As you begin your journey of discovery in Alterra's Academy, and the other social structures therein you will give the hero of the game a name. Seeing as my name is Brad, the hero of my own tale sported my own namesake. You, of course can name him whatever you wish, or simply go with what the game gives you (Random ...). Once the hero is properly established you will be thrust directly into the part of the story where Alterra students are meeting up for the first time. There's a moment of danger, and even some hijinks explored before the new recruits meet up with the heads of staff. Upon meeting Mattero of the local church, Ruby of AngelMarker Labs, and some other students you will be informed on the duties required of you during your short lived stay at the academy.
It seems that the "Chosen" Disciples in this game begin their tasks as the Star God's Elite at an early age (16-20+), and retire after only a couple years of service. During that time span the Disciples must grow close socially, and must fight on the battlefield. Their daily life basically consists of dorm style schooling, after school activities, visitations to the church, and lab as well as the sexually suggestive "Classmating". The battles, of which I spoke earlier also play a huge role in daily activities, and will have you, and your accompanying heroine as well as their Star Children taking to the areas of threat known as 'Dusk Circles".
Dusk Circles, which are huge labyrinthine mazes found within the world surrounding Alterra are basically spawning points in which the "Monsters" are born. Like the titles of the seven deadly sins (Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, Greed, Envy & Wrath) these seven portals, or nests along with the Pandora Dusk circle at the center of Alterra each carry with them a sinful name and labyrinth designed around the theme of that sin. The Dusk Circles are each layered in floors, and are labyrinthine in nature. By taking your hero, and heroine as well as any Star Children you have birthed along with you you will travel from floor to floor making physical contact with shadowy avatar representations of the monsters, and engage them in battle afterwards. Between the hidden chests, and avatars the labyrinthine mazes of each Dusk Circle are nearly hollow. Keep in mind though that the monstrous inhabitants of the Dusk Circles respawn, and will fight you, and your party again if given a chance.
Before I get too far ahead of myself allow me to back up a bit. The hero of this game, which happens to be the main protagonist turns out to be a "God's Gift" early on in the story (practically at the beginning). This basically means that he was chosen as the savior of Alterra via the Star God himself, and was assigned to combat the overwhelming threat with the aid of the academy's heroines. Your duty as the "God's Gift" entails hard work, discipline, and overall "classmating". You must make the ladies of the game happy if you are to produce the Star Children needed to fight alongside you, and contribute to the well-being of Alterra's growing community. By maintaining a healthy relationship with each heroine you will be able to create superior Star Children in a variety of different class types.
As the main protagonist you'll have to access all of your daily activities, including that of classmating via the in-depth menu system that is in place. By choosing from the various locations on the overhead map of Alterra (Church, Lab, Training, Academy, Dorm, Comm, Labyrinth, Shop) you'll be able to progress the story, and tweak gameplay options as you carry on conversations with the appropriate staff, and students. These conversations which happen quite frequently come in an interesting variety that include both text only messages, and 3D rendered scenarios in which you will have choices to choose from that relate to what the individual is saying, or asking. Some of the conversations will be geared towards the scientific, or religious aspects of the academy while others will be all about improving upon student-to-student relationships. As you might imagine this strategic RPG is somewhat about romance, and in an indirect sort of way is also about love making. You have to keep people happy, or you'll miss out on many opportunities within the game. Some girls/heroines, or even male acquaintances will respond more kindly to certain replies while other will respond negatively to the response you have chosen, if you have chosen poorly. The whole relationship thing definitely requires your constant attention in that it will greatly affect many aspects of the gameplay.
Each location on the main Alterra map has a specific function in relation to the hero's tale. The Church, for example is where you'll go when you have enough "Bond Points" for 'Classmating". Bond points in the game are earned through "Academy" conversations, and through special boost fountains found with the Dusk Circle Labyrinths. By having enough Bond Points (100 BP), and a Matryoshka (think Russian Nesting Doll) you can mate with a classmate/heroine of your choice, and bring about Star Children in the process. The outcome, or quality of your Star Children greatly depends upon the heroine's level/rank, and her happiness status which is reflected in a smiley emoticon. By picking a truly happy classmate, and the generic, or attribute inclusive Matryoshka you will be able to produce the best Star Children possible, and might even score triplets if lucky.
