Within The Insatiable Gamer team, I happen to be the one with the most knowledge on tactical-RPGs, (editors note: not even, Clarke…) so I got to review Atlus and SEGA’s newest collaboration, Stella Glow, and boy was it an adventure.
It begins with a story we’ve seen many times, with the protagonist having no memory. The twist is in the context though; this is a world where song is only a myth, after it was taken by gods aeons ago. As our main man Alto is growing up, he hears music and is thrust into a world of chaos. The Witch of Destruction, Hilda, and her Harbingers want to destroy the world, and Alto’s home is next on their list. Luckily Alto and his foster sister Lisette are miraculously saved from crystallisation (surprise surprise) and awakened as Conductor and Water Witch. After the ensuing skirmish, the pair are swept up to the Capital and Castle Regnant, where they join forces with the 9th Regiment. From here on out, the group’s objective is to find the remaining witches and stop Hilda. The game plays out exactly like an anime, which may have been given away by the cut scenes.
Pretty standard as far as stories go, but in the case of Stella Glow it’s the characters that really drive it. Not only is Atlus’ ridiculously high standard of character design present in the form of every single person important and not, each is almost fleshed out to perfection. Alto is your standard “I MUST GET STRONGER TO DEFEAT MY ENEMIES” kind of hero, but even he has his own quirks and traits, and players will discover more about his past the longer they play. Likewise, Lisette is the typical fragile and self-conscious girl we often see in media, but even she is granted with power, responsibility, and the ability to grow and mature. To top all this character development off, almost all conversations in-game are voice-acted. Even the nameless kids pestering Lisette in the beginning, as well as various conversations mid battle.
Not only is character art brilliant, the backgrounds on which you see them is pretty nice too. What these scenes really boil down to though, is a virtual novel. That isn’t in any way bad, but the standard seems to drop when in battle. Characters are turned into 3D chibi models and are displayed so in battle animations as well as on the map. Although they don’t really fit the same art style, the environments and monsters are designed well, but it’s disappointing when you’ve already seen how great the characters really look.
Right, let’s get on to how you actually play the game, because that’s what’s it’s really about. First off there’s two different modes of play, Free Time and Battle Time. Free time will allow a set number of “turns” to earn some money, find some treasure, and talk to your comrades. Battle Time is what drives the story. Once you’ve used up you Free Time, get ready to jump back into the important visual novel dialogue and combat.
In typical tactical-RPG style, to begin a battle you’ll place out up to five of eventually 15 different characters, and take on enemies on an isometric grid. Turns play out on a character/enemy by character/enemy cycle, and using some skills will delay that character’s next move in the queue. Whenever you have access to the world map, you’ll find skirmishes for raising levels and earning money, some of which can be unlocked with play coins. It seems the only difference is generally higher enemy levels.
Each character has a set of equipment which can be purchased in town. These include a weapon, armour, accessory, and a couple of consumables, but the real customisation is elsewhere. Orbs are modifiers that can be attached to one or more weapon’s slots, and can give stat changes, crit chances, or even the ability to poison the enemy. You can talk to people on your team during Free Time to increase their stats, give more abilities, and basically form stronger relationships. Not only are some of these stats and abilities vital for later in the game, but the relationships you build directly influences which one of the 12 endings you will get. Each Witch also has their own song, such as Popo’s, that brings down the armour of all enemies. To use these you must have Alto on an adjacent square and use his Conduct ability.
I have to say, the music is absolutely brilliant. All except the opening has kept its original Japanese vocals, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. In some parts it sounds as if they’ve recording the same person singing at more than one pitch, which really adds to the supernaturalism of the Witches. Once again, they’re characteristic of many songs played throughout the anime genre, as you can see from the opening, which is played between chapters.
With around 60+ hours of content in one play through, Stella Glow is more than enough to keep a person entertained, and that’s without going into the New Game + feature. With this, all relationships built from the last play through will be retained, which means you can max out every single one. Now that will be an interesting ending.
Clarke’s Suggestions: If you’re still on the fence about the game, give the demo on the eShop a go. It only includes the prologue, and so doesn’t get to the really juicy parts, but is a good introduction to the overall feel of Stella Glow’s combat, as well as the level of character quality in the game.