Stella Glow is the latest and unfortunately last title from Japanese Developer Imageepoch after filing for bankruptcy earlier this year. When it comes to making an exit they have produced a game that they should be proud to call their last. A strategy RPG that looks like it could get swept away in the sea of similar titles does really shine when given the chance. When I first started playing this game I was instantly engrossed and lost a good few days fitting in many hours of playtime when I could. It has been a long time since I have been captured by an RPG like this and being on a handheld console made it all the more accessible as we all take our 3DS to bed and into the bath right? So what makes a game that is so similar to many in the market actually stand out?
Stella Glow is set in a world that no longer has the power of song due to a war that broke out across the lands thousands of years before at which point God removed this power from the people except for five witches who are still able to use this gift . This story is focused on a young lad named Alto who has lost his memories through a tragic incident that had befallen his village (Just your typical RPG hero). He is taken in by Lisette and her mother and looks to be living a happy life as the village hunter. Things as you would expect don’t stay peaceful for long as Alto hears a mysterious song in the woods and goes to investigate. Enter the “Witch of Destruction” named Hilda who after a brief interaction warns Alto to leave the village. Standing his ground Hilda finally returns and uses her cursed song to turn the villagers into crystal. Alto confronts Hilda and is beaten, a hidden power inside of him called “tuning” is then awakened that he uses to awaken the “Water Witch” through Lisette. After being rescued by the Regnant Knights Alto’s story now begins to unfold and a quest to unite the witches of the world begins. On your quest you will be battling against Hilda through journey with her band of Harbingers, including one of which is a seriously messed up girl who is hell-bent on making Hilda happy at any cost (she fights with puppets and chainsaws).
Progression through the first part of the game is pretty slow and steady as you start to run through tutorials and meet up with new and colourful characters, this is a very dialogue heavy game but fear not for there is some good voice acting. There are a range of characters you will meet on your journey and each are very unique with strong personalities. I find that as with most RPG titles you will quickly form the main team you will end up using for most of the game (you are limited to how many you can take into each battle). Two of mine so far have been Rusty and Ewan. Rusty seems to enjoy a drink and spends a lot of time flirting with women but has some serious skills with a knife (also ginger, we share this in common). Ewan on the other hand is a well-known merchant who favours a sniper rifle (always my weapon of choice in games!) and is always looking out for the next deal that can be made. I actually found that the characters and the way they work together with their skills and personalities was one of the strongest points in the this game and really brought it to life.
If you are a fan of Tactical RPG games then you will instantly understand the gameplay and battle system that you will be presented with. There is little room for exploration in Stella Glow as most of this is done by selecting a location and arriving there rather than any kind of open world movement. For instance you enter a location and will be presented with options for shops and story locations. There is a world map that you can use but again it is limited to a path but will allow you to return to previous locations and enter battles to keep all your characters levelled up. Battles take plan on the typical grid based map with turn based combat, these battle are all about strategy and planning ahead of your enemy, one wrong move can really change the tide of battle and could end with you losing important characters. Each of your characters will have their own range of weapons and special abilities from close and ranged combat to aiding and gaming enemies with magic. The witches become assets through the game with their use of song that can affect all on the map, by defeating enemies you will raise the song bar that will increase their use especially against boss battles.
This game has one mechanic that really stands out and from the RPG’s I have played in the past and that is “Free Time”. The game is split between this and “Mission Time”, during free time you have the ability to spend time with your team, take on jobs to earn extra money or go exploring. Now with this mechanic you only get a few uses per free time so you will need to use them wisely. Spending time with your team unlocking affection with them, this is important and will gain characters abilities. There is also an underlying reason for the affection depending on who you build the highest with but I won’t spoil that for you. With the witches when you are building affection you will reach a point where you can’t go any higher until you “Tune” them (I warn you now, the cut scenes that are involved in Tuning are a little… well just weird), this involves Alto as the conductor entering into the witches heart and fighting a battle to unlock the withes true feelings and fears. The battle will be in the form of shadow versions of that character trying to defeat you as you reach the true witch. Personally on my play through I spent most of time building affection with characters rather than exploring and doing jobs as it didn’t really feel like much was gained from his that I could not get from battles during mission time. This mechanic is really interesting though as you only get a few uses each time so you will have to pick which characters to spend time with wisely.
Now onto shopping, there isn’t really much that any avid RPG won’t expect or know here. Your characters all have their own weapon and armour setup and of course you earn money and buy better equipment. I never found money to much of a problem, if I was low I would just go and grind a few battles on the map and easily get myself upgraded. What you will need to take note of is the “Orb” system, this I suppose would be like Materia from Final Fantasy VII. You have a couple of slots available on your characters equipment and can fit it with orbs which will add a special effect to your character. This can be anything from adding status and elemental changes to your hits, increasing experience received in battle or upping your attack and defence. Make sure to think about this carefully as you progress and pay attention to the areas you are going into to make sure that you are not setup with fire damage effects when going into a volcano, for example.
Overall I have to say this is one great game, I have been a long RPG on all fronts and this is one of the best tactical based ones I have played in a while. The story is really engrossing and the characters really add to that through their personalities and added comedy. It is not a game that will cause too much frustration or require too much thought on the battlefield but is certainly challenging. There are also multiple endings to the game including the one true ending so gives you room to replay and see how each plays out and of course no classic RPG title would be without some romance now would it. It is a real shame that this will be the last ever game that we get to see from Imageepoch but what a game to go out on. Go forth and give it a go, let us know what your thoughts are and let the witches sing.