(Review by Misya McLachlan)
Stella Glow is a deeply emotional and artistically beautiful strategy JRPG developed by Imageepoch who had previously developed the Luminous Arc series. Stella Glow was published to North America by Atlus on November 17th of 2015 which was unsurprisingly an entire 5 months after being published in Japan by Sega, Stella Glow is one out of a small hand full of games to be released exclusively to the 3DS in the final months of 2015 and is one of the best to end off the year for JRPG fans who prefer Nintendo’s handheld. At launch buyers could get their hands on a special launch edition which gave buyers three options rather than only being able to choose between a digital copy or a basic physical copy as most 3DS games are limited to, of course the special launch edition includes some bonuses which are pretty nice considering it is the same price as the basic and digital copies but for those looking for the launch edition now it naturally won’t be as easy to find. The box art for the game is very reflective of how beautiful the in game art is and shows each character’s unique looks and personalities down to their facial expressions.
Stella Glow begins with Alto who is a young appearing amnesiac found two years prior to the events in the game by a young girl named Lisette who brings him to her home in Mithra Village, Lisette and her mother take Alto in and he adjusts to his new life as part of the village. Alto lives happily with Lisette and the other villagers for two years until Hilda the witch of destruction arrives and sings her song of ruin crystallizing their village and all of the other villagers, fortunately the stone which Alto had given to Lisette the day prior to the village’s crystallization happens to be a special magical stone known as a qualia and Lisette’s body absorbs the stone during their battle with Hilda causing Lisette to transform into the water witch. Hilda orders her follower Dante to kill Lisette but knights from the capital soon interfere and chase Hilda off, due to Lisette’s new powers the leader Klaus covers their faces and brings them to the capital to speak with Queen Astasia.The queen tasks them with finding the other 3 witches to execute her plan to save the world from Hilda, each witch represents their own element and has different songs to use in battle but by singing together they can undo the crystallization done by Hilda’s song of ruin. As the game progresses it becomes evident that nothing is as it seems and Alto must choose his path and work with the witches to save the world.
The game features a unique cast of characters and no character on the team plays a minor role in uncovering the truth and saving the world, you can choose how much Alto interacts with each character during free time and increase their bonds thus influencing their strength in battle and the final outcome of the game. The witches gain skills just like the other party members but their main abilities are their song magic, some of the far more powerful song magic requires the conduct command which only Alto has but all of the song magic requires a varying amounts from the song stone meter shown at the top left corner of the screen. There are some abilities which you can only get if Alto has maxed out his interaction with a character and the abilities gained through interacting with a character are personal and unique according to their bond with Alto, as an example I chose to max out interaction with Nonoka and her ability shows her comfort and new found confidence gained through interacting with Alto. You can form bonds of friendship with the other knights or more romantic bonds with the witches, beware of the heart chains on the witches as they block being able to further interact with them until you tune them at the tuning hall.
The battle system is straight forward as it is very much like Final Fantasy Tactics or Record of Agarest War with more unique commands, it actually feels more interactive than other tactical or strategy JRPGs and at times it is faster paced. Leveling up is not difficult as with most tactical JRPGs or at least not for the characters you use in battle since only the characters used in battle will level up, once you get to the level of the highest level monsters on the field it becomes a bit harder to level up for each level past the highest level enemy. There are items called orbs which can increase your power, add effects, or increase the experience your characters gain in battle by attaching them to your weapons and armor……it’s somewhat similar to attaching materia to your equipment in Final Fantasy 7.
One of the best aspects of the game is its magnificent soundtrack since there is so much variety in the music and at times it had such a dramatic sound, the battle music is dramatic much like the music from Odin Sphere but has a more hopeful tone. The start menu theme is sad and beautiful unlike any other song I have heard, I think anyone would cry if they left it playing too long. And finally we have a dark yet airy tone in the capital and on the map which has a lighter less dramatic feel to it, the soundtrack does not lack in variety and blends well together to set the overall tone of the game. This is hard to say as a long time Ar Tonelico fan but speaking honestly just from the music alone this game has a darker and more dramatic tone and each witche’s song magic resonates with me more on a personal level since it shows not only the witch’s heart but every aspect of their being. Now looking at the art….the art is all over the place in its style from the dramatic look of the backgrounds to the cutesy chibi look of the character on the field but it seems to balance out the tone set from the art as a whole. Though the art isn’t particularly special it is still beautiful and colorful, not cutting edge but not sloppy either which gives the game a simple charm as well as a nostalgic feel. Each aspect of the game blends together better than seen in most RPGs, while I have been missing a lot of the dramatic music and colorful art once seen in JRPGs this game has brought back all of the things I loved about PS1 and PS2 RPGs but with a bit of a modern touch.
Stella Glow is certainly a dramatic and dark game and never runs out of mysteries to uncover as you get deeper into the story, many of the mysteries that unfold will have you surprised as they aren’t typical at all. Many of the characters are unique and completely unlike any I have seen in other RPGs with a few exceptions, namely Hilda who reminds me of Myr from Ar Tonelico which this game could indeed be a great replacement for. The music and art are not lacking in variety and work well to set the tone of the entire game, the Song magic is more personal to each character and adds greatly to the soundtrack while the animations used for the song magic deepens the meaning of each song. If you are a fan of Ar Tonelico then this game can fill the void and for JRPG fans in general this game can give you a feeling of nastalgia and bring you back to the elements that made JRPGs so great in the first place. I highly recommend this game to anyone looking for an emotional and meaningful JRPG and for those looking to try out JRPGs this could be a great starter game.
PROS: Dramatic Music, Beautiful Art, Unique Characters, Deep Story
CONS: This is Imageepoch’s Final Game
SCORE – 98%
This review is based on a purchased copy of Stella Glow on the Nintendo 3DS.