Game Review – Stella Glow (3DS)

stellaglow131v2Imageepoch is one of my most beloved Japanese developers. Thus so, I wish I could love every single inch of their last game, but the truth is I’ve got quite the love-and-hate history going for this title. Is it worth paying around 6000 yen on it? This is up to you, but I can help by giving a rough idea of the best and the worst of Stella Glow.

Story

stellaglow24A boy is found unconscious on a forest by Risette – a girl living on a nearby village. He had no recollection of his past, so the young lady gives him the name “Alto”. She brings him to the village and he starts to live together with the girl and her mother for 3 years like they were a real family.stellaglow22However, this all comes to an end on the day Alto hears a weird sound coming from the forest. It was the singing voice of a beautiful lady. In this world where music is a deadly sin, only witches are able freely sing to their heart content, and Alto had just met with the worst of them all: Hilda – the witch of time. Also know as “The Witch of Disaster”.stellaglow26v2She has been spreading terror over the land by trapping entire cities inside crystals with her magic. Now it was the turn of Alto and Risette’s village to be visited by this monster and her apostles.stellaglow42Surrounded by despair, Risette releases a dark power from within the jewel that Alto was holding when he was found 3 years ago. The stone that may be the only clue to Alto’s past gives magic powers to Risette, but she can’t control her emotions and gets engulfed by her own aura. Without thinking twice, Alto jumps in to save her to find himself inside Risette’s mind. There he confronts her fears and sadness. His words are able to calm Risette down and she awakes from that world as the witch of water.stellaglow33Hilda explains that the stone is a “qualia” – the source of a witch’s power, but she was much more interested in how Alto was able to save Risette from going berserk. They fight for a while, but Hilda was just too strong. When the time-witch was about to capture the lad, knights from the capital surround the area. Since too many things have gone out of her expectations on the same day, she decides to leave for the time being to reorganize her plans, but promises Alto that she would come for him soon.stellaglow168The two are brought to the royal court in the capital’s palace where the Queen Anastasia reveals her plans to defeat Hilda by recruiting the quartet of elemental witches in order for them to perform a magical song able to break even the curse of the strongest witch. For that end, they would need Risette’s power, and since she is the closest Alto got of a family, he rushes to join the knights in this mission. At that time, little did they know about Alto’s powers and how his real origins would shake the foundations of the world once more.

Characters

stellaglow46Alto is an innocent and kind lad. At first, he wishes for nothing more than a peaceful life, but when he first set foots outside of his village, he notices how huge the world is and starts to feel like he won’t return to his old life even after all the battles come to an end. Because of the chaotic nature of the writing in this game, Alto can act unexpectedly mature and wise, but he often gets dumbed down when interacting with characters who are supposed to be “smart”.stellaglow132Risette is a very plain girl whose only special trait is that everything she cooks becomes purple for reasons never explained. She is usually gentle towards other girls, but she is very rude  with Alto sometimes and even ruins some of his big moments! Nevertheless, she is clearly in love with the boy, even though he doesn’t seem take her cruel words as a joke.stellaglow56Klaus is the captain of the 9th division of knights, serving directly the queen. A man of many talents and mysteries.stellaglow180Rusty is a knight who is always flirting around, unless he’s talking about revenge, which still doesn’t do much good for him. Rusty loves to take advantage of those around him. He’s the kind of guy who runs away from danger while leaving his comrades behind to buy him time for his escape.stellaglow142v2Archibald is a muscular idiot. A simple-minded knight who sees his pride as his everything. He admires Klaus and the queen and blindly follows their orders.stellaglow133Even though Popo is the youngest witch in the story, she is probably the one with the toughest life. She was used in a scheme by the mayor of her hometown, who placed her as the source of everyone’s misfortunes. Therefore, everyone treated her as a monster and she was forced to live all alone in the town’s outskirts for many years. Even so, being the most friendly witch, with a pure heart, she never stopped using her wind magic to help with the town’s crops, which greatly improved the local economy. Unfortunately, the mayor proclaimed that all of Popo’s good deeds were actually his doings. Thanks to Alto, Popo is finally able to free herself from that man, but the deep wounds in her heart could only be cured much later.stellaglow43Juan is a young merchant genius. At only 13 years old he has already formed a huge company who do business all over the world. He sees a big opportunity in working alongside the witches and thanks to some donations, he becomes an official member of the 9th knights in no time.stellaglow134Sakuya comes around as an ideal woman who is loved by everyone in her country as the maiden of fire, but after sneaking in the maiden’s shrine at night, Alto finds out that the elegant and kind fire witch is nothing but a façade. The real Sakuya is a very rude and egoist girl who trusts no one, not even the only person who always knew about everything and still accepted her.stellaglow135Nonoka is the opposite of Sakuya. A kindhearted Kunoichi with serious self-esteem issues, which is the reason why she hides her face under a cardboard box, even though she would be better hiding her half-naked body instead. She’s only person who still has a deep respect for Sakuya even after finding the truth about her. This shinobi is always giving her all to serve the fire maiden as a queen.stellaglow136Moldimolt is the daughter of the late witch of earth and one of the few survivors of a tragedy that destroyed her whole country. At a very young age, she watched everyone she loved being burned alive. Therefore, to say she has social problems is a understatement. Now she lives in the desert with her sister, trapped inside her own little world.stellaglow141Keith is a mercenary who was once a knight, until he witnessed an entire nation crumble before his eyes. Soon after, he abandoned the knights to follow his new dream of making a powerful kingdom that will never face that same destiny.

