2015 has been a banner year for strategy role-playing games. High profile titles such as Disgaea 5 and Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. have both delivered challenge and entertainment for fans of the genre, and Japan even saw the release of multiple Fire Emblem games. The year isn’t over yet, either, and SRPG fans will be delighted to know that yet another great present is on the way in the form of Stella Glow.
The Nintendo 3DS exclusive is one of the most compelling RPGs of the year, but it does arrive with a bit of a sad footnote attached. Stella Glow is the last title from the popular Japanese developer Imageepoch, who first gained popularity on Nintendo DS with the Luminous Arc series of turn-based strategy games. While not tied into their most popular titles, Stella Glow does have a lot in common with its predecessors, and is a fitting swan song for the studio.
Despite having a very generic opening that features yet another amnesia prone protagonist, Stella Glow actually has a very interesting story. Revolving around saving the world from a fearsome group of enemies, the player must recruit the four witches that roam the land. While the setup isn’t that unique, Stella Glow manages to keep your attention by taking some dark turns later on. It’s a surprisingly mature tale, and the twists are all the more shocking due to the bland beginning.
What really takes the story to the next level are the game’s high production values. There is a massive amount of voiced dialogue, a rarity for a handheld JRPG, and it’s all well-acted. It helps bring the 2D character portraits to life, and helps players become emotionally invested in them. There are also some gorgeous animated cutscenes that turn key story beats into memorable moments.
A good story would be nothing without solid gameplay to back it up, and thankfully Stella Glow is a polished strategy RPG. Instead of trying to innovate the genre, Imageepoch delivers a tactical experience that is by the numbers, but also filled with great battles. The battle system will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played a role-playing game, as every character has special attacks that take up SP to use.
Character variety is where this title really shines, though, as battles will force players to control up to seven characters at a time. While this can be a lot to manage, the game is brilliantly paced so that you build up to that moment. Every single playable character has their own set of abilities, and special moves, and using each character’s skills effectively is the key to winning battles. The combat is also fun to watch unfold, and adds extra charm to a memorable campaign.
The one gameplay system that is unique to Stella Glow is how witches can perform an ultimate attack with help from the main character, Alto. A cutscene occurs before each of these attacks are triggered that sees Alto stabbing the witches with a knife (which is justified in-game as “tuning”) to unleash their true abilities. It’s an absolutely bonkers part of the game, and is the most outlandish thing I’ve seen in a JRPG since Persona 3 had teenagers putting guns to their heads repeatedly. In other words, it’s absolutely great.
While a lot of players’ time will be spent battling enemies, there’s also a lot of downtime that really brings the game to life. When not on a quest, players can trigger events that will help produce a bond between Alto and other characters. These scenes are often light-hearted in nature, but really helps flesh out each character in the game. This is also one of the ways that the characters gain new abilities, so there’s a logical gameplay reason to view these scenes as well.
While the story constantly kept my attention, I would be remiss to not mention the large amount of fluff dialogue in the game. There is a lot of color text, that while well-written, does absolutely nothing to further the story. For example, it isn’t uncommon to see see a 10 minute scene that could’ve been summed up in two sentences. Stella Glow can certainly get a little too text-heavy, but the payoff is ultimately there for players.
There is also some rather unfortunate fan service later on that only serves to undermine the game. Stella Glow has a cast of powerful female characters and could have been a great example of how women should be portrayed in games. Sadly, the characters get thrown in a hot spring and are forced to talk about breast sizes for an uncomfortably long amount of time. It’s disappointing to see this at all, let alone in a game that generally takes the high road.
Stella Glow doesn’t quite reach the same high points as a title like Disgaea 5, but it still manages to provide an engaging battle system. There is also a surprisingly great story that almost comes out of nowhere after starting off as generically as possible. If you’re a fan of role-playing games, or are just looking for a high quality game to play on your Nintendo 3DS, then the very last game from Imageepoch should be right up your alley.
This review is based on the Nintendo 3DS exclusive, which we were provided with.
A great year for strategy role-playing games continues with Stella Glow, wherein a surprisingly dark story and entertaining battle mechanics combine to keep players hooked.