Imageepoch’s last waltz strikes a chord, but the escort missions fall flat.
The story of Stella Glow is a highly unusual one. As the final game of Luminous Arc/Sands of Destruction maker Imageepoch, the game’s Japanese release was marred by the sudden disappearance of the CEO to the point that employees were putting missing persons reports on Twitter. To this day, nobody has managed to track him down. Sega managed to publish the title in Japan, and corporate cousin Atlus picked the game up for its North American release. What they picked up is a solid yet familiar title that has hopefully worked out its AI issues.
Your main characters in this tale are a young couple named Alto and Lisette. He’s a young hardworking teenager who has a mysterious power, she’s a rambunctious girl who turns everything she cooks purple and is actually a witch imbued with the power of water. Together, they fight crime and try to locate the other three elemental witches (Earth, Wind and Fire) to sing the “Anthem” and save their village from being confined in crystal by Hilda, the Witch of Destruction. You are accompanied by the 9th Regiment of the Regnant Knights, the other elemental witches, and some oddball characters. It’s not every day you meet a merchant prodigy with a tail, and I didn’t expect a ninja who wouldn’t be out of place in a Senran Kagura title (except for the cardboard box she wears as a mask) to show up.
In many ways, Stella Glow plays very similarly to another Atlus title I had a run-in with earlier this year: Devil Survivor 2. Both titles have separation into multiple chapters or days, both use isometric grid-based strategy battles, and both offer free time to socialize or explore in between story sequences. Where Stella Glow differs is in how it separates the functions. During “Free Time,” you can explore the area to find items, work part time jobs for money, or have Alto interact with teammates to unlock skills, but battling is confined to the Mission times that advance the plot. The game will actually tell you how many of each are left in a chapter, which I’ve appreciated as a quality-of-life benefit. The dialogue so far has been snappy, if a little questionable at times; there is one point where “I am a masochist” is a legitimate dialogue option.
The focus for the game is on music, since you’re trying to unlock a song to save the world. You “tune” the witches in your party to enhance their performance, Alto is a “Conductor” who has the girls sing to use high-powered magic with enough actions in battle, and a lot of the early story points are centered on getting the characters to sing. With that, you need a good soundtrack and Stella Glow has one of the best in the business at the pen. Chrono Trigger fans will appreciate that Imageepoch brought in Yasunori Mitsuda to handle the soundtrack, and the battle tunes suitably rock out. Though how much of that comes from use of the songs that give your party full-party buffs or stop everything on the field for a round and lower defense is still something I’m trying to figure out.
Although I could’ve mitigated it with some extra free battling, the end of Chapter 3 did show one real problem with the game: at least one mission per chapter is an escort mission. In this case, the character who had to stay alive decided to run away from the party healer (whose healing spell has a range of 3 squares) and get in between four enemies. Between the number of people on the field and the fact that she was taking 30% of her health every time she was attacked, I couldn’t stop her before she caused two mission failures. Thankfully, the game lets you restart straight away and the battle text is skippable, but the experience and levels I did get in that run were lost. Buyer beware on that part.
At the point I’ve reached, it looks like everything is about to hit the fan, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the final chapter(s) of the game. Hopefully I won’t have to deal with any more escort missions – or the person we’re escorting will know to stay in healing range – but it looks like strategy RPG players will have a great end of year to go with the start of the year. Just be ready to pay heavy if you’re going digital and especially if you’re in Canada.
Stella Glow releases on November 17 and Nintendo World Report will have a full review next week.
A review copy was provided by Atlus USA.