Development

stellaglow70Stella Glow was made in celebration of Imageepoch’s 10 years anniversary, (and ironically it was their last one, too), so they purposely made a new IP based on their first hit: Luminous Arc. Both are Tactical SRPGs about an ordinary teenager turning into a warrior to fight with and against witches. But maybe there’s more to this story! This may have been initially conceived as the 4th game in the Luminous Arc series. Hell, just look at Alto’s design and compare it to Roland from Luminous Arc 2:stellaglow179Is it ok for them to use this design? Is this mere coincidence? Well, they did change his visual later on, but it was too late because of all the animated scenes and CGs that were already made with Roland’s design.stellaglow110Luminous Arc games don’t share the same world, so I doubt Alto was suppose to have a direct connection with Roland, but this uncanny resemblance is certainly fishy! Imageepoch’s new IP started to pop-up on the internet around October last year, the same month Luminous Arc Infinity, the true revival of the series, was announced.Luminous Arc Infinity02This time being produced by FELISTELLA, the same guys behind the Summon Night series. This new entry in the series will have a musical theme where the witches will sing to give many bonus during battles. The plot involves a boy who is the only one with the power to tune and conduct the witches.stellaglow115Why did Marvelous ditched Imageepoch after 3 games to work with their rivals instead? Why the plots of these games are so similar? Maybe Luminous Arc Infinity was originally intended to be a spin-off for a different platform (kinda like Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus works).stellaglow44Well, this is just a theory, anyway. There’s no concrete evidence about this, but it doesn’t seem too far off to me taking notice of the development hell Stella Glow had to go through. Imageepoch was to self-publish this game, until the whole bankruptcy deal happened, so they asked help from SEGA, since they have worked together on the 7th Dragon series before, but this may not have been such a good deal, as SEGA erased almost all traces of IMAGEEPOCH’s name and logo from the game itself, from sites like Amazon and even from the eShop.stellaglow123You won’t find this game under the “Imageepoch“ tag anymore, which should make difficult for fans of this once popular company to find their final game. SEGA was in haste to make those changes too, since a little white dot on the upper left side of their logo remained unnoticed until it was too late.stellaglow138Lacking money and time to make adjustments to the final game was probably what caused some discrepancies between the dialog and the actual character-design. Like a character who is described as “an undeveloped little kid” when she actually looks like this:stellaglow54Or a girl who looks to be a 10 years old is actually 15! (Popo and Moldimolt’s case). The most notable case is with the introduction of Dr. Vanessa, who gets everyone disappointed because they see her as a stinky woman with no taste for fashion and no sex appeal (which reminds me Frau from Robotics;Notes), while she actually looks like this:stellaglow72Why is that the character designer doesn’t seem to agree with the scenario writers? Maybe he just wanted all the heroines to be younger and big-boobed. Maybe SEGA demanded some last-minute changes. There may be some clues within the game’s code…

