SRPG’s (Strategy Role-Playing Games) have been around for donkey’s years. Primarily a Japanese style, but often compared tactical RPG’S in the west, they have enjoyed wide success in both the east and west for years. Most modern variations combine visual novel elements with more traditional JRPG tropes, with the vast majority combining deep, team-turn-based combat mechanics with deep management mechanics and item/time management. Popular ones across in the west include the Disgaea, Hyperdimension Neptunia, Valkyria Chronicles and Fire Emblem series’.
Another well-known Japanese series was the Luminous Arc franchise. Whilst the first game was met with mixed reviews in the west and the rest were only released in Japan, they were quite successfully received and led to a decent amount of success for their developer, Imageepoch Inc.
Unfortunately, Imageepoch Inc. filed for bankruptcy in 2015, citing declining sales and debt, but not before finishing one last title; Stella Glow. Released in Japan a few months after the company’s dissolution, the game was so well received that it was lined up for a western release…and here we are!
The question is this; will Imageepoch’s swan song be a crescendo or will it be a sour note?
Stella Glow is set in a world without song. According to an early encounter with the game’s antagonist, it is said that the world’s God took away mankind’s ability to sing as punishment for their arrogance, leaving only Witches with the ability. Probably a good move actually, bearing in mind that singing is literally magic there. Music itself is common; it’s just singing which isn’t.
So when today’s token amnesiac orphan – aptly named Alto – loses the village which took him in to a Witch’s song, he begins a journey to save this world with his “sister” Lisette. It’s a pretty simple setup to any JRPG and not completely unexpected, but whilst the plot is littered with everything you’d stereotypically expect in this kind of game it performs with a fresh, honest take. Certain things that could be cringey end up as cute and the plot is honestly better for them. It’s everything you’d expect, but that’s a good thing.
Along the way they meet a variety of trope-heavy characters; each with their own unique stories, abilities and styles of play. There isn’t exactly much in terms of player-led customisation, but each one evolves into their own rounded class and role. Whilst some develop into damage dealers with a twist, others take up the tropes you’d expect in terms of their gameplay and their character as a whole. Even the witches you gather throughout the game feel unique, not just taking up the role of glass cannon which you may otherwise expect. The second witch you acquire, as an example, is a prime example, being a complete contrast with a bow and the ability to jump and fly all over the shop.
It’s great to have these options; different characters with different offensive, defensive and movement abilities really make a huge difference to the gameplay.
In addition, they’re incredibly well written and relatable, which make the visual-novel elements a joy to experience.
The game progresses in a mainly linear fashion, controlled by the “Destiny Clock”; marking out clearly defined times for town exploration and mission completion. In your free time you can hang out with party members, do jobs around the capital city and explore the nearby countryside as examples, whilst in mission time you can go around and fight monsters, grinding for levels, and progress the storyline. Whilst I feel this works really well as a method for breaking up the game, the free time feels incredibly limited, especially at first, and especially bearing in mind how useful the abilities gained by spending time with companions can be.
Battles themselves are incredibly fun, with good enemy variety and plenty of interesting scenarios. Whilst it may boil down to the same “run here, flank that, hit that” pattern, it’s good, fun stuff which surprisingly doesn’t feel too repetitive. New characters are introduced steadily so it never gets stale.
Whilst it isn’t quite as deep as I wanted it to be, the mechanics are solid enough to stand firmly on their own two feet without feeling too easy.
The presentation of the game as a whole is also phenomenal. The art style is well tied together with well-drawn anime-style graphics and beautifully designed locations. Whilst the battle style is very chibi-esque, the fact that short, more detailed animations play on attacks does help the overall feel of battle. Also, whilst it does fall into the trap of static character images during the visual novel sections, IE used the 3D of the 3DS to great effect by laying the backgrounds perfectly, preventing these sections from being bland.
As is fitting of a game with a focus on music, the soundtrack is also pretty immense. Well-orchestrated, the background tunes never feel repetitive and enhance the overall pace. In addition, the English voice acting is nicely recorded, despite the fact that it’s pretty arbitrary whether or not certain lines are recorded. All of the big story moments have voice acting, but some parts clearly could have benefitted from recordings.
Having never played an Imageepoch game before, I came into Stella Glow without any expectations, and in leaving it I truly mourn the developer. As a swan song, it’s a sad ending to an album which should have just kept on going. All in all, Stella Glow is a wonderful title with so, so much to offer fans of JRPG’s and SRPG’s alike. With over 40hrs of gameplay, I had an absolutely wonderful time with it and I wholeheartedly recommend you give it a go.