There are games that can draw a potential player to them by having great graphics or interesting sounding gameplay, but another way to draw in a certain number of players is to be strange. Spike Chunsoft best known for their mystery titles Danganronpa and Zero Escape, have always created rather eccentric titles and the Conception series is no exception. With the first game only being released on the PSP, it never had a chance of being localized but now that Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars has been released and surprisingly localized by Atlus, is it worth picking up?
Despite being a sequel, Conception II is a standalone title that is not related to its predecessor in any way besides gameplay mechanics. As such, in this title players take on the role of a nameable male protagonist who is on his way to Aterra Academy, a special city where people capable of fighting against dangerous monsters spawned out of Dusk Circles are trained and taught. You see, only people gifted with power by the Star God are capable of fighting these enemies and only people within a certain age range can obtain this power, with it vanishing once they grow to old.
As such it is desperate that these ‘Disciples’ do what they can to hold back to enemy. However when the player arrives at the Fort City housing the academy, they learn that their power is unlike any other before, for they are a ‘God’s Gift.’ God’s Gift is capable of producing seemingly bottomless amounts of Ether, a force required to fight against these monsters. In fact, for the first time ever humanity can actually enter these Dusk Circles and try to seal them away.
With the player being God’s Gift, they possess the unique ability to always create a Star Child with any female S-Rank Disciple, with these Star Children also being necessary to defeat the monstrosities. Only through growing closer to a number of S-Rank girls will players be able to unlock the true potential of their Star Children and put a stop to their enemies, but things never are quite as simple as they appear…
Anyways, there are seven girls within the game that players can grow close to and create Star Children with. As mentioned before, the stronger the player’s bond with a girl is, the stronger their Star Child will be and therefore players will be in for quite an interesting ride as they interact with each of these girls, all of which seem to sport a simplistic personality to start with, but grow more interesting and developed the further the player’s interact with them.
These interactions are often laced with a lot of comedy and jokes that will be familiar with longtime anime fans or anyone who has tried a dating sim out before since many of the girls’ initial personalities fall into some well used tropes before players learn more about them and by then you will find yourself drawn in. Players will help these girls as they deal with obstacles in their lives, make them feel more self-confident, and learn more about their lives with every interaction and thanks to the variety of personalities on display this never grows old and is easily one of the best parts of the game.
This is especially true if the player ends up picking a favorite girl, which is hard to do considering the amount of time players will spend with each girl and learn about them. In fact, this interaction which is often limited until the player advances the story again, is one of the key drives to plow through a labyrinth so new interactions and developments are made available.
Conception II is a tale of two games, with one side focusing heavily on the aforementioned dating aspect and the other focusing on fighting numerous enemies and sealing away a labyrinth to make the world a safer place. Since we were just speaking about how players will need to develop a bond with the girls in the game, let’s talk about that first.
When interacting with one of the seven heroines, players will enter a visual novel style event where players can sometimes simply listen to the girls talk and go along with them in a sort of slice-of-life event that reveals more about the girl but more often than not these interactions will result in a choice that the player has to make. Each of the girls has certain likes and dislikes and picking the right option will not only make them happier but also increase your bond with them, allowing stronger Star Children to be created. This can be harder than it might seem at first, but the game is fairly forgiving with certain choices and if the player feels like they really might have messed up, they can always choose to reload a save file.
So on to the Star Children, when players wish to create a Star Child they will head to the Church and choose the girl they wish to ‘Classmate’ with. Each of the girls have unique strengths and weaknesses as far as stats go and depending on how happy they are as well as how strong your bond with them is, the Star Child will be given various stats as well as a higher level cap.
The whole Classmating procedure is far tamer than it sounds since it boils down to holding hands to create a Star Child using the male’s Ether and the female’s Star Energy to create a Star Child in a Matroyshka doll. The player will then be able to select the Star Child’s class depending on their stats and when it pops out of the doll fully equipped it usually comes with a bonus such as money or raising the player’s bond with the chosen Heroine.
There are a wide number of classes to choose from and players can have a number of interesting combinations since the only way to bring Star Children into a labyrinth is by creating at team of three. This means that combining certain classes together will unlock special team skills that are often far more powerful than your standard skills.
So, once players create their team they are able to venture into a Dusk Circle Labyrinth which consists of a set number of randomized floors with a boss enemy, called a Dusk Spawner, at the bottom. These dungeons are unfortunately a rather simplistic part of the game that involves simply venturing through hallways, picking up items and encountering enemies that you cannot attack on the field to gain an advantage, but simply walk into to trigger a battle, though it is worth noting though if your level is high enough you will instantly kill the foe.
Once you enter combat player fight on a 360 degree field where they can surround an enemy by moving around them and attack from the front, back, or sides. Each enemy has different weak spots and attacking a vulnerable area will do more damage. These battles are all turn based affairs and moving around to attack from the rear will often a unit’s turn further back in the order than simply attacking from their current position.
Attacking from areas that are about to be attacked or are within the enemies field of view is useful however as it can build up a Chain Drive gauge which, if filled up enough, will slow the enemy down and allow the player to get in more attacks. Also each battlefield has an ‘Ether Density’ that can be raised or lowered by defeating enemies or having a group of star children fall in battle. The higher the Ether Density the faster God’s Gift and his chosen Heroine and the Star Children groups will move in battle.
Now earlier I mentioned that Star Children have a level cap, and this can be problematic since they will begin to hold you back once they hit this cap. Once they reach that limit the player can swap them out with a new Star Child who was recently created with a higher level cap and give their previous child its ‘Independence’ which raises the level of the city and often unlocks additional items in the shop and new shops to explore.
This is problematic in another way however as players will then be stuck with a level 1 Star Child that will need to be leveled up again, which often means that players will have to grind through levels quite a few times which can be annoying considering how simplistic many of the dungeons in the game are, though there are a number of side-dungeons to explore for rewards and equipping your team is presented in an easy to understand manner or can be handled with one press of a button.
Visuals & Audio
Conception II is a stylish little title that again feels like the tale of two separate games. The dialogue sections of the game are presented with detailed character portraits while all of the bonding events with the girls are presented from a first person perspective with impressive looking female character models that are expressive and crisp looking. Even the whole classmating aspect is nicely handled with just the right amount of risqué involved but never going over the limit.
However whenever players enter a dungeon they will see the other side of things where players will travel through bland labyrinths that, while all stylized after a certain deadly sin, quickly become boring to look at and even the enemy types are constantly repeated with very little variation to be had. It is also worth noting that at times the anime cutscenes have artifacts appearing in areas, though this usually happens when entering a dungeon and the characters transform into their battle suits.
It is worth noting that Atlus USA has chosen to give Conception II an English only release which means that the English voice actors are all players will have to work with. Surprisingly this isn’t much of an issue as the voice actors quickly feel right for their characters even if they might have seemed off beforehand. As far as background music goes, there is a nice mix of songs used in the game with a number of vocal tracks inserted into the combat themes is a nice compliment and the music during and after the Classmating never gets old.
Throughout this review I’ve mentioned how Conception II is the tale of two games and in a way that is what it really feels like. The combat while interesting, can become repetitious and the dungeons themselves are bland with too few enemy variations to fight against but everything outside of these dungeons is dripping with style and wonderful characters to interact with. Conception II is the type of game where you fight through dungeons and then reward yourself by enjoying the likable cast of characters in what turns out to be a fairly successful combination of a JRPG and a dating-sim.
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