Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Stella Glow is Atlus’ most recent title in their list of grid-based strategy games. Those of you who’ve played Luminous Arc for the Nintendo DS may notice some similarities between the two games right off the bat, such as the main character archetype and battle style. Those who haven’t played luminous arc may find a better comparison to the fire emblem or Disgaea series. Stella Glow blends a mix of storytelling, music and gameplay to produce a setting that’s sure to draw you in.
In Stella Glow you take control of the main character named Alto. Alto is a young boy who has lost his memories and was taken in by a local rural family that found him: Rosa and her daughter Lisette. His peaceful life is shattered however, when Hilda the Witch of Destruction, bearing powerful “song magic”, appears in his village. Alto’s quest quickly becomes a race to gather the other four witches of the world, to stop Hilda’s plans, and to save those that she threatens. Over the course of the Alto’s adventure, he meets new people and befriends new allies: some mature or brilliant, others… more “unique”. Alto and his newfound compatriots aspire to confront Hilda and her “Harbingers”, in an attempt to bring peace to the world.
The game unfolds in chapters which are conveniently divided and color coded into blue for free time and red for mission time on your “destiny clock”. During free time, you may speak with party members, perform odd tasks for cash, “explore”, or “tune” one of your witch party members. Speaking with party members will increase their affinity with Alto, and after reaching certain benchmarks, your party members will learn new skills (some passive and some active) for use in battle. Performing odd tasks is the equivalent of taking a part time job for a shop, and after enough time spent with the shop owners, they may provide you with a discount on their services.
“Exploring”, contrary to what you might expect, is simply Alto wandering around and maybe finding a useful item or piece of equipment. “Tuning” is an aspect unique to the Witch members of your party, and must be done in order to rank up their affinity with Alto. Tuning involves entering the Witches’ Spirit Worlds and helping them overcome their emotional distresses/scars. Tuning can be anything from: “reach the goal” to “kill all the enemies” or “perform this task”. Depending on the task this may constitute some serious thought into which characters you bring into the battle. During the mission phase is where you may engage in plot based events and fights.
Speaking of battles, the fights take place on a grid style map and are turn based, with the faster characters receiving more actions. Different types of terrain and attacking locations provide points of strategy, especially when some terrains types halve your movement range, or when back attacks both increase damage and prevent the enemy from countering you. In battle, your Witch teammates may be “conducted” into performing a map wide song at the expense of three of the Witch’s turns. These map songs can have various effects, such as fully healing all allies each time the witch’s turn rolls around, or significantly increasing the critical rate for the whole team.
As one would expect from a game that bases itself around music (song magic, tuning, main character is “Alto”), the soundtrack in Stella Glow is brilliant. Not only do the battle themes reflect both the area you fight in, but also the enemies that you are fighting. Of special note is the spirit world battle theme. It’s a little dark, a little eerie, and is symbolic of how “broken” the mind of the witch you’re tuning can be. Other notable pieces include the witch specific map-wide songs, which correspond to the witches’ elements, personality and background.
Overall, I have very few complaints about the game, most of which are primarily personal preference. For one, the “free time” with which to interact with your teammates is finite, meaning that you have to either choose between the characters you want to chat with, the characters whose skills you like, earning side money, tuning a witch, or roaming a random area in hopes of items. For someone like myself, who is a prime example of “must 100% complete”, having “missable” events disappear in front of you is incredibly painful. Thankfully, free battles on the world map are part of “mission” time, and do not take anything off your “time limit”. Another complaint I have is the rate of level progression. Party members you do not bring into battle do not earn any experience, so after 20+ hours of gameplay I had one character around level ten, while my mainly used members were pushing 30. Normally this would not be an issue as you could simply bring them to a higher-level free battle, and have them off an almost dead creature for a lot of exp.
What I’ve personally found however, is that monsters around your level (or desired level) in free battles give a pittance of experience, providing maybe 4-8 points for a level that takes 100 points to earn. Lastly, the difficulty rating of the game will flop between “challenging” and “really hard” depending on whether or not you decide to opt for the additional sub-objectives during battles. These objectives can be fairly easy, such as “all allies survive”, to outright questionable, such as “have Alto fight this enemy 15 levels higher than him and hope he doesn’t die”. While these objectives do provide you with some –usually– really nice items after battle, they are completely optional.
Overall, Stella Glow is a wonderful mesh of music, story and gameplay, and is sure to be liked by anyone who is a fan of either JRPGs or Turn Based Strategy Games.Score: 9 / 10