Aside from the church, which is relevant in it's on important way you will find that a lot of the game's storytelling, and plot advancement takes place in the "Academy" menu of the main Alterra map. By accessing the "Academy" menu you can chat it up with select classmates via their accompanying avatars/pics. While the bottom portion of classmates can be visited repeatedly the top portion which contains picture icons of the heroines can only be visited in groups of three. This makes picking your favorites, and maintaining a steady relationship between them a challenging task. You definitely have to keep all girls/heroines in check if you hope to produce some noteworthy Star Children. Conversations between classmates, and staff will all be available here at the "Academy" from time to time.
When it comes to out of school activities you'll find that your hero, and his friends will often times need to visit the "Lab/Laboratory" to advance the plot even further. The "Lab" which bases it's theories on scientific proof, also works with the clergy of Alterra's church to produce results based on the data you've personally collected while out on the battlefield. Ruby, the head lady of the AngelMarkers research lab will have you doing all sorts of tasks in the name of science, and humanity's safety. It is here that you'll also take on quests which involve the clearing of certain enemy types, and objectives in order to score in-game currency (Glow Points) as well as special items.
Next up we have yet another major point of interest in the game's plot advancement. This mode which can be accessed via the main Alterra map menu is none other than the "Labyrinth". The "Labyrinth" menu option will allow you to travel by air from Dusk Circle to Dusk Circle as you combat the threats within, and capture the "Dusk Spawner (main boss monster)" who is loosing the evil inhabitants across the globe. The Labyrinths are titled using the seven deadly sin names, and each have multiple floors to explore as well as extra areas to return to after your initial playthrough. Aside from there being monsters, and treasures within each Labyrinth you'll also find escape exits, and floor entrances that will allow you to escape back to the academy if need be, or continue on until you've beaten the Dusk Spawner boss at the end. After fully completing a labyrinth you can return to the main menu to access the same labyrinth set at a higher difficulty in the "Training" menu. While you won't run into treasure chests in the "Training" facility you will be rewarded handsomely with in-game currency, and the occasional bond points or items.
For all of you wondering about the all inclusive information center, or save menu you'll find that the "Dorm/Dorm Room" which can be accessed via the main menu houses all of those needs. In the Dorm you can equip your hero, heroines, and Star Children as you see fit. You can also group them as you like, and set their battle tactics to your preferred setting. It's basically your one stop shop for all your party arrangements. For those of you looking for detailed background on certain characters, in-game events, and character stats you can find that in the Dorm's "database" sub-menu. Things like event specific videos, and a bestiary of the monsters, and items are all included here. This is also the spot where you will save your progress.
If you are interested in online features you'll be glad to know that with the proper amount of bond points you can take your classmating online via an "Ad-Hoc" option, and make Star Children with "Conception II" friends nearby. All it takes is a click on the "Comm" menu, and a session setup, and you're ready to engage in some wireless classmating. This mode of play is beneficial in that you can classmate with players of higher levels/ranks, and improve upon the quality of Star Children that you are able to conceive. Remember quality counts when it comes to breeding the proper Star Children.
About the battle system ...
The battles that take place within the labyrinthine Dusk Circles are one of the most unusual JRPG setups I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot). After touching an enemy's avatar representation within the 3D maze areas you will be thrust into battle, and have to confront the enemies within via a strategic squad positioning system. At any one given time you can have 3 sets of three Star Children, and a heroine of your choice by your side. This makes for four individual attacking/defending groups that can encircle an individual Dusk monster in the main four cardinal directions. By strategically placing a selected group (groups attack in order as do enemies) in a certain position around the monster you will either make a standard, weak point, or critical hit based on your positioning. If an orange arrow appears pointing towards the monster while in the position you are currently standing you will land a "Weak Point" hit, and possibly a critical hit depending on the "Ether" levels your party is currently experiencing. Weak point hits make for better damage outputs while standard hits (blue arrows) do the least of damage.
One thing I forgot to mention earlier is that "Ether", and "Dusk" energy are like the yin, and yang of the hero's universe. As a God's Gift the main protagonist, or hero can travel into the labyrinths due to his excessive "Ether" output. The "Dusk" energy on the other hand is what the monsters thrive on, and is what weakens the hero's capabilities. By continuously attacking your opponent in the game you can raise the ether count from "0" to "MAX", and in doing so can dish out some impressive damage. If the ether level should break though you, and your entire party will be at a disadvantage, and will deal weakened attacks as a result. Ether, and Dusk definitely play a significant role in the RPG combat system.
