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Review: Stella Glow

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How to tune a witch

There’s something sad about seeing a company go under since it means that many hard-working individuals are out of a job. This is the case with the game development company Imageepoch, who filed for bankruptcy in May. Worst of all, their downfall happened a few months after the corporation’s CEO went missing.

Despite the company’s terrible state, they were able to hit us with one last title before they complete their last verse. While I never got to play any of Imageepoch’s titles, I heard that their stuff can range from being highly enjoyable to a total disaster. We’ve seen the former happen with titles like the Luminous Arc series and the Fate/Extra games. As for the latter, this happened with Time and Eternity, which featured a ton of poorly-executed elements that was the result of them aiming too high with their ideas. That being said, their development record meant that their last creation could go either way.

Seeing that their final game, Stella Glow, feels like a spiritual sequel to the Luminous Arc games, a tactical RPG series that has its main hero bond with witches, it looks like their last tune might not be a disastrous one after all.

Stella Glow (3DS)
Developer: Imageepoch
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: November 17, 2015
MSRP: $49.99

Treading into familiar story grounds, Stella Glow focuses on a war caused by a god who was fed up with its people losing faith in it. During this calamity, a legendary hero called Elcrest teamed up with five witches to battle the omnipotent being in its lair, which happens to be the planet’s moon. However, our do-gooder sacrifices his life to save everyone. Afterward, the story focuses on the present as Alto and his childhood friend Lisette’s town is attacked by Hilda the Witch of Destruction, who used her song to crystalize everyone in the vicinity. After the two friends awaken to their own special abilities, they eventually became part of a neighboring kingdom’s elite soldier group called the Regnant Knights, so they could gather the other witches to perform a song that could put an end to Hilda’s curse. With Alto bearing the same powers as Elcrest, his journey will eventually show him the truth behind the events that happened in the past.

Throughout the game's first half, Stella Glow’s story doesn’t do much to pull people in. The whole introduction sequence and the quest to find the witches falls into a format that we’ve seen before in many RPGs and anime titles. Sure, we’ve had games like the Tales of series fall into this category, but the main thing that sets it apart is that the characters manage to make the adventure entertaining. Alto’s your typical nice guy and person who fights for justice, which prevents him from winning the audience over. Then Lisette is depicted as the sister-like figure that has a habit of turning everything she cooks into purple delicacies. For the most part, these moments aren’t terrible, but that they don't improve the opening segments too much at least until the rest of the cast joins the group.

Even though the cast grows as you progress through the game’s world, their impact barely improves the main story. Speaking of other characters, the Regnant Knights include Klaus the seemingly perfect leader, Rusty the womanizing character, and Archibald the overly chivalrous knight. To an extent, their superior fighting experience helps keep things at an above average level while the players search for the other three witches. Despite the issues present with the way how the cast affects the plot, the title does its best to flesh out their personalities later on.

If there’s one thing that I value dearly in life, it’s that you don’t judge a book by its cover. Surprisingly, Stella Glow does a decent job in following this rule. As the players progress through the story, they will start to learn more about the supporting cast’s inner personalities and connections to the conflict at hand. Whether it involves a scenario with Hilda’s generals, the Harbingers, or a deep issue that plagues one the party members, there are still a few moments that manage to improve the ordeal a bit. Thankfully, things do get better during the second half of the game, which is thanks to a few unexpected twists.

Once Stella Glow hits this point, the journey ends up becoming a more meaningful experience. Aside from the typical cast improving a bit, the way how the situation pops in causes people to change their outlook on the state of the world during the first half, which is one of the few aspects that improved the story. From there, the plot's dark elements begin to intensify things more and the purpose behind Alto and the witch’s abilities start to become more relevant in the quest. However, since it takes about 15 to 20 game hours to reach this point, the payoff from this scenario isn’t as big as a tale that keeps the players fully invested from the get-go.

In terms of Stella Glow’s gameplay, it plays like your standard strategy RPG; however, the game’s special feature is the system that lets Alto use his powers to tune and conduct the witches that he encounters throughout his journey. With this system, players can explore the inner worlds of the characters they use this power on, which allow them to help the girls overcome their deepest doubts and issues— kind of like the Dive system from the Ar Tonelico series. Usually, this segment is used to recruit the magical girls at the end of their arc, but it’s also used to improve their abilities when you hit a wall while players socialize with them. The other special mechanic is Alto's ability to use a special dagger to cause the witches to perform a song that affects the entire map. These skills can range from fully healing your party or prevent all enemies from being able to attack your units. All in all, these skills are one of the many features that make the title’s battle interesting, since each spell comes with a unique song. On top of that, it acts as a neat ability that can turn the tables on almost any encounter.

