By Chris Melchin / November 13th, 2015
|Publisher||SEGA, Atlus USA|
|Release Date||November 17, 2015|
|Genre||Tactical Strategy, RPG|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Teen|
Stella Glow is the last game developed by Imageepoch before they filed for bankruptcy, and serves as a sort of spiritual successor to their Luminous Arc tactical strategy RPG series on the Nintendo DS and a celebration of their 10th anniversary. I never had the chance to play any Luminous Arc games, and I knew relatively little about Stella Glow, so I was essentially going into it blind.
Stella Glow’s gameplay is divided between two main parts: Mission Time and Free Time. Mission Time is the main backbone of the game; it’s where you take your party out into the world to fight enemies and advance the story. This part plays like a standard tactical strategy RPG. I should note that most of my experience with the genre comes from the Fire Emblem series, so that’s what I’ll be comparing Stella Glow to.
While the gameplay is pretty standard overall, there are a number of aspects that set it apart from other similar games I’ve played. The biggest difference is that you need to keep track of which direction your characters and the enemies are facing. Attacking an enemy from the back will give you two major advantages: you’ll deal significantly more damage than if you attack from the front, and if the opponent has a counter ability it will not be triggered. In combat, like many tactical RPGs, generally only the attacking side does damage, unless the target has the aforementioned counter ability. Characters can also use active abilities at the cost of SP for area of effect, elemental or different ranged attacks. You can also buy a standard range of equipment and consumables at the hub city. The system seems like what you would get if you combined a tactical RPG with a standard turn-based JRPG.
One of the more unique and touted features in Stella Glow is Conducting and Song Magic, which can be used by the Witches who join your party throughout the game. Using Song Magic consumes the Song Stone Gauge, which fills up by damaging and defeating enemies and having allies retreat. Basic Song Magic consumes 1 or 2 of a maximum of 5 Song Stone points, and usually affects a small radius around the user or an arc in front of her. The other form is Conducting, where the player positions protagonist Alto (fitting name for the protagonist in a game so centered around music) beside a Witch and uses the Conduct command, which immobilizes the Witch for a few turns, consumes 4 (for the basic song) or 5 (for the top-level song) points to affect all allies and/or enemies on the field. The basic song is available as soon as the Witch joins the party, and higher-level one unlocks once you max out your Affinity level with the Witch in question and perform the Final Tuning on them.
Free Time, the other major part of the game, is reminiscent of off-time in Persona 3 or 4, or the period between important times in the Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor games. During Free Time, you get 3 chances to explore and find new items, tackle part-time jobs to gain money and eventually lower item and Tuning prices, spend time with your teammates to increase your Affinity with them and unlock new abilities for them, and Tune any Witches that need it.
Affinity is a system that reminds me of Social Links from the newer Persona games, or Supports from the Fire Emblem series. Aside from unlocking new abilities and skills, improving your Affinity with a character gives you the opportunity to learn more about them and get more invested in the world and characters within it. Completionists may be distressed to learn that, in all of the Free Time in the game, there is not enough time available to max out all of the Affinities, at least not in the first playthrough. One of the differences in the New Game+ is expansion of Free Time from 3 slots to 9, which means that you will have time to get every Affinity to max level.
When building Affinity with one of the Witches, you’ll need to periodically Tune them. Tuning a Witch consists of entering their soul and either fighting or chasing down the shadow selves created by their insecurities and worries, while taking out any monsters that happen to be there as well. The spirit worlds where these fights take place are some of the most bizarre and beautiful environments in the game, with a visual style that calls to mind the Labyrinths from the Madoka series. The visual style is different for each Witch, with colors and motifs reflecting their personalities and elements. The Final Tuning that unlocks the second Conduct ability and maxes out their Affinity becomes available about two-thirds of the way through the game.
The story ticks off several boxes on the JRPG cliché list right off the bat: it stars amnesiac protagonist Alto, who is forced to leave his idyllic village in the countryside after it gets attacked, and finds himself and his best friend entangled in a campaign to save the kingdom of Regnant from destruction. There are deviations from the norm, such as Alto being what I would best describe as a post-amnesiac who was found 3 years prior to the story and has no particular desire to find his lost memories, and him joining the Regnant Knights 9th Regiment as nothing more than a means to an end to save the people of his village.
Oh, and this is more of a nitpick than anything else, but I don’t get why it isn’t standard for verbose, text-heavy games like this to have a text log. This game at least has the good sense to keep its exposition relatively short and straightforward once it finally feels like explaining anything, but for the casual dialogue between characters a backlog would definitely not go amiss. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by playing visual novels and Persona 4. It’s not a big problem, and it didn’t really influence my overall enjoyment of the game, but it’s still a thing that developers of RPGs should keep in mind.
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