Platform: Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita (reviewed)
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Hours Played: 26 hours (DNF)
Favorite Part: Most of the dating sequences are actually quite fun.
I seldom find it difficult to review a game that I strongly love or hate. The intensity of my disdain or admiration is typically more than enough to fill a page with my respective ranting or raving about the title.
It’s those games that fall somewhere in the middle that trip me up. Games I generally like, but not quite enough to earn my stamp of approval, let alone a recommendation to my friends or readers.
Which brings me to Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars, a game I like, but only sorta. Despite its pretty face and shameless premise, it struck me as shallow, repetitive, and unfortunately lost my interest. Yet I somehow spent 26 hours with Conception II, playing long after I grew weary of its routine. Explain that one.
Conception II is a dungeon-crawler dating sim packed with quasi-clever innuendo and harem anime clichés. You play as a post-pubescent high school student (natch) named Wake Archus (or whatever you decide to call him). Wake is quickly identified as “God’s Gift,” an individual with a greater “Ether Count” than all other male disciples, which is apparently a big deal.
Boasting a 100% success rate when conceiving “Star Children” with S-Rank female students, its your job to build an army of magical toddlers to aid you in your war against evil. Overall, I found the story to be somewhat convoluted, throbbing with nonsensical techno-babble and terms like “X-Machina,” “Dusk Spawner,” and “Curaoke.”
While the cast of Conception II is likable, they’re straight out of an encyclopedia of anime stereotypes. There’s your – er, physically underdeveloped tsundere with a heart of gold, your shy military girl who doesn’t know what all these new feelings are, the super-talented megastar teacher/diva (who’s your age, because reasons) – and the rest…
You see, while the characters aren’t all that bad, they’re nothing special either. Despite a handful of feeble attempts at drama, I never cared all that much whether Fuuko solved that pool-haunting ghost’s problem, whether Serina saved the theme park, or whether Narika was able to get through her debate without cracking under the pressure of her weighty self-esteem issues (and equally hefty bosom). Even the most climactic story events are – well, dull.
That said, dating is coincidentally the most entertaining part of Conception II. You actually have to pay attention to each girl, making decisions based on what you learn about her through interactions and context clues. While you can give her gifts to help earn her favor, it’s a matter of determining which gifts she’ll like most – not just feeding her whatever you can find like in Harvest Moon. While there’s never a true feeling of consequence for your actions, the best choice isn’t always the one you’d expect.
Developing a strong relationship with each of the game’s seven heroines is critical to creating more powerful Star Children, which is done through a process called “Classmating.” Conception II leaves the mystery of Classmating intentionally vague, but I think the highly suggestive, sexually charged montage that plays whenever you do the deed speaks for itself.
Once you’ve created and assembled a squad of your favorite battle babies (I should really trademark that…), it’s time to descend into a Labyrinth. With nine children and two main characters to consider, I found party and equipment management tedious, leaning on the better judgment of the “Equip Team” option to do the thinking for me.
Much like the rest of the game (and to a greater extent), the Labyrinths in Conception II are terribly dry. Aside from a few variations in the textures, colors, and in-battle enemies, little changes from stage to stage. It’s the same monotonous droll I choke on when playing games like Flappy Bird and Candy Crush, leading me to wonder why I bother putting myself through such tedium in the first place.
As your Star Children grow, they’ll reach a level cap, meaning its time to release them into the streets, granting their independence. Doing so levels up the city, unlocking a fistful of new things to do and items to buy. You can release Star Children at any level, but the city gains more experience if you train them first in the Labyrinths or Day Camp.
Equally redundant is the battle system. In my Bravely Default review, I lauded it for its deep combat that forces you to stay on your toes and consider your actions carefully. Conception II is the polar opposite. It’s possible to coast through the game on auto-battle, only taking control to bring down a boss or fight more efficiently when health and mana restoration items are running low. At least you have the option to speed up the mundane animations.
While the Labyrinth designs are nothing to write your mother about, Conception II is beautiful on the Vita. The character designs are vivid and alluring. Everything rolls along at a smooth frame rate, and in case you were wondering: Yes, there are jiggle physics, even during the 2D exposition segments of the game.
Sadly, the developers decided to crowd the screen with an obnoxious HUD that blocks your view as you stumble through the Labyrinths. You barely get to see the nothing around you, because you’re overwhelmed by a giant map, the faces of Star Children, and an occasional speech bubble from one of the squeaky-voiced tots, reminding you about something important (like how much he loves you or how little he likes the scary monsters).
Fortunately, Conception II‘s music is as strong as its visuals, with a catchy array of pop and rock tunes that will cling your ears and thoroughly Classmate with them. While I doubt you’ll spend much time listening to it outside of the game, I think you’ll enjoy Conception II‘s soundtrack if you liked the music from games like Persona 3 and Persona 4.
Shiny, but Shallow – Try It!
I know, I know. I came down somewhat hard on Conception II, despite saying I like it about 1,000 words ago.
But while Conception II does what it set out to do – which it does fairly well – it’s lacking. Sure, the dating sections are fun, but tiresome dungeon-crawling and a timid difficult curve led me to stop caring enough to keep playing.
With no pressure or need for time management, even the social elements in Conception II feel somewhat vacant, only serving to break up all that dungeon-crawling. You wind up going through the motions again and again. And again, and again, and again.
If you’re still considering Conception II, play the demo first. It’s a very well-equipped game – perhaps you’ll find more to love than I did.