There are games that you buy and play because you’re confident that they’re going to be excellent based on any number of factors including developer’s past games, falling into a preferred genre, or simply word of mouth. Then there are titles that get picked up out of morbid curiosity, either because they’re so bad or offensive they just have be seen to be believed, or have such a bizarre concept that you just have to check it out. Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars fell somewhere between these two camps for me, though knowing what I know now I could probably have been sated just from the demo alone.
Conception II shares the same developer as another of this year’s Vita releases, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, which was an incredibly enjoyable and solidly written visual novel. It also had its share of bizarre traits, such as a sadistic robotic bear that serves as headmaster and primary antagonist. So to have the opportunity to play an RPG by this same company built upon a premise of bearing children for the sake of saving the world, I had assumed that the writing alone would have me laughing all the way until the credits. And while the game is certainly funny in places, it tries too hard to make the same joke for the whole forty hours it will take you to get through it.
The world of Conception II is a dreary one, a world in which Dusk Circles have opened up, unleashing an onslaught of monsters upon the populace. Mankind’s only hope lies with teenagers who bear the mark of the Star God upon their hands. This mark disappears once they become adults, so once such a mark is discovered, these gifted teens are ushered into an academy where they are trained to fight off these beasts. The protagonist, Wake Archus, is one such teen. He finds that he is exceptionally gifted as the academy discovers a rare amount of Ether in his body, leading him to be called “God’s Gift” and is a sure bet when creating Star Children with the S ranked females at his school.
Yes, you read that right. As the game’s title implies, the primary gimmick of the game is the ability to conceive children with any of the main female heroines in the game. This is done through the act of… uh… “Classmating” with them, which despite the strong implications, does not include sexual contact of any kind. In fact, that is one of the long running jokes throughout the game, driven home by the characters’ dialogue every step of the way. One of Wake’s fellow disciples very early on makes it a point to give you permission to make children with his sister as if this in itself is supposed to be a punchline. Oh Chlotz, you are a RIOT. I guess what I’m getting at is that while the juvenile humor is genuinely funny at times, the game tries way too hard to beat you over the head with it. Plus, the rest of the story isn’t well written enough to carry it otherwise, instead becoming more of a detriment. The entire intro is one big information dump filled with an array of terminology, tutorials, and heaps of dialogue with no substance. The characters aren’t even particularly likable, making it even more of a nuisance to trudge through.
While they take different approaches to the same concepts, Conception II bears striking similarities to the later Persona games, which makes it impossible not to draw comparisons. Much like Persona, you spend a good amount of time venturing into randomly generated dungeons that share in a central theme, while trying to traverse the numerous floors required to finally reach the boss. However, rather than just bringing four characters with you, you actually bring in four PARTIES of characters. Your main party consists of the protagonist and a heroine of your choice. The other three will be comprised of three star children each, meaning you’re actually bringing eleven characters at once into dungeons. This sounds overwhelming from a command entering standpoint, though each group acts as a single unit, so it’s not as bad as it would initially seem.
As you explore the many dungeons (named after the seven deadly sins of all things), you’ll find blobby looking dragon heads wandering around, with their color and appearance dictating the difficulty of the encounter. Touching them will engage in a battle, which is strictly turn-based. Position matters though when determining the effectiveness of your attacks, so when each party’s turn begins, they can stand on either side of any enemy you are engaged with. Red and blue arrows indicate the strength of your hit, making it easy to exploit their weaknesses.
Aside from just attacking, you also have the option of using skills (which pulls from a pool of everyone in that party), items, guarding, escaping, or a form of auto-battle. The Star Children have access to an ability called Mecunite which combines them into a Star Angel like some toddler version of Voltron. There are a number of variables that come into play too when spending a turn, including intercepts (which causes a party to act out of turn for the benefit of another), elemental affinities, chains that slow down monster speed, and ether density that increases your own speed. If that sounds like a lot of meaningless crap to pay attention to, you’re not alone. Since you can continue your game from the demo, I forgot what most of it meant by the time I played the retail version and ended up just picking a position and attacking for nearly every battle. In fact, this will serve you just fine until the game hits a difficulty spike, though even that can be overcome with enough power-leveling.
