Finally finished the wretched game known as Stella Glow. I almost dropped it several times along the way, but the SRPG gameplay kept drawing me back. That’s the problem I have with Imageepoch games. With one or two exceptions they are all technically sound, so you end up playing more than you should even when the story makes you want to bash your brains out against the nearest sharp corner.
I’m so glad to be done with this game. I feel spent. It’s good to finally get it off my mind and off my playlist, but… I wish I’d never played it. It made me so angry. Why can’t I ever be indifferent to Imageepoch games? Why do they always get such a rise out of me? Why did you have to die, Imageepoch???? Who is going to piss me off now? ;_________;
Notes on Stella Glow‘s gameplay
Standard isometric SRPG game with all the standard SRPG features like back attacks giving extra damage and side attacks extra accuracy. No height effects as far as I can tell but some minor terrain differences. Nice compact maps so you don’t cross empty terrain just to reach one enemy. Lots of grinding opportunities but very little need to grind. Generous EXP from enemies + full HP/SP refills on leveling up. It’s a very player-friendly game.
As always with Imageepoch the characters were clearly differentiated. All the witches had highly distinct skillsets, personalities and abilities. Even characters that used the same weapon (like Popo and Keith or Nonoka and Rusty) had different speeds, ranges, skills and passive abilities. There was always a point to using someone in particular versus another character, but no one character was completely useless.
I also liked what they did with orbs giving extra, often random boosts. Stuff like pre-emptive attacks and critical hits and follow up attack that give you an extra turn when you kill an enemy are all very nice bonuses to have. With the right orb setup (e.g. Nonoka + Control Condition + Delay + Sickness orbs) you can make like considerably easier for yourself against tough bosses. But even before that it’s fun to see nice effects going off at random. It reminded me a lot of the great passive-attack fests in Shining Hearts, Glory of Heracles and Exstetra, but on a much smaller scale.
They copied the ‘Brave’ system from Summon Night games where you get bonuses for achieving certain conditions. Most of these are very doable AND they give great rewards. At the same time missing them didn’t destroy your game completely. Same with the treasure chests dotting the map and the stealable items most bosses had. Apart from the Follow up Orb (which is a must-have IMO) everything is a nice bonus to have but you can still get by just fine with store-bought weapons and items if push comes to shove. It’s a very low-stress high-reward kind of game. At least as far as gameplay is concerned.
Niggling nitpicks: Isometric SRPGs tend to be a bit slow, especially when they’re speed-based. Stella Glow is better than most, but it’s still boring to sit around waiting for your next turn to come. There’s always a little pause as each enemy decides what to do even when they end up doing nothing at all. Animations are also a pain to sit through so I turned them off after two chapters. The game also gets a bit too easy from midgame onwards once Delay, Follow up and Sickness orbs become a thing.
Furthermore, some of the victory/defeat conditions are annoying. A battle you lose if any enemies die? And the enemies have Self-Destruct and aren’t afraid to use it? RRGHHH. Or a battle where you have to protect a character who won’t stay put? Hmm, Sakuyaaaa? You will also be forced to use all characters at some point, which sucks if you benched characters like Archibald and Keith as soon as you got them. Those are the main things that bothered me, but hardly enough for me to quit over. No, what really stuck in my craw was the story.
Why the story pissed me off
I’ve played too many JRPGs, that’s the problem. That’s why I could tell from the start that Hilda was actually trying to save the world instead of destroy it. And that the Anthem Program was a bad idea. And that Klaus was up to no good. BUT STILL! I was forced to sit through a whole load of nonsense and made to do a whole lot of dumb stuff when everything in me was screaming NOOOOO, THIS IS ALL WRONG! Hilda this, Hilda that, Anthem this, Anthem that. When they asked her a question she wouldn’t answer. When she tried to tell them something they wouldn’t listen. And round and round and round.
And back and forth and back and forth for the first 20 hours of the game while I was ripping my hair out, JUST TALK TO ONE ANOTHER, DAMMIT!!! Stupid Alto. It made me miss Arc Rise Fantasia, another flawed gem from the late, great, irritating Imageepoch. I think L’arc from that game is the only JRPG hero in existence who doesn’t automatically believe anything random strangers tell him but instead keeps asking questions. Which means Imepo could have done it right if they wanted to, they just didn’t want to because they hate me so much.
