I’ve been craving a handheld Strategy RPG for some time now and I’ve had my eye on Stella Glow. In a genre that doesn’t have that vast a library I can be quite picky, so let’s see how well Stella Glow compares.
Stella Glow is the last title from developer Imageepoch, who filed for bankruptcy almost one year ago, and is published in Europe by NIS America. The game follows Alto, a hunter from the small village of Mithra. Taken in by Listette and her mother after being found in the forest with amnesia, Alto has been living happily as a part of their family for the past couple of years. Until one day, when Alto hears a song coming from the forest, a curious happening because people can’t sing and it’s rumoured only witches can. Alto then happens upon Hilda who, while mysterious, is seemly friendly enough until she reveals she is the Witch of Destruction and crystallises the village and its inhabitants. Alto and Listette manage to escape this fate and are later rescued by the Regnant Knights. Once in the safety of the kingdom’s capital Alto and Listette join the 9th regiment to help stop Hilda’s rampage.
The premise may sound rather generic, and it is at the start, but eventually, it deepens and explores more interesting themes like prejudice and xenophobia. In combination with a rather small but extremely well thought out cast of characters the story is quite a joy to play through. The game also features an impressive localisation effort with a good amount of voice dialogue in English. Interestingly for a game of this genre, the amount of dialogue is kept surprisingly manageable. That is, except for the opening hours of the game which can drag on just a little too much but it’s smooth sailing from there.
Stella Glow puts forward a solid effort in its SRPG gameplay; like games such as Fire Emblem and Disgaea battles take place on a grid-based map. The player controls various characters moving them into position to attack the opposing enemies. If you’re a fan of SRPG’s then you’ll be in good hands as Stella Glow feels very familiar and is easy to get to grips with. Like Disgaea, maps make use of height advantage and positioning. Higher ground, terrain, and attacking from the rear can give you the advantage in battle but can also be used against you so beware when rushing in. In Stella Glow, you only have control over a small number of characters but each has their own unique weapon and skill set. This is something I prefer as you’re forced to work with what you have rather than creating the right team for the job. That might sound strange but I enjoy learning the ins and outs of each character and the strategy involved.
You can customise your characters with Orbs that can be equipped and bestow various abilities to your characters. As you progress you’ll come across better equipment with more orb slots allowing you to further customise in whichever way you see fit. As you gain more orbs you’ll want to start combining them to create even more powerful orbs. Outside of orbs, you have a very basic weapon, armour and accessory equipment slots but be watchful of enemy drops as you can snag yourself some awesome equipment that you can’t buy. Fulfilling certain conditions during battle can also yield some great items.
Outside of the main story and battles, you’ll be given a set amount of Free Time which you can spend talking to other characters and deepening your bonds. When you deepen bonds with other characters they will gain access to more abilities kind of like social links in the Persona series. You can also take on jobs to earn money or explore which can net you some good items. Each action you take during Free Time will cost time; you generally get three actions per each Free Time. Mission Time will continue the story and eventually lead to the next battle; you can revisit previous locations of the overworld map and battle to extra missions if you fancy it.
Visually, Stella Glow is impressive and probably as good as it will ever get on the 3DS. With the handheld really peaking graphics-wise with Bravely Default and games of the like, the ageing hardware will struggle to improve upon this. Either way, Stella Glow is a great looking game; the anime-style character portraits are reminiscent of Etrian Odyessy and maps are like Disgaea at their best. The game also boasts an impressive amount of voiced dialogue and a brilliant soundtrack.
It’s a shame that Stella Glow will be imageepoch’s last game, but what a game to finish on. Based on the initial trailer and screenshots, I was expecting some great SRPG elements and an engaging story from Stella Glow and I can safely say it delivers on all that and more. Combining a brilliant soundtrack and fantastic visuals each map continues to impress upon each visit and with multiple ending the replay value is high. Strategy RPG fans this title is not one to miss and it’s easy to grasp for newcomers to the genre so definitely give it a try if you’re on the fence.