Outside of dungeons, there’s an entire city filled with facilities to make use of. Your dorm room serves as a place to save your game and organize your party. The academy is where the majority of the story advances occur as well as a place you’ll regularly visit to chat with NPC’s and engage in bonding events. You’ll find that the bonding events are very similar to the social links in Persona, as spending time with the various heroines will increase their mood and intimacy levels, which in turn affects the potential strength of the Star Children that they bear. Sometimes these events will even require you to touch them with the touchscreen to advance the sequence, because of course they do. Unlike Persona though, the heroines are largely forgettable and I found myself wanting to skip the majority of the text in their individual sequences. Looking back, the only things I can recall about any of them are that Fuuko is a good swimmer and Narika has large breasts, which apparently is the only thing other characters know about her, because that’s all they talk about.
Classmating is done in the church, and can be performed so long as you have enough Bond Points in which to do so. The characters talk as if they are about to do the nasty each time the ceremony is done, though all they do to produce a child is hold hands and think really hard. You’re then asked to pick a class and a name for the child, and they sprout out of a matryoshka doll. Later, you can eventually participate in “Trimating”, which you and two of the heroines engage in a three-way hand-holding session in order to produce classes not normally attainable for the Star Children. Yes, the innuendos in this game go very deep down the rabbit hole.
Other facilities at your disposal include a shop to buy and sell items, a guild and a research facility for taking on side quests, a daycare of sorts for your Star Children, a training facility for revisiting old dusk circles for profit, and a gift shop for buying the heroines presents. Once your Star Children become independent, a facility opens up that allows them to scavenge for treasure, which is nice since making them independent removes them from your party forever, though it does level up your city and facilities. There’s also a Comm Station for Classmating with your friends’ heroines (oh boy) and importing DLC. There wasn’t much for DLC at the time of this writing save for some free item packs, a quest, and some skins, though in Japan there’s content involving Monokuma from Danganronpa, so I hope that at least makes its way out here.
On the presentation side of things, most of the cutscenes are done with still portraits and text, though the portraits at least react to the things being said. The artwork is colorful though and generally well done, plus the character models used in the dungeons and bonding events are rather nice as well. Every character brought into dungeons are present at all times, so you will constantly have an army of children in tow as you explore each room. Some of the more pivotal scenes are done with actual anime sequences, including a few where the characters transform Sailor Moon style before entering a dungeon.
The voice acting is fairly solid, though it’s a bit of a waste given the weak dialogue. Still, the characters are at least well cast given their personalities. The soundtrack likes to leap between serviceable and incredibly bizarre at a whim, which actually makes me glad there was a CD pack-in. When a new Star Child enters the world, the game sings “Congratulations on your new arrival” to you, plus there are numerous other Jpop flavored tunes that play while performing tasks around the city.
Conception II is a tough game for me to judge because in theory it shares a lot of elements with games that I enjoy immensely. If it walks like a Persona, and talks like a Persona, then it must be a Persona, right? Unfortunately, the writing doesn’t come anywhere close to being as interesting as a Persona game or even Spike Chunsoft’s other games. It takes its own ridiculous premise way too seriously, and doesn’t offer up likable characters to fill the void. That leaves the gameplay, which shares in the same problems as such developers as Sting and Compile Heart, in which they introduce way too many obtuse mechanics that impede enjoyment rather than enhance it. I had to keep asking myself if I was still having fun with the game, and when it reaches that point, you know that it’s time to turn it off. Conception II is not bad, per se. But playing it won’t exactly enrich your life either.
Short Attention Span Summary
If you’ve always wanted to go dungeon crawling with your children, but don’t have the time or the money to conceive some of your own, then look no further than Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars. That said, despite trying its best to ape all of the good aspects of the later Persona games, it falls short in both the writing and the combat. Its ridiculous premise will no doubt illicit some laughs, though it takes itself way too seriously for the chuckles to last more than a few minutes. Despite all of the options that it gives you, combat becomes something of a bore very early on until the game finally decides to turn the heat up on you, in which case it turns into a grind fest. Conception II is not a bad game. But it could have been a much better game, and as such, is one of those titles that you’ll only bust out if you have nothing else to play.