Themes

stellaglow48Being the final game of a developer, It is to be expected that it would become kinda messy. It was the case for Kinki no Magna/Lord of Magna, after all. However, Stella Glow is not a short game by any means! It is a solid experience with over 60 hours of gameplay without loose ends. Different from Neverland’s last game, I never felt like something was lacking. Every character in the group gets an ending, which means over 10 of them!stellaglow88The quality of the story can completely change from a chapter to another. Which is natural for a game that has more than one scenario-writer, and this one got at least 3, although there are some uncredited writers who were outsourced from another company called EXS. At times, the story is spot on! It’s full of character-growth, interesting themes and heroic moments, but it can also get downright awful sometimes. Popo’s introductory chapter is a good example of a job well done! It deals with complicated issues like child labor and irrational hatred. This story really works because each element comes back later as part of a big conspiracy, and because you can easily feel sorry for poor Popo.stellaglow176Sakuya’s arc, on the other hand, is entirely about an arrogant and rude brat who forces the protagonist to be her slave because Alto finds out she is not as elegant and gentle as she claims to be. It’s when you start to feel like you’re missing something. Why is Alto being blackmailed when Sakuya is the one who got her weakness exposed? Alto even feels intimidated when she threats to use her influence to destroy his social-life, which is stupid considering that he only have 3 years to his entire life, which he spent in a godforsaken village that was destroyed just the other day. Good luck dealing with this guy, because he literally has nothing to lose!stellaglow53Later on, she exposes an even bigger weakness to Alto – the guy who isn’t too happy about being her slave. She casually reveals that she can’t sing anymore, a info that could spread panic across her country, since they need her magical song in order to keep a giant volcano in check. But she also threats to not help fighting the evil witch who wants to destroy the world if Alto was to reveal her secrets. Which comes to show how huge of a self-centered bitch she is. She isn’t concerned with the peace and well-being of her people and doesn’t care if the world ends. She just wants to be treated like a goddess.stellaglow112After the credits, you get to watch a character-specific ending, and just like the writing for the main scenario, the quality of these can vary a lot. Certain endings are really romantic or cute and give a good closure for that character’s arc. Unfortunately, some of those epilogues are just godly awful! You better pray for your favorite heroines to not be among the characters who got one of those shitty endings. I wasn’t so lucky, and it was quite frustrating!stellaglow129In case you didn’t notice, Hilda is the main heroine and also the main villain! She completely changes the protagonist’s life and also being the one with the deepest connection with him. Even though she is not an ally, you often see her point-of-view where she is fighting her own battles by leading her own group.stellaglow00Hilda is undoubtedly the most important heroine in the game and a great example of a strong female character. Thank God she got one of the best endings in the game!

