Macross? Persona? No, Stella Glow.
In a season dominated by Western Releases (Ahem Fallout 4) what can a JRPG fan hope for? (Xenoblade Chronicles X, maybe but that’s still a long ways off!) Enter Stella Glow, a handheld game that’s anything but ordinary.
Stella Glow is a Tactical RPG akin to Final Fantasy Tactics and Shining Force (ah, the good old days) with elements that’ll be familiar to those who play the Persona games. What surprised me most however, was the simple but effective production values.
Sure, it’s no Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem but Stella Glow won’t lose out in terms of quality and colorfulness. Wait, am I talking about, full-on music video style cutscenes?! No, not exactly. Without spoiling anything significant, there are certain periods in-game where certain characters interact with one another, and it results in a magical transformation cutscene. It’s kind of like Sailor Moon, but think Macross colors and song numbers. Does it work? Hell yes.
The visuals aren’t anything noteworthy by themselves and if compared to say, Bravely Default. This game will certainly pale in comparison with that, but what sets Stella Glow apart from its more visually appealing counterparts is that it relies on an engaging storyline to drive the sceneries and character designs to even greater heights.
Another noteworthy aspect of Stella Glow is its usage of animated cutscenes. They’re used, in effect, to portray scenes that the sprites themselves cannot, with their limited capacity in the style of ufotable’s godly take on the Tales of Xillia and Zestiria games. The character designs remind one of the more generic JRPG motley crew members, though I managed to grow some affection for the poorly executed but somewhat well-written characters present in Stella Glow.
I am taking a point off for creativity as goes the ever repetitive monster sprites present in the game, as it does bring up a particularly negative aspect of Stella Glow; it’s extremely repetitive. From the gameplay to the designs and the never-ending (and largely unnecessary) level grinding, the game fails to live up to the already mediocre story writing and breathtaking soundtrack.
So how can a game’s plot be engaging and mediocre at the same time? Simple really. The story is your typical boy meets girl, boy embarks on epic journey to save the kingdom cliché and that’s good and all, but the game’s strongest point lies in its ability to make you want to experience the story for yourself even if it’s predictable. The story, on its own, is just “okay”. And I mean that as in it’s very average, but the progression of the game and my affection for some of my party members helped me persevere until I finally conquered the emotional quagmire that is the game’s (again) infinitely predictable plot.
Another high point is the game’s soundtrack. I’m a sucker for everything Macross (Sheryl Nome!) so when the opening cutscene blasted through my 3DS, it took my breath away. I immediately knew that I was going to like this game – and I did. The music is great, but what’s even more amazing is the fact that they retained the Japanese audio for the songs in the game (Great job, Atlus!) even if they have an already-impressive English dub for the game.
The cutscenes are colorful, the songs are catchy and the female leads (yes, lead’s’) are all likeable. And this all comes together to form a very entertaining 40 or so hours of fun – until it becomes repetitive.
Gameplay is what you’d expect from a Tactical RPG title. Navigation and Battles are encountered in a top-down map world similar to Fire Emblem Awakening. Combat is presented in a chessboard-like field and each piece or character can only be navigated once per turn on a set amount of tiles. If the player opts to attack an enemy piece, the game will then enter a closer look into a mini cutscene with the characters involved using a pre-animated attack, again similar to Fire Emblem Awakening. Of course, there’s an option available to turn the “closer look” off for the player’s convenience.
Navigation through towns is presented in menu-style similar to Persona 3 or Persona 4. Every action consumes “time” whether it be doing some part-time work, increasing your social -err I mean- affection between characters, and exploring. Not much is offered when it comes to item customization though, and that’s sorely disappointing.
The main town houses a tavern where the player can take up part-time work, a blacksmith, an accessory store, your barracks and a “Tuning Hall” where the player character could “tune” the Witches in his party should they start developing problems during the free-time interactions with them.
I’d love to explain what Tuning is all about but without spoiling anything, but the only things that I can say is that it involves the characters facing their “true, inner selves”. More and more like Persona, yes?
The controls are nothing special, but they are clearly defined and appropriately explained during the early tutorial stages of the game. And they do work well, as most of the interaction done in-game is through either combat or choices in dialogue.
All in all, Stella Glow is a surprisingly good game with a barely “okay” story, but with loveable characters and an impressive soundtrack to boot!
It’s not quite JRPG of the century material, but it’s a good time nonetheless. I highly recommend this game to people who love JRPGs and Macross. It’s a simple and intuitive RPG experience that players won’t easily forget!