Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars is kind of like two games in one. The first game is visual novel that bears a striking resemblance to a variety of dating simulations; the second game is a dungeon crawler RPG, complete with randomized levels, dozens of character classes and tons of skills and abilities for doing battle with hordes of monsters. The problem is, only one of these two games is worth playing.
Who would have thought that having kids with seven young ladies could save the world? That’s pretty much what Conception II is all about. The world of Aterra is in danger of being overrun by monsters that come out of Dusk Circles. It’s up to our protagonist, Wake Archus, to save the day by using his unique Star Energy—granted by the Star God—to enter the labyrinthine Dusk Circles, and defeat the bosses that dwell on the deepest floors, in order to sterilize the Dusk Circles. Wake is always accompanied by one of seven female classmates, and up to nine Star Children. Yes, nine. So a full party consists of eleven characters.
The Star Children are produced by a ritual called “classmating,” in which Wake and one (or two!) of the seven girls hold hands in a sexual enough way that it earned this game an “M” rating. If you’re curious about the naughty bits, it’s basically monotone character models (Sailor Moon transformation style) posing in fairly erotic positions, prior to the amazing moment of… er… hand holding. Frankly, I’m surprised the game didn’t scrape by with a “T” rating, but I digress. In any case, once the ritual is over, the player gets to pick a class for the Star Child, and voila, the kid pops out of a Matryoshka Doll and is ready for battle! It’s really that simple. There’s no pregnancy, no giving birth, no raising a baby, no parenting whatsoever… just instant kids, who unconditionally love their parents/commanders and exist for the sole purpose of fighting monsters as one of several dozen classes.
The storyline in Conception II justifies all of this classmating pretty well. The lengthy intro goes over the details about how the world came to be in such a dreadful state, why Wake is so special, and why producing Star Children is such an essential part of his job. But beyond that, it gives our hero the perfect excuse to “get to know” his seven lady friends as intimately as possible, because of course, the better their relationship, the more powerful the Star Children they can produce, and the better their chances of saving the world. We’re doing this for world peace, really!
As ridiculous as this all sounds, believe it or not, this is the part of the game that is worth playing; the dating sim! Throughout each of the game’s eight chapters, Wake can spend his time outside the labyrinths with the girls. Each time he does, the player can enjoy a chapter of the visual novel side of Conception II. Depending on dialogue choices and gifts, the mood of the girl will change, and that will have an effect on the power of newly produced Star Children.
The girls themselves are each unique, despite adhering to a fairly standard variety of anime character clichés, both in terms of personality and appearance. As you might expect from a dating sim, the girls range from short to tall, flat to busty, and innocent to mature, with every incremental difference covered, I imagine, to appeal to a variety of preferences among the target audience. But the characters themselves, in terms of how they are written, are actually quite interesting to get to know, and the individual story arcs are at times far more intriguing than the primary storyline.
I enjoyed learning about Fuuko, with kindness more powerful than fear, and Ellie, who is strong and good, despite having a dark secret, and a traumatic past. Narika, Chloe, Serina and Feene each had worthwhile storylines as well. But my favorite character was Torri, who I can fondly compare to Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series for her quirkiness. What can I say? I love a good oddity. In any case, if there is an argument to be made for Conception II as a whole, it is the quality of the dating sim, from its writing to its voice acting, which might make it worth playing to the right player.
The Wrong Inspiration
Unfortunately, the rest of Conception II falls abysmally flat. It seems that the developers were influenced by the success of Persona 3 and Persona 4, because the dungeon crawling bears a striking resemblance to both of those games. But if there was a single part of those games not worth replicating, it would be the dungeons. I have often said that the randomized floors were a step back from the rest of the Shin Megami Tensei series, which featured hand crafted dungeons full of puzzles and traps. But if Persona 3 and Persona 4 were a step in the wrong direction, then Conception II takes the same step and trips all over it.
Every single level of every single dungeon in Conception II is laid out with the exact same features: square rooms filled with monsters connected by safe and narrow hallways. That’s it. No exceptions. The first floor of the first dungeon is no different than the last floor of the last dungeon, aside from the ferocity of the monsters within and the abundance of traps. I don’t think I’ve ever been so bored dungeon crawling as while I wandered the monotonous squares and halls of Conception II. The optional content, which consists of nothing but fetch and kill quests, only emphasizes just how bad the dungeon crawling is. Even the Star Children themselves frequently complain about how everything looks the same.
Making matters worse is the battle engine, which for all its intricacies, ends up both needlessly complicated and numbingly simple. I could go into detail about the CHAIN system, which can be used to slow enemies down and earn extra rewards at the end of battle, or the various levels of Ether Density and their effects on turn speed, or how 3 Star Children only count as a single unit in battle, or how the battlefield is divided up by enemy positions and the four quadrants around them, or the importance of intercepts, elements, Seventh Bursts and the ability for Star Children to Mecunite, but seriously, what’s the point?
What’s the point when 99% of the combat scenarios I experienced were won by turning on auto-combat and healing up in between fights? That’s what it boiled down to; auto-combat and endless, monotonous, randomly generated sets of squares and halls. And there was certainly no need for me to learn about the 30 character classes in the game, or the hundreds of class abilities and combination skills, when defeating enemies was as simple as pushing a single button. Inventory management was quite the same. I could have spent hours poring through menus, picking and choosing specific gear for my party, and trying to min/max to the best of my ability, but frankly, pressing the “team best” equip button did the job just fine.
Beyond that, there was no reason for me to become attached to any of the Star Children I created. The vast majority of them were dismissed seconds after their “birth” for the purpose of improving the city and its various shops, without ever seeing battle. And the few that I did take into the labyrinths would inevitably be replaced, because as the main character and heroines level up, the potential of the Star Children they produce increases as well, both in terms of base stats and level cap. Every Star Child will eventually outlive its usefulness, even the genius children with the maximum level cap, whose base stats will cause them to eventually become obsolete. Character creation could have been this game’s greatest feature, but is instead just a thing you have to do alongside the dungeon crawl in order to eventually get back to the good part of the game: the dating sim.
So the question is, is the good half of this game good enough to make the bad half worth trudging through? Honestly, it’s a tough sell. I enjoyed the visual presentation, which is far more animated than the average visual novel—though I can’t help but to wonder if this was just an excuse to use jiggle physics. I also liked the voice acting and the music, which were both good at worst and great at best. But damn, I can’t think of a single good thing to say about the dungeon crawling. It was an absolute chore, and in this day and age where we have so many choices as gamers, it’s just hard to justify spending so many hours on a game where the gameplay isn’t fun. Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars might have been a better game if the dungeon crawling RPG aspect of it was entirely removed, and for that reason I can’t recommend the game, despite the strength of its better half.
Ari completed Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars in 42 hours. He received a copy of the game from the publisher for review purposes.
+ Storyline and characters
+ Voice acting and music
-Boring dungeon layouts
-Pointlessly complicated battle engine
-Auto-battle wins most fights
-Star Children always become useless
Available on: 3DS, Vita
Version Reviewed: Vita