Aside from positioning, and ether levels you can also up the damage output by chaining attacks. If you have the first player dish out a "Weak Point" attack, and the next group in your party deal some damage in a standard/caution attack it will build upon your chain meter eventually causing you to do a serious amount of damage to the monster before you. In battle, and in the "Dorm" setup menu you can also change the tactics of your groups in order to automatically perform attacks, and actions based on different things such as chains. For example you could have one group focus on chains, another on healing, and yet another on full-on attacks. There's several different categories including the standard RPG defense, "Save Magic (focus less on using magic/skills), and even "No Skill". All you have to do to activate these automatic settings (after setting them, of course) is to press (TRIANGLE) during a battle engagement, and your control will switch from manual to automatic. This in turn will cause your assigned group to act according to your "Tactics" choices. While doing this can be risky it can also be beneficial if you know how to setup your groups properly.
As you continue to battle, and level up your party members with earned experience points you will unlock skills that can be used in battle. These skills range from special attacks to beneficial boosts that will aid in your groups' longevity. Of course the Main character, and his accompanying heroine will always do more damage, but if you level up your Star Children, and equip them with the best equipment they too can do some major damage in battle and help you out of some dire situations.
Before I conclude this section there is one more important aspect of monster encounters that I need to touch base on. Each monster's avatar color, and eye formation within the 3D mazes will clue you in as to how powerful the monster is you're about to battle. Basic enemies will have only one blue eye, and will be black/dark blue while more powerful monsters will be either yellow, or red with multiple yellow eyes. It's wise to know which enemy type is which before you engage in battle otherwise you might wind up on the losing end. As far as the boss battle go once you enter that final floor teleport you will immediately be put into battle against the Dusk Spawner boss. It's always best that you heal up, and refill your mana (the energy needed for skills & magic) before accessing that final blue portal. Going in ill-prepared is definitely not a smart thing to do.
About the characters ...
There are plenty of interesting characters within the world of "Conception II". You'll find that the hero that you play as is a serious, and often times awkwardly social character. He's a grey haired individual with one thing on his mind, and that thing is getting revenge for the loss of his people. I know you thought I was going to say "Classmating" (you dirty, dirty pervert ^.^). Other characters like the redheaded "Chlotz (the Hero's main guy friend)", and "Mattero (the church leader)" add comic relief to the story at hand. As far as the heroines go they are an odd bunch each with their individual characteristics. Not only do their bosoms, and height vary in size, but their appearances also vary greatly. Even their personalities vary accordingly. Chloe, who happens to be Chlotz's sister doubles as a teacher, and one of the hero's main classmating interests. She's intelligent, and is a busybody within the Alterra academy. Getting in time with her is a difficult thing to do. Fuuko on the other hand was gifted to you via the church, and the academy, and is your first classmating partner within the game. There's no need for further conversations, or interactions in order to win her over.
The heroine with the biggest chest (the most impressive in my opinion ^.^), and the shyest personality amongst the group of gals is "Narika". Narika's physical attributes are definitely attractive, and her shy personality definitely gets the attention of male Elites at Alterra. If I had the choice of only picking on heroine in-game it would be her! On the other end of the spectrum we have a petite, flat chested specimen with a grudge against men named, "Serina". This tiny little lady has a thing against out hero, and does not buy into his honest gentleman nature. Perhaps the most diverse heroine of the girls is a research subject known as "Torri". She's likely the most awkward of the heroines in that she knows little of the world, and it's goings on. When it comes to cute, and decently proportioned girls the star-eyed "Ellie" is the most giddy of them all. She's constantly greeting the hero, and engaging in pleasant conversations. Last, but not least we have a battle hardened heroine who goes by the name "Feene". Feene is a fencer, and Elite at the academy who aims to help the hero for something that he did for her.
All of the heroines in the game sport to different outfits during gameplay. In the animated story panels you'll find the wearing official Elite uniforms, and in battle you'll find them dolled up in revealing, sexy costumes. Each heroine can be gifted accessories (earrings ...) later on in the game, and can be dolled up even further in the process. As far as weapons go each heroine carries with her a specific type of weapon that can only be upgraded through the defeat off boss monsters. The weapons they carry range from swords to guns, and even energy based weapons.
When it comes to Star Children they too have their own distinct looks, and weapons. There are several Star Children classes within the game including, but not limited to "Gunslinger", "Swordis", "Cleric", and "Magician". Each of them will be born with the same hair color as their heroine mother, and will do best when that mother accompanies you. As you progress you will unlock more classes for the classmating ritual, and in turn improve upon your battle possibilities. Choosing which Star Children to fit into which groups will greatly affect the battle scenarios you engage in. Also choosing whether to let the Star Children to have independence, and help contribute to the Alterra community infrastructure, or to have them continue to assist you in battle will ultimately change the way your playthrough plays out.
About the Star Children ...
