Thursday, July 21, 2016

Review #339: Stella Glow

 Imageepoch's swan song.
 Stella Glow holds the honor of being ImageEpoch's last videogame before their CEO went disappeared and they filed for bankruptcy. It also holds the distinction of being the true successor to the strategy-rpg series Luminous Arc. It features witches, knights and everything that made Luminous Arc what it was, alongside a gorgeous presentation and, probably, the tightest gameplay in the series.

 The story pits you in the role of Alto, a mysterious, amnesiac, teen who was taken in by Lissete's family in the town of Mithra. After coming in contact with Hilda, the Witch of Ruin, and suffering the entire town of Mithra turned to crystal and Lissete awakening as a witch, Alto and Lissete join the 9th Regiment Knights in order to restore Mithra and stop Hilda. The story is pretty generic for anime standards, characters follow many different anime tropes and.... and I felt the story was the game's weakest front, easily. It also borrows a lot of ideas, themes and even character designs from Luminous Arc 2, albeit anime-fied as much as they could, so you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was a remake of sorts. There's little character development or 'shocking twists', you'll see everything coming a mile away. They also deal with certain issues in very anime ways, like instantly forgiving a murderous psychopath who constantly talked about enjoying killing people, but hey, defeat equals friendship in the world of Anime. On the flip side, the game sports gorgeous graphics, and a phenomenal soundtrack.
 The game is divided into ten chapters, and each chapter has two types of phases: Mission and Free Time. During mission phases you can engage in free battles or go to your next destination, while Free Time allows you to talk with your party members and increase their affinity, which unlocks new skills. I'm not entirely satisfied with how it plays out, y'see, Free Time phases are divided into three 'sets', and each set has a different selection of characters for you to pick, so you'll only be able to speak with up to three characters. The problem lies with the fact that you have to 'sacrifice' free time with some characters in order to speak with others. I don't know why they went about it this way, but it's restrictive, and it's a bummer not being able to upgrade mainstays in your party because they share a lot with other party members.

 Speaking of party members, the final party won't be finished 'till Chapter 9, which means that you'll barely get to play with some party members. New Game+ doesn't let you keep your characters either, which is rather disappointing. Especially because all 15 characters have very different roles and styles, Unlike other Strategy RPGs, I found myself experimenting with different party set ups depending on the battle, since some characters were better suited under certain circumstances, which is a huge plus. There's also a certain degree of customization, as you can equip orbs, which confer different abilities, onto every characters' weapons.
 The game plays like most turn-based strategy RPGs. Depending on the units speed is when you, or the enemy, gets to move. During your turn you can move around the environment, which you need to keep in mind, as different characters have different ranges, or even movement types. Most characters will get a reduced walking range when standing on water, while some will float over it, some units can't climb certain heights and others simply teleport ignoring the different terrains or heights. Attacking, either normally or with Special Attacks, must also be planned out, since hitting from the side rises the accuracy, and hitting from the back rises accuracy and increases the damage dealt, plus, special attacks have different Area of Effect, so you have to be careful unless you want to incur in friendly fire! Unique to this game is the Song Gauge. Dealing or receiving damage will fill the 5-level gauge, which can only be used by Witch-type characters and Alto. Witches can use 1 or 2 bars to cast powerful spells, while Alto can use a special ability on a Witch, at the cost of 4-5 bars, in order to cast spells that affect the entire board.

 As cutesy as the game looks, it can get relatively challenging, the last stages in particular are downright brutal. If you know what you are doing, their are certain strategies that can make short work of the bosses, but they rely on you knowing which character's affinity to raise. Grinding free battles for experience points and levels is a fruitless exercise, as there's a rather harsh experience gain penalty on enemies even one level lower than you, a penalty which is removed in New Game Plus. There's a few 'bonus' free battles that offer higher level enemies, but they cost play coins, so I skipped them. I'm not sure if I was just unlucky, but it felt as if any attack with less than 96% accuracy would miss most of the time. I understand that 80-95% chance of hitting means that there's a slight chance of missing, but I missed most of the time. As a matter of fact, I made a suspend save before launching an 80% accuracy attack, and I missed 5 times out of 6. 80% accuracy should mean that it should hit around 4 times out of 6, not 1 out of 6!! Maybe the game just hated me.
 Stella Glow is a neat little game. that sadly fell on the pitfall of being too anime. Neither the story nor the characters have shred of originality to them, there's not as single original character trait, and not a single surprise lying in wait for savvy players. Luckily, as far as gameplay goes, the game is a knockout, battles can take between 30 minutes to an hour, but it doesn't feel that long since they are so much fun. The game is a fitting end to the Luminous Arc series, it may not carry its name, but it certainly possesses its soul.
 8.0 out of 10

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