Best of 2017: Summon Night 6's nostalgic packaging

It's over the top, in a heartwarming way.

Through the end of the year, we'll be looking back daily at the best classic gaming news and releases of 2017. Not just remakes and rereleases of old games, but the best retro-centric new games and other classic-game-related happenings that have transpired over the past 12 months.

I've been meaning to write about Summon Night 6 for a while. I demoed it back at E3 2016 and really enjoyed the small slice I had a chance to play there, and the game finally launched at the end of October of this year. But, you know how it goes: It's a tactical RPG, and those things are time-sinks. So SN6 has been on my back-burner until, one assumes, I retire. Which in this economy will probably be never.

At the very least, though, I can certainly appreciate the game's deluxe edition packaging, which was sold through a preorder campaign last year direct from publisher Gaijinworks. As we all know, the head of Gaijinworks is none other than Victor Ireland, the outspoken and sometimes controversial former head of the now-defunct Working Designs. While WD may be gone from this world, the old company's spirit sometimes peeks through via Gaijinworks projects… and that's probably never been more true than with the SN6 "Wonderful Edition."

This thing has "Working Designs" written all over it: It's an extraordinarily elaborate box surrounding an extraordinarily niche game. The Summon Night series has quite a long-running legacy in Japan, with the original entry appearing way back on the original PlayStation in 2000. Naturally, we've only seen a handful of the games, and until Gaijinworks localized Summon Night 5 in 2015, we'd only ever received spinoffs. There's a whole lot of anime going on in Summon Night 6, but from what I've seen it all has a charmingly PG vibe to it — some innuendos, some mild curses, but ultimately none of the don't-show-Mom sexual pandering you typically see in anime-flavored niche games these days. So, again, very much cut from the cloth of Working Designs standards like Lunar, Growlanser, Magic Knight Rayearth, etc.

But the deluxe packaging, it's on another level altogether. It's not so uncommon for niche releases to see special box sets these days. XSEED does it, Aksys does it, NIS America does it. Even so… this one's on another level.

For starters, it comes wrapped in two pieces of custom-made shipping packaging that have been elaborately designed to custom-fit the game despite the fact that you're meant to throw them out. First, there's a sheet of dark blue tissue paper with the game's logo imprinted in gold. And inside of that, a cardboard shell fitted to the box set…

…complete with a cutout star.

The box itself is a far cry from those old PlayStation Lunar and Arc the Lad packages. Rather than consisting of thin, flimsy cardboard, it has a denser, laminated feel with a soft, matte finish to the wraparound printing. The "covers" and "binding" of the box are made of even more durable material, and the front cover holds closed with a magnetic clasp.

Inside, the usual array of superfluous collector's nonsense: Besides the game, there's an audio CD, a hardcover art book, a poster, a plush animal, and a set of, um, coasters.

The CD is a pretty nice example of the quality of this collector's edition. More often than not, special editions come with CDs that contain about four or five musical tracks from the game. This, however, is a full-length CD containing nearly three dozen musical selections.

The game disc itself is, you know, the standard fare. But check out that little booklet that comes inside! It's thick, heavy paper stock, full color, and explains how to play the game. The ancients used to call these "instruction manuals." Kids: Ask your parents about them. They were pretty neat.

The coaster set is my favorite thing about this set, though. It's so ridiculous. Every Working Designs special edition always came with some sort of weird-ass trinket — finger puppets, that sort of thing — and this takes that thread of "Um, why?" from the olden days and sublimates it into something vastly higher in production quality than anything Working Designs ever packed in with its game boxes… and yet, no less bewildering. These coasters appear to be made of durable vinyl, with the outlines of the characters depicted on them embossed or carved into the plastic. They're really nice! And yet… they depict the cast of a video game. I don't honestly see my wife and I integrating these into our home decor any time soon. They are useless, and I love them.

Finally, the hardcover art book. In contrast to the coasters, this thing is both (1) extremely high in production values and (2) pretty valuable for fans of the game. The art book doesn't simply show off production and character art for Summon Night 6; instead, it spans the entire series, all the way back to the PlayStation original. There's a ton of fully translated text here that provides the first proper and official English-language information about the unreleased entries in the series. We'll probably never see those games in the West, but this collectible at least sheds a little light on the games that were passed over for localization back in the day and provides a bit of context for the new release. (Although I'm not really clear on whether or not Summon Night games exist as actual sequels or if they're standalone titles like the Final Fantasy games.)

I'm well past my collecting-for-the-sake-of-collecting days, and it takes something special to inspire me to pick up a space-wasting special edition box. Summon Night 6 was one of only two that I bought this year (the other being Axiom Verge: Multiverse Edition), but I couldn't help myself. I always try to support the U.S. releases of worthwhile under-the-radar games from Japan. And in this case, there was a special nostalgic appeal to the set that I found irresistible, despite my general unfamiliarity with the franchise. A work of love that wobbles between "best-of-class" and "slightly goofy," Summon Night 6's Wonderful Edition was one of my favorite nostalgia trips of 2017.