Not only is Stella Glow a beautiful swan song for the former company Imageepoch, but also a nice anthem and nod to its Nintendo DS progenitors spirit it clearly carries. Even so, does it manage to make for an engaging SRPG in a year dominated by the genre?
Title: Stella Glow
Genre: Tactical/Strategy role-playing game (SRPG)
Developer: Imageepoch (Published by Atlus for North America)
System: Nintendo 3DS
Length: 40-45 hrs
Back in June 9th, 2005 the company known as Imageepoch headed by its CEO Ryoei Mikage came into existence. Coming in on the tail end of the Nintendo DS era and lasting to the current generation where PS4 and Xbox One reign unchallenged, the company always kept to its niche in the last generation and portable console arena where it churned out titles like: Criminal Girls Invite, Fate/Extra, and Time & Eternity to name a few. However, like most companies, Imageepoch failed to adapt and went bankrupt sometime in May of this year. With Stella Glow being on the last project released, it is ironic that the staff that worked on this was also responsible for Luminous Arc, Imageepoch’s first project and one that this title takes after. Sadly, just like how Luminous Arc was a solid entry for the first, Stella Glow is a phenomenal one for the last. Things seem to have come full circle.
Basically, Stella Glow tells the story of a young man named Alto whose entire village is crystallized by Hilda, the Witch of Destruction. After a series of events, Alto and his childhood friend Lisette are enlisted by the Kingdom of Regnant by way of Lisette awakening to her newfound abilities as the Water Witch. The plan: gather the rest of the elemental witches and use the power of their Song Magic to undo Hilda’s curse and return peace to the land. While the game is the spiritual successor to the Luminous Arc series containing the hallmark of Witches, it is also highly reminiscent to the Ar tonelico brand both in the concepts and even some aspects of the gameplay in an indirect sense. Either way, meager outline and comparisons aside, the narrative for Stella Glow is actually very impressive – not only for the overall structure, but also throwing a few interesting twist and developments the players way. Of course, the cast of characters – both protagonist and antagonist are also more fleshed out and detailed than excepted and really difficult not to find a few likable faces from the crowd. With the game boasting two routes and multiple character endings, there is a reason to start-up a new game, but will touch upon that aspect later.
Like a few SRPG’s, Stella Glow is split up into two distinct phases: Free Time and Mission Time. In both phases you have the chance to do general things such as: buy weapons and equipment from the proper vendors and save your progress, but for a large majority, most of the more pressing actions can only be done during Free Time. Since you only have a limited amount of actions (usually 3) you can take during the period, there are some things you want to prioritize than others – like spending time with your allies. By doing so, you are usually treated to a small story vignette centered around them, but also raises their affection toward you and helps them learn special abilities in combat. While it is nice to spread out time between characters, most of it will probably be spent with the Witches, since unlike most characters, they will reach a point where you can’t progress any further raising affection without the aid of Tuning, another vendor option that uses time. Just like Diving in Ar tonelico, Tuning is where you will enter the mind of the girls to help them overcome an insecurity or fear that results in a battle. I do find some of the mission objectives for the stages frustrating like having to move Alto next to the girl since they will flee and with the maps usually having movable platforms, it will take some time to corner them. Clear the stages and not only can you continue raising the Witches affection, but also gain a new skill. Besides that aspect, you can also take up side jobs that will reward you with extra perks like discounts in certain shops or even explore nearby areas that will grant you a special item you can’t obtain through normal means. After expending all your actions, Mission Time starts where you go onto the World Map to the next story based location or if desired, fight a couple of battles to raise your level. Granted, you level up just fine during the course the game, if you are really struggling in the story, you can play special maps that drastically level you up, but at the cost of play coins…again, nothing you should resort to or need unless in dire straits.
Combat works similar to other SRPG’s like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy tactics, so won’t be anything too remarkably different. Deploy up to six characters, use a combination of regular and special attacks to eliminate the oppression, and if you really want a challenge, try completing the special objectives each stage presents. Doing the latter is imperative if you wish to score some extra after battle swag, but really not required as some the regular objectives later on with give you enough to contend with. However, what separates Stella Glow from its other counterparts would have to be the Song Magic, a special skill that belongs to the Witches. If Alto is next to a Witch and the conditions are met, you can invoke the Witch in question to use her magic that often or not, will shift the tide of battle in your favor. For example: one Witch’s song can stop an enemy from acting for a predetermined number of turns in addition to lowering its defense for two turns, while another Witch can bestow a guarantee a critical hit on enemies for two turns. As overpowered and useful as Song Magic can be, knowing when to invoke it is just as important, since the Witch in question will be unable to move until the song is over. If you factor in the maps, the terrain can also be its own beast to deal with, especially for characters with poor mobility, so you will probably be ditching characters like Archibald in favor for someone like Rusty.
When it comes to the visuals, it should go without saying that Stella Glow is a very captivating one. With vivid and bright color palates incorporated into the character designs and nice little touches intto the presentation of animations and attacks, the game is by no means pushing the technical boundaries of the Nintendo 3DS, but very hard to say that many titles this year are matching it in terms of beauty. Of course, that beauty also extends itself to the music, with many tracks composed by the talented Shunsuke Tsuchiya and Yasunori Mitsuda for the background score and the collaboration of Toshinori Orikura and Rodriguez Nobu for the vocal tracks. Usually not all that keen to listen to vocal tracks from games, Stella Glow actually has some good ones performed by some pretty notable Japanese voice actresses like Maaya Uchida (Popo) and Yukari Tamura (Sakuya) to name drop. My favorite would have to be Emi Nitta’s (as Sakuya) rendition of Aizakura that is like this fusion of Enka and J-pop which has this really euphoric and somber quality that gets you pumped in battle. Thankfully, while the Japanese voices are kept for the music, it is a English only deal elsewhere. However, thankfully again, the English voice overs are nicely done and cast fitting their respective roles.
With all the RPG’s that got released this year, I do have to say that Stella Glow has definitely won my heart. While it does have its annoyances and far from being a perfect game (nothing really is), it will be one of the few experiences that I can say I will remember and enjoyed my time with this year. And considering the second playthrough allowing you the ability to max out affection for nearly everyone and offer oodles of Free Time, I’m just getting started into seeing what the game has in store. If you are or been a fan of the Luminous Arc series or just looking for a solid SRPG for the holiday season, give Stella Glow a healthy dose of consideration. I am sure you will be glad you did, but as for my own evaluation, it gets a glowing recommendation easily.
Pros: Nicely written and structured storyline, likable and fleshed out cast of characters, units learn/received useful abilities,
Cons: Some the Witch affection missions are tedious to complete, options menu is limited/buried.