By Chris Melchin / November 13th, 2015
The music is decent, but none of it particularly stands out, with the possible exceptions of the Conduct songs that the Witches can sing. The soundtrack is composed by Yasunori Mitsuda – of Chrono Trigger, Xenogears and Xenosaga: Episode I fame, among others–and Shunsuke Tsuchiya, who previously worked on other Imageepoch games such as Luminous Arc 2 and Arc Rise Fantasia, where he also worked with Mitsuda. The opening theme is “Hikari no Metamorphosis”, performed by Konomi Suzuki. The localization of the game features the English version of the song, heard in the opening sequence at the end of the review.
Overall, Stella Glow is a very well-made game, but not one without issues that arise in the combat. The AI is some of the worst I’ve seen, close to Devil Survivor in some cases. This proves particularly problematic when you’re attempting a level with computer-controlled allies, who often serve as more of a liability than an aid, especially when the mission’s success depends on their survival as it often does in these cases. One mission, for example, put me into the fight with two autonomous companions, one of which would not move or fight back under any circumstances and another who was meant to be defending her. I expected that, when a small detachment of enemies closed in on the VIP, the other ally would break off from the main fight to go defend her. Not so, he continued the fight, I had no way to get to the VIP in time and I failed the mission. Every time the game saddled me with companions, I failed the mission at least once while they ran blindly into danger with no apparent sense of self-preservation, even when their death was a failure condition for the mission. Not that the enemies are much better; all of the AI just seems severely overestimate how strong they are, and will run into combat without any kind of backup. The AI also doesn’t seem to know that it is possible to move after attacking if you don’t move before, and will not disengage from combat after attacking even if doing so would put them into a more favorable position. The whole setup makes regular, early non-end-of-chapter levels overly easy, while those with an AI ally are more difficult than they should be. In the last few chapters, the enemies start having the strength to back up their cockiness and the difficulty rises considerably. Unlike in Devil Survivor, where the terrible AI is one of the things that keeps the game from being virtually impossible, in Stella Glow it makes the game too easy in the start, and acts as artificial difficulty when companions are involved. The game stops giving you AI allies after a certain point, and the last few are strong enough that they can generally fend for themselves, so in the last third or so of the game the problems with the AI become somewhat of a non-issue.
Stella Glow has a remarkably slow difficulty curve, starting off easy and only gradually growing more difficult as the story progresses. Even when my party was below the recommended level for an encounter (which was most of the time) I often found very little difficulty passing levels with no casualties on the first try until the last few chapters of the game. Grinding is possible, as minor encounters pop up around the map, but I almost never needed to do it since my go-to party was always strong enough to take on the story missions. As I do in most RPGs, I pretty much stuck to the same party throughout the game, largely neglecting the other characters. This decision became a problem when levels forced me to use certain characters that were lower levels and less well-equipped than my main party. That was entirely my mistake, I admit, but let it stand as a piece of advice if you want to play Stella Glow: if nothing else, it helps to make sure all of your Witches are on par with your main party. This means extra grinding, despite how tedious it can be due to the methodical gameplay that comes with the territory of being a tactical RPG. Getting through without grinding is doable, but just be ready for certain characters to be considerably weaker than your main party when the game makes you use them. Ultimately the game ended up with a difficulty closer to what I expect from the genre, but it took an unusually long time to reach that point, and I feel like if I had kept up with the recommended levels it would never have reached that point.
Something worth noting is that Stella Glow has multiple endings. Not that it gives you any indication of how to get the other endings–or even that it has them, until after the end credits–and it requires you to restart a 40-hour game from the start, trying to figure out what you need to do differently to get a different ending. There are dialogue choices, but they are somewhat few and far-between and seem to have little impact on the flow of conversation. Based on the fact that it makes a point of saying that you can max out all the Affinities in the New Game+, I assume that this is what you need to do to get another ending, potentially meaning that at least one of the endings is unavailable until you finish the game once. I like it when visual novels do this, since it gives the player a reason to make different choices and explore the different available routes. When a 40-hour RPG does it, I start to have problems with it, although I suppose it is a decent way to lend more replayability to a game that may be lacking it otherwise due to a lack of difficulty settings. The ability to max out all the Affinities on a second playthrough is also a great way to ensure you can see all of the ones you skipped the first time around.
At the end, my playtime with Stella Glow was a little over 40 hours without restarts, and closer to 48 including the times I failed and started over on missions. On release, the game will sell at a price of $50 USD for both physical and digital copies. A bit steep for a 3DS game, but despite its problems–which themselves are fairly minor considering how much I enjoyed the game overall–I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys tactical strategy games or RPGs, even if your only experience has been with the Fire Emblem series. These flaws are definitely worth noting, but if you’re looking to invest yourself in a world and the characters in it, you can’t go wrong with Stella Glow. Check out the demo if you are still unsure about whether you want to go for it, given the price point. Had I not decided to review it, Stella Glow is a game that most likely would have completely flown under my radar. If it had, I would have missed out on one of my favorite 3DS games of this year so far, and a great send-off for Imageepoch.
Review copy provided by publisher.
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