Publisher: Atlus (NA), NIS America (PAL)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Tested on: Nintendo 3DS
Stella Glow – Review
The saying “all great things come to an end” unfortunately also applies to game developers. Imageepoch, the company responsible for the successful Luminos Arc series had filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and has since moved on into gaming history. Despite their breakdown and the confirmation of Atlus that it will be their final game, Imageepoch is using their last breath to finish strong with the launch of the beautiful strategy RPG in Stella Glow.
As far as the story goes, Stella Glow is truly a typecast example of a Japanese, tactical RPG, sometimes leading to predictable situations. This definitely does not imply that the game is bland and not interesting. Contrary, the storyline has a defined retro feel, throwing back to classic strategy role playing games such as The Legend of Kartia, Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem.
The game starts off in a world where singing is reserved for powerful witches. Alto, a young huntsman who has lost all his memories, is found by a girl named Risette and after a brief introductory session, the former moves in with Risette and her mother. After several years, Alto has been accepted in the village and has even become the best hunter the town has. Not too long after, Alto hears an unprecedented sound coming from the woods and decides to investigate. There he finds Hilda, a witch that is better known as “The Witch of Disaster”. Not long after, it becomes clear that the evildoer herself is the reason for recent calamities involving people being imprisoned in crystals.
After a brief uphill battle, Risette unlocks an ancient potential, originating from a jewel that Alto had gifted her. With an impressive transformation, Risette gained powerful magic skills and has become the Witch of Water. With this new knowledge, the pair is escorted to the royal palace. There, a mission is instated to search and recruit more witches in order to combat and defeat Hilda.
Without spoiling much more of the story, the party grows fast with a plethora of classical anime characters, each with a unique set of skills and memorable design. Most of these have nuanced background stories, which on one hand distracts players, but on another can keep players interested throughout the main storyline. This ties in perfectly with the time management system in the game. Indeed, there is “Free Time”, allowing the player to freely grind and help your team level with entertaining side quests.
The graphics are outstanding considering the 3DS’ often discussed limitations. In fact, it is very pleasing to see high quality images and scenes throughout the game on different levels. For example, the actual gameplay looks stunning. Dialogs are presented by beautiful 2D sprites of the characters in great detail. Despite the static feel during these conversations, it is definitely not a pain to watch through lengthy dialogs. Then there are the exciting action scenes during combat, which can be turned off in case the player (understandable) wants to skip the repetitive moves and skills to get on with the actual strategy aspect. Finally, there are high quality cut scenes that are of the same level as one would expect in a modern day anime series.
In summary, Stella glow is visually so appealing that even after hours of playing the game, it still presents the feel of a high quality, graphical novel .
A game that focuses this heavily on sound and songs cannot afford having a soundtrack that is below par. This also was instantly clear to the developers it seems, as the soundtrack has turned out one of the most impressive collections of music seen on the platform.
First there are the witches’ songs that go hand in hand with the skills. The lyrics however are in Japanese and are clearly part of the J-Pop genre. At first it didn’t seem a great match with the otherwise medieval setting of the game, however the songs are catchy and brought well. The only minor comment here is that the audio is not provided by subtitles, making it nearly impossible to understand except when having mastered the Japanese language. Similarly, the background music is of the highest level. Yet, despite featuring many different melodies suited for the game, there is not that much variation in battle themes…
Secondly there is the aspect of the English voice acting. It is simply amazing and brought by a very large cast of experts. Granted, there are small dents in the audio, such as slight changes in voice pitch for a few words or an incomplete audio sequence during a battle scene, but overall the audio is definitely satisfying.
Stella Glow is a so called turn based strategy RPG. The battle system is very common and intuitive, yet is elaborated upon during short tutorial sessions. From the very first moves the player can make it quickly became clear that the interface is borrowed from classic games in the genre. This is not a negative point, developers shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken. Some battles do show unique conditions to win at the start and when these are fulfilled, certain items or equipment are rewarded.
Furthermore, as is indicated by the name of the genre, players and CPU take turns in executing moves and attacks. The order in which this can happen is predetermined and displayed by little portrait icons of the characters on the battlefields. In addition to this, there are all the prerequisite elements, such as moving characters on a grid, selecting both physical and magical skills and a strength/weakness system. But what is unique to Stella Glow is the ‘sound gauge’ system. Similar to Final Fantasy VII’s limit break system, the sound gauge slowly fills up when attacking enemies. When filled, it can be used by witches to unleash powerful skills, adding yet another dimension to the strategy of battles.
The battles are not exclusively bound to the storyline. The developers have devised a system to allow players to battle unlimited amounts of monsters by splitting Stella Glow into two sections : free play and main missions. The latter is pretty straightforward and contains all the required battles to complete the game. However, in free battles, the player can fight monsters to grind characters to a higher level which can be of great importance for the main storyline.
With Stella Glow, Imageepoch has created their magnum opus. The game is a great throwback to classic strategy RPGs with beautiful visuals only surpassed by the best game audio possible on the 3DS. The storyline is perfect for fans of digital novels and anime series, despite having very predictable situations. The gameplay is perfectly fitting for the genre, especially with the intelligent design to split up the main mission and side quests. In a way, the release is also tragic as it is near certain that there will not be a second instalment in the series. On the other hand, this is an even bigger incentive to get Stella Glow and enjoy the game to its fullest.