Gameplay

stellaglow181Luminous Arc series was criticized once for its battle system being too similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, but the base and pace in Stella Glow feel closer to Summon Night. Certain special abilities look the same and you can even use some of the same strategies. There’s no job system, as each character is very unique with their own set of abilities, which gives plenty of variety to the strategies you can use.stellaglow184v2There’s also a Music Gauge, that works almost the same as the Flash Meter from Luminous Arc. All the characters in your party share this gauge and any unit can raise it by dealing or receiving damage, but only the witches and Alto can make use of it. Each Witch can sing short chorus of a song-magic that work like a magic attack, but Alto can make them sing a complete song, which gives many bonus for the whole party.stellaglow116In terms of difficulty, Stella Glow is pretty easy and there are no harder difficult levels to choose or unlock. Gamers who are used to Fire Emblem and the likes will not feel challenged in the slightest. At first, it seems like you can go through the whole game without grinding a single time, mostly because of the Music Gauge and because leveling up in the middle of a battle cures all the HP and MP of a unit, so you can suddenly turn the tables on any battle.stellaglow65Unfortunately, this is one of those games that forces you to use specific characters during important battles (just like Super Heroine Chronicle), so you better do some grinding on free-battles to get your whole party on the same level, or else some battles can become quite frustrating!stellaglow62At the beginning and middle of a chapter you get a “free time” session, when you get to talk with your comrades by selecting their SD graphics in your HQ map (much like in Summon Night). By doing so, you get affection points with your units, which is directly connected with the endings you can watch after finishing the game.stellaglow51v2Witches are specially tricky when it comes to this, because from time to time, you need to dive in their mind-world to fight a special battle where you face their fears and insecurities represented by their “shadow-selves” (Yes, I know! It feels just like Persona 4!).stellaglow40You can also equip Orbs in your weapons, which are pretty much the Materias from Final Fantasy VII.

Graphics

stellaglow71The graphics look very similar to those used during dungeon exploration in Toushin Toshi. If Stella Glow is not running on the same engine, at least it uses the same base for the 3D models, which is a waste, since this is way below Imageepoch’s average.stellaglow173v2I don’t think this is a hardware problem, I expect the 3DS to be at least as powerful as the PSP, and their games looked gorgeous on the Sony portable and impressed many, even big companies like Capcom, but no one will be awestruck by this one! Only the final boss uses their old 3D-model style, and she looks awesome!stellaglow175Every unit gets a unique animation for each of their special attacks and those look pretty cool, but not nearly as cool as the animations from Soul Trigger. stellaglow167The graphics used in the combat map are pre-rendered SDs that look even worse than the graphics during attack-animations. You can’t rotate the camera, either, which is awful because in many cases, there will be something obstructing your view!stellaglow69Ideolo is the character designer and I really love his art and style! Naturally, there are a lot of cute girls of all kinds: some are comical, others look sexy and most are lolis, but he can create some badass dudes, too! There’s a huge amount of Colored Graphics used during important scenes and they look great! The only down point about this is that you don’t get a gallery-mode to view those beautiful CGs again at your leisure.

Voices

stellaglow100Atsushi Abe is perfect as Alto! He sounds like a charismatic guy with a relaxing voice during slice-of-life parts, but he also sounds really cool when things get serious! All the other seiyuu fit perfectly in their characters as well. Props also goes to Tamura Yukari! She can sound cute as usual, but her voice for Hilda is so badass!stellaglow74The game isn’t fully-voiced, but events will get voice-over more often than not! The characters also have much to say during battles. Which can actually be a problem at times, since Vanessa “Yaru-suyooo” two times before any action, and IT’S SO DAMN ANNOYING!

Music

 Konomi Suzuki sings the opening theme Hikari no Metamorphosis. She is famous for singing opening themes for animes like No Game No Life and Absolute Duo and she does a good performance here as well!  Because of the “magical-song” motief, naturally the heroines’ seiyuus need to sing, and they do a good job as well! The compositions are to my liking, being J-POP songs full of energy, but at times those can sound out-of-place for a medieval setting. Thankfully, there are some tracks that sound more mystical, like they are chanting a spell while singing. Those sound similar to some Ar Tonelico songs, but I couldn’t find if it’s the same band.stellaglow58The regular BGMs are fantastic! Many remarkable tracks that sound beautiful with real orchestral instruments that blend really well with the fantasy setting!

