We go hands-on with the first several hours of Imageepoch’s final song-powered adventure, Stella Glow
The release of Imageepoch’s bewitching new 3DS title, Stella Glow, is almost upon us. Marking the final release for the studio, who has made a name for themselves over the years with the Luminous Arc series and – perhaps more dubiously – Criminal Girls, Stella Glow is a spiritual successor to the former. Atlus, the game’s publisher, has given us the chance to dig deep into the studio’s SRPG swan song over the past few weeks, and here’s what we’ve got to say about this unique “witch tuning” adventure so far.
Stella Glow‘s story revolves around Alto, a young village hunter with a mysterious past. One day, Alto hears the faint sound of a mysterious song coming from the forest. (Something that shouldn’t be possible, considering God silenced mankind’s ability to sing long ago), Coming upon a small clearing, Alto discovers the lone witch Hilda, who shortly after their meeting, happens to reveal herself as the Witch of Destruction who has, with the help of her murderous group of Harbingers, been leading a destructive campaign across the land, crystallizing the kingdom’s population with her Song of Ruin. While attempting to unleash her wrath on Alto’s hometown, he and his childhood friend Lisette manage to interfere with her plans, and in the process Lisette gains the power of song magic, transforming into a witch who can control the power of water. After a brief skirmish, Hilda manages to perform her devastating song magic on Alto’s hometown, but Lisette’s newfound ability ultimately buys the pair enough time to be rescued at the last minute by the Queen’s Royal Knights and taken, along with the hapless crystallized villagers, to the capital city of Lambert.
It’s here in the capital city that Alto is introduced to the elite Regnant Knights 9th Regiment, who has been tasked with uniting the four elemental Witches and stop Hilda from turning the world into one planet-sized Swarovski crystal of pain and misery. After proving his worth, Alto joins the ranks of the esteemed unit, and departs to recruit the first of the games’ witches into their fold, the Wind Witch Popo.
After leaving Lambert, Stella Glow‘s adventure begins in earnest. From here players are given the opportunity to trek out into the overworld map and engage in random battles, or pursue the main missions to advance the game’s story. Combat in Stella Glow will be instantly familiar to anyone who has cut their teeth on games like Square Enix’s Final Fantasy Tactics, Konami’s Vandal Hearts series, Disgaea, and, of course, Luminous Arc. At the beginning of a battle, players can choose their deployment formation. From here, you players and enemies take turns moving around the grid-based map, generally unleashing hell on one another with swords in close quarters, or far-reaching tools of destruction like arrows and lances, which can strike enemies from multiple spaces. Some units, like the Regnant Knights’ cocksure rogue Rusty, have multiple uses. His daggers can be used to strike both far away targets by being thrown (dealing less damage), or up close in devastating combo attacks. Archibald, the heavily-armored weapons specials of the group, can dish out serious damage with his iron gauntlets, and can also protect adjacent allies on the battlefield, making him vital for defending lightly-armored units caught in the front lines. Simply put, the combat has a satisfying level of depth and versatility, which goes a long way towards keeping players engaged in the game’s strategic skirmishes.
As great as the combat feels, Stella Glow‘s battles look fantastic as well. While games in this genre typically lack much visual flair when it comes to their battle sequences, Stella Glow stands as a welcome exception. From the enemy and character stances to the varied, silky smooth attack animations, the combat looks fantastic and is full of character. The game also sports some gorgeous effects, like sunlight shimmering through the forest battlefield’s canopy, to vibrant windswept plains dotted with spinning windmills. And then there’s the character designs, which are simply fantastic, especially when it comes to the game’s starring Witches and Hilda’s lieutenants, the Harbingers. Simply put, Stella Glow is one great looking game on Nintendo’s dual-screened handheld.
While battle is certainly the heart of any SRPG, Imageepoch knows that even the heroes of the Regnant Knights need to cool their heels once in awhile. It’s here that Stella Glow‘s “Free Time” mechanic comes into play. In-between missions, Alto can roam around the many hot spots of Lambert and partake in a several different distractions that all yield their own bonuses. However, you can only perform a set number of activities before Free Time ends and it’s back to work, so you’ll have to choose wisely on what to focus on during each lull in the main story. During this period you can visit the barracks and chat up other members of the Regnant Knights, which builds up your social bonds similar to the Social Link system found in Persona 3 and 4. These budding bromances in turn unlock new moves that each character can perform to support the party in battle. Additionally, you can venture out in the the wilds to find rare items, or take up side jobs around the village to rake in some extra gold for supplies. All in all, this is a smart system that does a great job of both making the player choose wisely how to shape their party, while offering a unique avenue to expand the back story of each of the game’s main characters. The relationships forged through your social bonds even impact the game’s various endings, offering significant replay value to Stella Glow‘s robust SRPG package.
While forging social bonds with your mere mortal comrades is as simple as taking the time to talk to them, doing so with the game’s four main Witches is done a bit differently. After gaining the title of “Conductor”, Alto is able to dive into the hearts of Witches to “tune” them, clearing their hearts and enhancing their abilities. These scenarios play out as battles which take place within the subconscious of the game’s four magical heroines, and offer a substantial challenge as Alto alone is the only one who can participate in these encounters. However, rewards far outweigh the risks, as a finely-tuned elemental ally is an unstoppable force on the battlefield, providing songs that can turn the tides of battle instantly.
In short, Stella Glow has made a really positive impression on us over the past few weeks. Any fans of the genre looking for an engaging adventure with a ton of character will want to keep their eyes on this exciting adventure when it releases exclusively for the 3DS on November 17. Stay tuned for our full review of the game on Friday, November 13.
Available on: 3DS ; Publisher: Atlus ; Developer: Imageepoch; Players: 1; Release Date: November 17, 2015 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This preview is based on a review code provided by Stella Glow’s publisher, Atlus.