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I am a man composed of practically nothing but guilty pleasures. My movie collection is dominated by a combination of cheesy 80s romantic comedies and slasher flicks, my bookshelf contains more Conan comics than it should, and my iPod… well, we’ll get to that in a minute. In my youth, one of my guiltiest pleasures came in the form of the Monster Rancher games. The general idea was for players to train and breed “monsters” to battle in arenas. Acquiring these fighters was accomplished by putting a CD or DVD into the console and then having a unique creature generated by a sampling of the data. It was like Pokemon, only more addictive, because I could waste countless hours trying to create the Ultimate Monster by going through my entire CD and DVD library.

Song Summoner: The Unsung Heroes revisits the creation techniques first introduced by Monster Rancher and then employs the battles found in the Final Fantasy Tactics series. Instead of using a disc, though, the game uses the song library on your iPod. When you have more than 5000 songs in your library, there are a lot of possibilities to be had. Creating fighters, sadly, is pure guesswork, as there doesn’t seem to be an actual pattern to what song attributes affect fighter stats. I started off going through the songs on my Top Rated playlist and wound up with some really weak characters. Meanwhile, as ashamed as I am to admit this, I actually had an insane amount of luck with the results generated by Lindsay Lohan and Ashlee Simpson songs.

Shut up, you’re not allowed to judge a man by his guilty pleasures. It says so in the Bible.

There’s an epic story to Song Summoner, of course, that takes itself far too seriously (as so many of Squeenix’s games do) about a boy named Ziggy who sets off to rescue his brother from an evil robot army. Music seems to have taken the place of magic in the world, and the tragically-named Ziggy is one of the last “conductors,” capable of using music to summon fighters to help him battle the Metal Militia. This doesn’t seem too difficult a task, since you can take as much time as you want to go through your library and create a powerful fighting force. There’s more than a passing similarity to the Tactics games here, thanks to the goofily-epic story, the isometric perspective, the surprisingly deep combat, the cutscenes narrated with lush static character images, and the numerous character classes.

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Each character you create has a limited number of times it can be deployed before it’s gone for good. The higher the character’s level at creation, the fewer deployment points it has at its disposal, means that players will constantly have to rebuild their armies in between battles. Liberated cities contain “rehearsal rooms” that can be used (without losing deployment points) to earn the level-building spheres used for character advancement, so a lot of time will be spent in these areas, as well.

Since Song Summoner was created for the 5th generation iPod (with video) and the new Nanos, the game’s controls are all built into the click wheel. As a result, all menus and units can be scrolled through with a very user-friendly interface. The only problem I ever encountered was that the wheel was a little too sensitive and I sometimes overshot what I wanted to select. The other downside is the game drains battery power pretty quickly, too, sometimes requiring a charge after only two hours or so.

If you’re looking for a new game to waste time with, Song Summer: The Unsung Heroes is an excellent candidate. Not only is it well-made and easy to get into, but it’s just a lot of fun to play. Plus, if you’re on your way to work, you won’t get nearly as many weird looks from other passengers as you would for playing a PSP while wearing a suit.

Bottom Line: Song Summoner: The Unsung Heroes is a delightful tactical RPG, especially for those of us who don’t walk around with enough pockets to carry more than our iPod, phone, and wallet. It’s a perfect way to kill time on a bus or train ride, and its simple interface and fantastic auto-save system makes it a perfect title for even those who fancy themselves as casual gamers.

Recommendation: Buy it. It’s only $4.99, which means that it’s both cheaper and more fun than Final Fantasy X-2 ever will be.

Aaron Stack once fought off an invading army of mutant koala bears by singing a drunken rendition of “MacArthur Park.” No one is sure if the bears or the song were more terrifying.

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