Conclusion

stellaglow103Overall, I believe I had more good moments than bad ones. When I finally cleared the game, I felt pretty satisfied! The climax has a really great building up, which was something Bravely Second couldn’t do well. Although the dialog during the final battle was really cheesy and THE FINAL BOSS TOOK AT LEAST TWO HOURS TO BE DEFEATED! It wasn’t even difficult! She just had lots and lots of HP!stellaglow111There are actually two main endings before each character’s epilogue. A normal one and the True Ending. Many Walkthrough on the internet claim that you can only achieve the true ending at a second playthrough, which is false! I was able to get it with just one playthrough with no problem! All you need to do is raise your friendship level with Klaus to get a secret character and then you have it!stellaglow170I can’t blame them for getting the wrong idea, because when you get the normal ending there’s a misleading post-credit scene where a characters say that “you should try again from the beginning and this time you could get a different outcome if you get in good terms with everyone”. Since you get 3x more “social-links” on the second playthrough, everyone thought they needed to maximize the affection of the whole team to get the true ending. Currently, it’s unknown if there’s a real secret bonus for finishing the game like this.stellaglow124This last scene also features two completely new characters: The “Princess” and the “Uncolored God”. They never make an appearance nor are mentioned during the main campaign, but they say things that hint on a possible sequel…which we will most likely never get! OH NOOOOOOOOOO! MY SWEET IMAGEEPOCH! WHY?! What a sad ending! Now I know how Half-Life fans feel like, and it’s so depressing!

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18 responses to “Game Review – Stella Glow (3DS)

  1. Nice review! I have one nitpick, you said:

    “Many Walkthrough on the internet claim that you can only achieve the true ending at a second playthrough, which is false! I was able to get it with just one playthrough with no problem! All you need to do is raise your friendship level with Klaus to get a secret character and then you have it!”

    Recruiting that character is not the ‘True End’ – the true end requires having all characters at maximum affection, and then in the final boss fight, when the boss is at half health a cutscene will happen and you’ll get a new choice. Select the bottom choice and you’ll move on to the True End battle.

    I definitely recommend playing NG+ for the True End, it’s awesome!

    • Hehe! That was the true end I was talking about! You actually don’t need to do all of that in a NG+ to get it! Interesting, huh? I was also pretty surprised myself when I got it. It seems that, if you got that one secret character, the true ending is already unlocked (as long as you pick the right choice during the final battle, of course). Now the game community needs to find out what is the real completion bonus for getting everyone’s affection at maximum! Until now, no one has found anything new. Maybe there’s some other condition…

      • Wow! So all that’s needed for the second choice to appear is having the secret character? That’s crazy, New Game+ made it sound like you had to raise everyone to maximum, and the Japanese wiki I used still has it as the requirement (as of today, July 4): http://ds-can.com/stellaglow/story/ending.html

        Looks like I’ve got some editing to do, myself! Thanks for the heads-up. New Game+ was still great to get a chance to talk to characters that are likely to get overlooked the first playthrough, like Dante, Dorothy, Veronica, etc.

      • Yes! I’ve read this walkthrough too! You’re right! There are too many characters in your group and limited time to get to know them all! I think the free time should be like it is on the NG+ right at the first playthrough, just so people would be able to complete everything without being forced to do much of the same stuff again, but…Oh well!

  2. no lad to face their darkest fears and song magic no no not exactly persona-ish why would you need to delve into their cosmosphere in the first place then its the same thing

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  4. Ah, hey… I’m a bit late to the party, but how does romance work in this game? Is it something that only becomes prevalent once you reach their ending?

    • It depends. There are some heroines who never develop a strong romantic relationship with the protagonist and even their endings feel more like a comical scene (like I said in the review: you will not like if your favorite heroine get this treatment), but most of the main heroines get romantic developments with the main character pretty early in the game as you raise affection points and defeat their shadows. Different from recent games like Fire Emblem If (Fates) there’s no romance with any of the male units, but you still get some cool “bro-mance”…

  5. this looks like another weaboo fapper game -_-

  6. Thanks for the awesome review. Now I know not to waste my money on this game!

  7. how does the game determine which character epilogue you get if more than one is at max affection?

  8. You get affection with a heroine by talking to them, you increase their power by going in their inner world and helping them solve their issues, they use songs as magic… are we sure this is not ar tonelico?

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