Stella Glow Review: A Fanciful Strategy RPG

Stella Glow Review
out of 5

The RPG renaissance on the Nintendo 3DS gets yet another must-play title added to its revolutionary list with the release of Stella Glow in North America. Its unique “Song Magic” battle element adds a fanciful mechanic to a traditional grid-based battle system and creates an experience both veteran and casual players can enjoy.

Stella Glow introduces players to a world without songs under siege by an evil witch and her harbingers. When 17-year-old Alto finds his adoptive family and hometown under siege, he is determined to do whatever he can to save them. Alto joins the 9th Regiment of the Royal Knights on a quest to find four elemental witches and unlock their mystical Song Magic to save the world.

The game opens as a traditional strategy RPG. Players make tactical choices on a battle map with a finite number of party members. Developing bonds with other party members has the potential to unlock bonuses for battle or even change the story’s outcome. Things get interesting once the witches are found, since their hearts can be “tuned” to unlock additional songs. Their songs are special powers that can be used in battle. More songs mean more tactical options for the player.

Stella Glow ReviewTime must also be used strategically, as a Destiny Clock determines the player’s allotted Free Time and Mission Time. Limited Free Time means choices must be made regarding whom to build bonds with, what part-time jobs to complete, and whether to grind for experience or to explore the nearby areas in hopes of finding a rare item drop.

As the final title from Luminous Arc developer Imageepoch, Stella Glow maintains a unique balance of being both refreshingly new and yet nostalgically familiar. Strategy RPGs, in particular, have a reputation for serving up character-driven stories with a healthy helping of mentally-challenging battles. Yet, sometimes the depth or difficulty of SRPGs is so daunting it staves off the curious gamer. Yes, Stella Glow does have over 40 hours of gameplay with 50 diverse battle maps and multiple endings for the initiated. However, Stella Glow slowly eases the player through each gameplay element as they become available, making it easy for newcomers to dive in. As the battle difficulty progresses, Song Magic is introduced that can help new players get through some of the more challenging scenarios and reach the end game.

Veteran SRPG players may find the pacing a bit of a slog at first. As the chapters progress, there are some tough scenarios and special condition challenges but nothing soul-crushingly difficult. Experienced players are likely to be more entertained by discovering all the possibilities and playing with all the options, rather than clearing each fight. Personally, I found playing through the prologue (which serves as the game demo on the Nintendo eShop) rather tedious and boring; but, as the gameplay options expanded, I found myself getting sucked in.

Stella Glow ReviewGameplay is where Stella Glow truly luminous and it’s a shame its characters don’t equally shine as brightly. The large cast typical of SRPGs ensures there will be at least a handful of clichéd characters along for the ride. Even so, I was disappointed in the core cast members. Protagonist Alto is the typical country boy who grows into a maiden-saving knight. Lisette is a homely, housework-obsessed goodie-good witch who couldn’t even get her powers without Alto’s hand-holding à la heart-tuning. Perhaps I’m still high on the strong female characters, like Lucina, found in Fire Emblem: Awakening, but I was not impressed. The characters may not completely shake off their clichés, but some do manage to grow. As additional characters become available, the mostly-predictable plot becomes far more tolerable with some interesting twists and turns along the way.

Continuing the trend of other Atlus releases on the Nintendo 3DS like Etrian Odyssey Untold II: The Knight of Fafnir and Lost Dimension, the North American release of Stella Glow is very much an English-only version. The story is fully-voiced in English without the option to switch to the Japanese voice-overs. Even the game’s main theme, Hikari no Metamorphosis, gets an English version makeover by the original Japanese track’s artist, Konomi Suzuki. It’s still a bit tough to make out the words amidst the pop beat, but it works well enough when played over the psychedelic cinematics used in the opening and throughout the game.

Stella Glow ReviewOddly enough, though, the Song Magic element of the game retains its original Japanese form. Listening to the witches as they go through the voice and language flip-flop is somewhat jarring, but passable when considering the songs are supposed to be mystical in nature. Perhaps more disappointing is the lack of a subtitle option for English-speaking audiences. It would have been nice to at least get an idea of each song’s meaning.

Thankfully, the score needs no translation. Although we don’t get anything truly iconic from Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger, Xenoblade) this time around, on the whole, the battle tracks and location melodies successfully add dimension to the visually-stunning environments.

Even with its imperfections, Stella Glow offers a new kind of strategy RPG gameplay experience not to be missed. Atlus brings the final game developed by Imageepoch to North America exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS family of gaming systems on November 17, 2015. This game review is based on a digital code provided by Atlus U.S.A.

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