A game’s capacity to charm the player is, I think, an underappreciated trait. It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds. Each year we’re exposed to clusters of vapid shooters, token JRPGs, and hard-nosed action adventures, and while there are always diamonds that shimmer above the blackened molten tar, you don’t see the tar itself getting chewed out by critics very often. Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars tries so hard to be different, and wants me to like it so terribly, that I can’t possibly hurl it down the pit with the rest of gaming’s muck, even if it does sometimes deserve it. It’s like the Puss in Boots of Persona-fied, slightly-perverted dungeon crawlers.
And make no mistake — Conception II’s head is firmly lodged up its own (admittedly adorable) post-apocalyptic gutter. Within the first two hours you’ll encounter the standard perverted old man, descending just in time to comment on heroine Narika’s breasts, conveniently within earshot of nobody but Blick Winkel. By the time you process that this man is, in fact, an important figurehead to the entire world-saving operation (and leader of the church, no less), he’s already creepily guffawing about the joys of youth and how this year’s freshman class is particularly “well-endowed.” Sheesh.
It doesn’t help that the the first few hours of Conception II are distressingly dull, and worse, horrifically overwrought will text-heavy tutorials. This wasn’t all that troubling for me personally, as I just bit the bullet and powered through them, but who on earth would slog through these as a genre newcomer, fully banking on the presence of a digestible tutorial to understand the game? I honestly can’t fathom non-experienced RPG players (including kids) actually trudging through literally dozens of text-walls in order to gain a full understanding of combat, especially where guided trial-and-error would be far simpler and equally as effective. When you take into account that nearly all of the game’s systems contain these lengthy run-downs, the issue becomes even more obvious.
Lucky for Spike Chunsoft, a fair number of Conception II players probably already have an idea of what they’re doing. In fact, they likely know exactly what they signed up for. Sex! That’s right — as its name suggests, the crux of both Conception II’s plot and its gameplay is “classmating” with the game’s female heroines, creating kids called “Star Children,” and taking them into dungeons called “Dusk Circles” to fight monsters and help save the world. You can periodically flirt and converse with with the heroines as you gallivant around the central city and its main hub, the Academy (both essentially menus, to be clear), with the goal of improving your relationships and thus improving the quality of the produced Star Children. This all takes a minute to sink in, but trust me, it takes many more minutes to clear the early stages of the game.
When you finally do emerge from the whirlwind of (mostly negative) emotions brought about by the game’s early hours, things truly do begin to improve, and this is where the endearment I mentioned earlier rears its head. For everything Conception II does wrong, it does something else shockingly well in an effort to win you over. Sure, lots of cutscenes feature generic, non-stereoscopic 2D art, resulting in blurry lines and an uninteresting visual, but what about the segments where you converse with the heroines? Well, those segments look pretty damn near exceptional.
Each heroine has a detailed polygonal model, complete with voice acting, fluid animations, and engrossing use of the 3DS’ stereoscopic effect. Until now, my favorite 3D games were Fire Emblem Awakening and Virtue’s Last Reward, but Conception II’s wonderfully rendered females pulled me through the parallax barrier more than those games ever could. I’m talking strictly about the potency of the 3D effect, of course, but if you always leave your 3DS’ slider turned up, then this aspect of Conception II is a real selling point.
There is one element of Conception II that isn’t polarizing in quality, and it will likely be the meat and potatoes for some players — the dungeons. Called Dusk Circles, you’ll bring a party of Star Children you’ve created (along with one heroine per visit) with the goal of defeating monsters, gathering items and cash, and eventually taking down the boss, which is essentially the source of the enemies swarming the place. The labyrinths contained within the Circles are randomly generated, which goes a long way in keeping return visits interesting, and if you pace yourself and come prepared you can usually take out the boss without too much trouble. It’s fun, if not always particularly thrilling.
What is a bit more thrilling than the bigger picture is combat itself, and Spike Chunsoft has ensured that battles are laced with so many independently-operating systems that you’re guaranteed to have no idea what’s going on for at least a quarter of the game. Surprisingly (and, I’m convinced, unintentionally), the pacing ends up working pretty well, as you can effectively latch onto one technique at a time as your skills develop. In the early labyrinths, you’ll likely focus on attacking from different angles to target an enemy’s weak point, while down the road you’ll begin to utilize combos via the “chain drive,” a meter that fills when you fight from a seemingly disadvantageous position, allowing for devastating blitzkrieg later on. Battles are varied enough to keep inevitable grinding from becoming unbearable, yet offer enough flexibility to keep strategy-oriented players reasonably hooked. The enemies you encounter and environments you traverse are nothing short of hideously drab, but hey — I already told you the game has issues.
I’ve raved over the visuals and 3D during heroine-bonding enough (not to be confused with the mediocre graphics while dungeon-ing), but how do these date-sim segments actually play? See, this is where I’m torn. There are bound to be players who find the heroines’ personalities a bit one-dimensional, a bit stereotypical, and, well, a bit offensive. Conception II is loaded with fan-service already, sure, but most of it is beyond silly — the type of thing you roll your eyes at. When conversing with the heroines, though, it becomes a lot less cute and a tad more demeaning when female characters consistently lack self-esteem, regularly express desires to be “useful” to the player, and — without fail — reveal their lack of experience before “classmating.” Why is every single girl in the game a confidence-starved virgin, hmm? Well, it’s because this is a dating sim and that’s what dating sims do, and whether or not you’re OK with that is probably going to impact your overall enjoyment. Hey, I don’t make the rules, I just enfor– actually no, I don’t do that either. I’m just reviewing the game.
If you can accept the tropes of the genre then there’s legitimate character development to be had, and the gamification of winning a heroine’s affection has been quite well implemented. Though some characters like Narika never quite emerge from their moth-eaten archetypes, others such as Fuuko are loaded with thoughtful dialogue. She’s the best example, actually — she begins as a friendly, likeable goof, but over time flourishes into a capable and certain young woman. You get the sense that she regards the player on equal terms, rather than placing him on a mile-high alpha-male pedestal, as if he were the he-man Harry Potter of the school. Plot-wise, he actually kind of is, but that’s beside the point.
Conception II is a tangled mound of a dozen different things, any of which could easily dazzle, bore, repel, excite, or disgust you to varying degrees. I, for one, quite enjoyed the dating sim aspect, found the dungeon-crawling to be serviceable, and consider most everything else (story, cutscenes, confusing Star Child configuration) to be of middling quality. Still, there’s enough here that you’re likely to enjoy something, so if you’re feeling adventurous and with nothing to play, Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars is a solid way to pass the time. Just make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into first.
This review is based on the 3DS version of the game, which was provided to us.
Conception II: Children Of The Seven Stars is fun, but also flawed, and comes with a lot of hit-or-miss material.