Despite Alto’s Tuning and Conducting abilities being useful, it doesn’t fix the minor issues with the game’s maps. Based on my experience with tactical RPGs that lack mechanics to grants your units movement-related buffs, most of these titles keep the stage at a medium size, so you can fight your opponents at a normal pace. Unfortunately, Stella Glow’s maps during the later parts of the campaign are unnecessarily huge to the point where it’ll take a while for players to reach their opponents— especially the stages where the terrain limits the party’s steps. If you look at games like the Disgaea series and Chroma Squad, they both utilize systems that let players use their units to throw their allies across the field, which helps speed up the pace of each fight. While the Wind Witch Popo has a song that can help people move farther, this skill can only be used when one manages to increase the song gauge to a certain level. Since the bar only goes up when units damage their enemies, it doesn’t help too much in battle.

If there’s one cool thing about Stella Glow’s combat, it’s that the players are treated to flashy animations when they attack their opponents. In a way, the dynamic sequences behind each attack give the game a nice Super Robot Wars vibe. For those who like to gain extra rewards, many missions contain extra objectives that can grant players exclusive items for challenging themselves in battle. The benefits of doing these special tasks felt mostly rewarding, as I found a majority of the spoils to be useful in the stage to follow. Since the game lets players save during battles, players won’t have to worry too much about restarting; therefore relieving the pain of accomplishing these challenges.

When you’re not in the middle of a big mission, the game contains a few segments where you’re given the free time to do jobs around the kingdom, or spend time with your party members. Just like Persona 4, the benefits of interacting with your allies is that they gain better abilities their bond with the hero becomes stronger. On top of that, players are allowed to choose an epilogue scene of one of the characters that they spent lots of time with. This system is open to the entire cast, which is a neat option that adds a nice extra layer to the title’s ending. If the players hang out with a certain character, then they could change the way how the main story ends as well. Best of all, this can be accomplished during the first playthrough. Most importantly, you also have the option to date any of the witches with this system. While it’s impossible for people to fully bond with every character, the game’s new game plus option increases the free time limit; thus acting as a great extra for people who like to learn more about the game’s cast. Since it lets players learn more about the party members they’re interested in, this acts as a decent diversion from the game’s underwhelming first half.

For a title that was made by a company that went bankrupt, I’d have to say that Imageepoch did a fine job with making sure that it looked nice on the 3DS. The characters during the mission segments are depicted as 3D chibi models, which remind me of the Nendoroid figures. Combined with the game’s simplistic colorful look, its style works great with the overall presentation. Also, it’s hard to go wrong with design choices that make the heroes and villains look cute in battle. In regards to the character illustrations, one of Ideolo’s strengths in his art was the artist’s costume designs for the cast. Each witch wears an outfit that represents their element and hometown (such as Mordimort wearing a dress that gives off a Middle East vibe or Sakuya’s fiery kimono). All in all, the illustrator’s pieces went well with the theme and setting that Stella Glow presents to its audience.

Another thing that Stella Glow excels well at is its soundtrack. While a majority of the game's orchestrated tunes are decent, the witches’ songs are on a whole different level from the rest of the music. In total, there are around twenty different vocal tracks, with half of them being full songs. Some of my favorites include Sakuya’s theme, which has a few segments that feel like the Hatsune Miku song, “Senbonzakura,” by Kurousa P. The nice part of about these moments is that Atlus left the Japanese voices intact for these parts. Overall, Yui Sakakibara (the Super Robot War series’ Leona, Chaos;Head’s Ayase) did a great job in turning the Fire Witch’s tune into a hot performance. Other than that, Yukari Tamura’s (the Nanoha series’ Nanoha, KILL la KILL’s Rui) musical performance was another strong part, as she turned the battlefield into a soothing environment.

As for the game’s English voice cast, the majority of them weren’t too bad. The people behind the witches manage to choose the right tone to bring out their personality (such as Mortimort talking like she’s lazy and unmotivated). Then the male party members all had decent to fine performances. All in all, the whole group was enjoyable and they even manage to nail the scenes during the free time segments as well, which gave players another incentive to spend time with them. Of course, this was thanks to Atlus' great localization, as the writing helped elevate the performance of the voice acting team.

During Imageepoch's last moments, the studio managed to end things on a decent note. Stella Glow may’ve been held back by its weak first half and slight battle-related hindrances, but the team was able to complete an above average product with an enjoyable cast. I guess we also have SEGA to thank since they made this dream possible for them. Perhaps if the team didn’t face the terrible predicament that they did, we might’ve ended up with a more enjoyable title. On the bright side, their final game wasn't the second coming of Time and Eternity, which shows that they did their best to complete this project. Of course, their final Swan Song left us with some catchy songs that'll remain in our heads for a good while.

[This review is based on a digital retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Stella Glow reviewed by Salvador G Rodiles

6.5

ALL RIGHT

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy it a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
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Salvador G Rodiles
Salvador G RodilesSenior Editor   gamer profile

Salvador's an average bystander who took his first steps towards a life-changing goal. During his journey, he's devising a way to balance his time with anime, manga, video games, and tokusatsu in... more + disclosures


 


 


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