratory. Admittedly this is more science than magic, but the difference will be hard to appreciate when you got rat ogres slapping your gunners around.
#8 Boomer – Left 4 Dead
Another character that isn’t exactly magical, but is sure adept at summoning help. The Boomer from Left 4 Dead is the bane of many a survivor; a bloated, disgusting creature whose vicious bile will call a horde of zombies to descend down upon you.
That’s disgusting enough as it is, but even shooting the boomer is no adequate solution. They explode upon death, sending sprays of their goo flying everywhere. Unless you can snipe them from a distance, Boomers will get you.
Playing as a Boomer yourself is especially fun because the barrier for contributing is low, yet there’s a lot of room for growth. You’re likely to only get in one puke before you get shot, but that alone will already hinder survivors for a while and provide your team mates opportunities to strike. Once you get especially skilled, it’s immensely satisfying to puke on survivors and make it out unscathed, giving you an opportunity to reposition for the next ambush. Keep the hordes coming!
#7 Sora – Kingdom Hearts
Kingdom Hearts protagonist Sora has a lot of combat styles available to him, ranging from all types of magic to bludgeoning people to death. However, a staple of the series has always been his ability to summon Disney characters to his side to help out in combat.
You can get Genie from Aladdin to come harass Heartless with his powerful magic or Simba can appear to damage enemies with his mighty roar. One of my favorites, both in terms of original movie and power, is actually Bambi. He doesn’t exactly help in combat, but he drops a wealth orbs that restore your HP and MP. Also, while Bambi is on the field, any enemy you defeat drops more orbs as well. If you’re particularly skillful, then defeating enough enemies will also cause Bambi to drop additional items. It’s great because you get a reward based on your performance while also not having to think too hard about directing Bambi in any way.
Future Kingdom Hearts titles would expand on the summoning mechanic a lot. Kingdom Hearts III even lets you summon entire Disney rides, which is excessive but absolutely hilarious.
#6 Mom – Disgaea 2
Never underestimate the power of an angry mother. “Mom” in Disgaea 2 is the mother of protagonist Adell, transformed into a demon by the evil overlord Zenon. She is a powerful summoner; so powerful, in fact, that she could even summon the final boss!
Her rituals appear to be dubious at first—and definitely raise some ethical concerns—but their effectiveness is undeniable. It’s her summoning the overlord’s daughter Rozalin that serves as the catalyst for the entire plot, after all.
From there her role in the main story is somewhat reduced, but she continues to shine in the game’s DLC. There you can ask her to summon other characters from across NIS’ line-up of games, who are then added to your roster after a brief fight.
#5 Yu Narukami – Persona 4
The Persona games are some of my favorite JRPGs to play through. Mostly due to the stories and characters, but also thanks to the titular Persona system. The heroes of these games don’t just fight monsters, they actually do so alongside magical personaifications of their inner selves.
Then there is Yu Narukami, a young man who can conjure forth a variety of different Personas instead of just the one tied to his identity. Each with different skills, stats, and resistances. There’s a wide roster of different Personas to collect and many of these are really cool. They draw inspiration from various mythologies, fantasy, as well as original ideas like Atlus’ mascot King Frost. You can even summon literal Satan.
That’s… a lot of power for a high schooler to wield.
#4 Looking Glass Knight – Dark Souls II
PvP is a divisive topic in the Dark Souls community, and I am certainly not a big fan of it myself. I don’t exactly care to have my moment-to-moment gameplay interrupted by a min-maxed jerk just out to be nuisance. However, future Souls games experimented with blending PvP into boss-fights, with some remarkable results.
Of these experiments, the Looking Glass Knight from Dark Souls II remains one of my favorites. He’s already a cool-looking boss that I enjoy fighting on its own, but his special move is that he summons other people into the boss battle. This lends the fight a frantic element as you suddenly have another hazard to deal with, which could be anyone with any kind of build. It’s also very cool how they foreshadow this mechanic in the stage before this fight.
Sadly the heydays of Dark Souls II are long behind us now, so getting to face an actual player is increasingly rare. Fortunately the Looking Glass Knight also has NPC helpers that can be summoned, so the mechanic continues to be relevant.
#3 Lana – Hyrule Warriors
Lana was one of the original characters invented for Hyrule Warriors, and you notice that the developers were very fond of her. She has a fantastic design and some of the most fleshed-out movesets of the entire cast. This includes her Summoning Gate.
This weapon is unique in that it allows Lana to string together combos which then let her summon miniature versions of the game’s bosses. After having to deal with these nuisances so many times, there’s a lot of catharsis in unleashing King Dodongo unto your enemies or drown them in Manhandla’s poisonous fog.
The portal’s special attack is also a wonderful shout-out to the series’ traditional in-joke. Every long-time Zelda fan lost their minds when they realized that Lana had finally succeeded in militarizing the chickens.
#2 Icon of Sin – Doom II
The Icon of Sin has long been one of my favorite boss battles in gaming. It’s such a mysterious creature and the secret of its true identity has been the subject of so much early gaming discourse. It is also a great final boss; worthy of concluding such a ground-breaking title as Doom II
You have to traverse a sequence of plateaus leading upwards, concluding at a rising platform from which you can fire rockets into the Icon of Sin’s exposed brain. While you’re trying to line up these tricky shots, the Icon of Sin continually launches projectiles that then spawn demons on the plateaus. What kind of demon appears is selected at random, so you always have to be on your toes and quickly change up your strategies.
Most bosses that rely on summoning creatures tend to be lame, but Icon of Sin makes for both an engaging battle and a high point in the Doom mythos. I was very letdown when they just turned him into a giant muscle-demon for Doom Eternal.
#1 Maxwell – Scribblenauts
From one extreme to the other, Maxwell from Scribblenauts is, without a doubt, the best summoner in all of video games. After all, why limit your summoning powers to living creatures when you could instead manifest any conceivable thing in existence. It’s like if Everything actually had a gameplay component to it.
Maxwell’s powers come from his notebook, in which he can write down anything to conjure it up on the spot. People, objects, tools, creatures, Lovecraftian horrors; it’ll take a long time before you find any limits. Later games would add the option to specify adjectives for the objects, giving Maxwell even more power over reality. He can even use the notebook to change his very being or “modify” people as he pleases. That’s not terrifying at all…
So there we have it. The 10 best summoners in video games that I could think of after way, waaaaaaaay too much research. So for my challenge to you, Stian, I want you to do a countdown of the worst mechanics in video games that ruined franchises you love.
The reason I ask is because a recent patch for Hearts of Iron IV has introduced a new railroad mechanic. You have to manually draw rail lines all over your country, research & build trains, then construct supply depots for them to deliver resources to. All to replace a perfectly functional system for keeping your armies supplied, which just relied on you building enough roads in a territory to support the amount of troops within. I haven’t been able to get back into the game since this change, so I was wondering if you’ve had similar experiences.
Good luck buddy!