Who or what is Hilda? It’s only halfway through the game that we’re told she used to be the queen of some kingdom or another… why didn’t you ask for such basic information to begin with, Alto? What is she up to, why now and not 1000 years ago, what exactly is this Anthem program, how does it work, how do we know it works, what’s the point of uncrystallizing people if Hilda is only going to crystallize them again, what exactly is this Conductor power and why do I have it, and on and on and on?
Eventually they meet Dr. Veronica who knows like she can provide all kinds of info but they barely ask her any questions and she doesn’t volunteer any answers even when it turns out she could have prevented most of the latter half of the game just by TELLING them a few key facts. Grrr! I wanted a scene where Alto and co. were clearly told the truth and refused to believe it. Or a scene they ask honest questions and receive only lies in return. Nobody asks any questions whatsoever, nobody listens to any answers whatsoever. Then at the end “Aaah, you tricked me!” Of course I did, you’re a moron.
And after all the mental torture I went through, I got the “normal” ending instead of the true one. Because I didn’t raise Klaus’ affection high enough. Which I didn’t do because I had him pegged as trouble from very early on. Once he got that suave-looking CG in the cafe I knew he was a goner. A smart, competent, super good-looking guy… in an harem RPG? No man can be a better catch than the hero and live. Either he’s going to die to give everyone a cause to rally around or he’s going to turn evil. Either way there’s no point raising his affinity stat… is what I thought. And got punished for being smart. Damn you, Imageepoch.
Not that I want the best ending anyway. I kind of like the bittersweet nature of the normal end, especially Marie’s death. They shoved her down our throats all game long, trying to make her all cute and sweet and loveable. Blechhhh. Super blechhh. It’s like the second coming of Nanako from Persona 4 except Nanako was genuinely and unobtrusively cute. Marie is just artificial. How many times did she have to faint and pass out before she was satisfied? Good riddance. I was a little sad to see Best Girl Ana bite the big one, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles when you’re too dumb to live.
As for the “mankind needs to no gods” resolution, the less said about it the better. It’s probably faster to count the JRPGs that don’t have that conclusion than the ones that do. Even games like Nayuta no Kiseki that have no gods in them still force the protagonist to compare certain characters to gods just so he can declare his independence from them. When the game started “Long ago, god….” I said stop right there, Stella Glow, I know where this is going. And I was right. What IS it with Japan and God/god/gods? Goddesses are usually okay, the kinder and sexier the better. “Gods” (plural) can go either way. If they’re ancient nature spirits they’re usually okay, especially if you have to seek them out somehow. God/god is a goner from the start. I wonder why.
As a last note on Stella Glow’s abysmal story, it reminded me a lot of Entaku no Seito‘s. They really have a lot in common: the hero failed to beat the boss 100/1000 years ago, he’s been revived/reincarnated, he has to get a new team together, some of his party members are descendants of his old crew, the hero failed last time because his bonds with his team mates were too weak, he has to strengthen his affinity with everyone, his best friend turned traitor and is the last-but-one boss, etc.
I guess it’s not that unusual to have the bad guy merely sealed away in the past so you have to finish him once and for all in the present, but Entaku is the one I played most recently so that’s the first one that came to mind. I thought from the trailers that Stella Glow would be Luminous Arc meets Ar Tonelico, but it was more Luminous Arc + Ar Tonelico + a heavy dash of Entaku no Seito. Three games I enjoyed very much and yet Stella Glow? Not so much.
Very good game, very, very annoying story. If you like SRPGs, Stella Glow is a must-play for you. Apart from the slow pace of battle, the gameplay is great. At 35-40 hours per playthrough it’s a meaty, satisfying experience as well. It doesn’t have nearly as much fanservice as you would expect from a harem RPG (avoid Nonoka’s ending, srsly) and the music is pretty good. I enjoyed all the witches’ songs. Plus bright happy colors! But, and it’s a big but, you need to have a high tolerance for anime cliches and dumb heroes and being forced to do things no gamer in their right mind would do. Go for it if you’re a self-proclaimed masochist like Alto, avoid if you have high blood pressure or would like to keep your sanity.