Like their parents the Star Children deal damage in a variety of different ways according to class, and according to element. Whether they are using normal attacks, skills, or magic attacks damage output is determined by the elemental boosts assigned to their weapons. In Alterra the land is governed by six elements. These elements include "Earth", "Wind", "Fire", "Water", "Ether", and "Dusk". While there are six elements in total only four of the elements (Earth, Wind, Fire, Water) are applied to weapons, and armor. By equipping your Star Children with these elemental weapons you can change the tide of battle, and deal damage greater than you could have otherwise. You can also defend against elemental attacks with armor fitted with the proper elements.
Aside from elemental attributes the grouping of your Star children also has an effect on the potential outcome of each battle. By pairing different classes of Star Children together in different formations you can perform some special in-battle group assist skills, and can even combine your three Star Children into giant mech via the "Mecunite" option in the battle menu. There are many different group combinations to try, and many different mechs that will emerge from the mecunite feature. Learning how to make the most of your Star Children teams, and their formations is the key to overcoming the more difficult battles within the game.
As I mentioned earlier Star Children will assume the hair color of the mother who helped conceive them. If you choose Narika, for example the children would have blue hair to match hers. This helps you to keep the Star Children in check, and also helps you to know which heroine you should take on a labyrinth outing with you. Remember that a matching heroine will always boost the effectiveness of the Star Children groups so long as they are matching. With that being said a heroine of any type can accompany mixed groups of Star Children as well, but with lesser effectiveness.
Another thing to note about Star Children in the battle scenario is that once their life/HP is reduced to zero they will transform back into a Matryoshka (A Russian Nesting Doll) so long as one of the Star Children in the group is still alive. Surprisingly they all three can still attack like this, but to a lesser effect. If all three Star Children in a group get KO'd though they will all vanish, and can only be resurrected with an item called "Bond Powder", or if you make it out of the labyrinth via an escape exit. Always mind your Star Children's, and your own HP during battle. If you don't mind the HP you can lose easily due to the fact that HP (Health Points) are whittled away fast in a battle scenario.
About the graphics & soundtrack ...
Spike Chunsoft (The Developer) has gone out of their way to provide a totally immersive experience that takes full advantage of all RPG archetypes. You have the dialogue heavy anime panels shown in a digital novel-like arrangement that are filled with moving, and speaking 3D representations of the heroines. You have 3D models of the main characters as well as the Star Children that you can see move around within the labyrinthine mazes as you direct them from the starting area to the finish, and you even have 3D cinematic sequences that are tied in with certain skills used in combat scenarios. For all you diehard anime fans you'll be glad to know that the developer also included in the game an amazing anime intro with impressive music, as well as anime sequences when you first begin a labyrinth playthrough. These pe-labyrinth anime intros show the main protagonist's costume transformation as well as that of the accompanying heroine's. For those of you interested in the anime inspired soundtrack there are plenty of instrumental, techno, and jazz inspired tunes to listen to as you visit, and revisit each part of the game. This game is definitely the all inclusive JRPG in regards to both visual, and audio offerings.
Now on to the verdict ...
There's a crap ton of content in this bountiful handheld JRPG. Not only are the menu options plentiful, but the character interactions, and plot material are also vast in nature. If played right you can put close to sixty hours, or more into gameplay in order to get the most out of your experience. This includes level grinding, and side-questing. With that being said though I'm sure there will be "Game+" options in place to further improve upon replay value. When it comes to plot material there's definitely plenty of it. As such I'd say that the game is mostly about story, and less about battle. I know that would turn some JRPG enthusiasts away, but that's not a bad thing in the case of "Conception II". The game's story is rich, and engaging throughout. Not one moment is wasted on idol chat, or mundane interactions. You'll definitely want to advance the story as often as possible to see what happens next, but in doing so keep in mind that you'll miss out on other impressive opportunities. Be sure to enjoy other important aspects of the game such as the in-depth battle system, and "Classmating" as well.
If you like JRPGs, and you like quality games with a massive amount of content then buying "Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars" is a no-brainer. I know that this review is getting to you on release day, but I did give you fair warning on Twitter about the soundtrack pre-order bonus. If you missed it, I'm sorry. You have to stay on top of that stuff. Regardless of whether or not you chose to go with the pre-order I'm going to give you the famous "Siskel & Ebert" "Two Thumbs Up" on this game! Spike Chunsoft (The Developer) did an outstanding job in making the PS Vita release. It looks smoother than most JRPGS on the Vita, and plays impressively as well. Even the soundtrack is awe-inspiring. Be sure not to miss out on the PS Vita release if you are a PS Vita owner!!!