Review by ArgentumVir
Shake Hands, Make Babies!
Conception II is a JRPG made by Spike Chunsoft. A friend recommended this game to me, so I had no idea what to expect other than the insane concept: Shake hands, make babies! I can safely say that any expectations I might have had would have left me woefully unprepared for the surprisingly complex RPG that is Conception II. That complexity is perpetuated through a simple battle system is also a con for those new to the genre. C2 bears a striking resemblance to the Persona series (which I'll draw several comparisons throughout this review), but manages to make itself different in many ways.
Conception II takes place in the fictional world of Aterra, which has been at war with the forces of darkness for many years. Teens between the ages of 16 19 will sometimes notice the Brand of the Star God on their right hand. This denotes them as individuals with an above normal concentration of Star Energy and are promptly whisked away to an island where they train at an academy to fight the monsters.
You play as [insert player name here], we will simply refer to him as Wake. Wake's job is to fight the forces of darkness by creating babies: The Star Children. Everyone say it with me, Alright!
Filled with all kinds of lewd innuendo and sexual themes, the game incorporates a Relationship management type system, which is not tied to a time table like the Persona series. On the surface this seems counter-intuitive and shallow, but it makes the game much more accessible than the Persona series.
That pick up and play aspect is what makes a portable game successful, and I found that C2 has been more than accommodating there. I never worried that I'd lose track of where I've been and what I did before.
What the game lacks in its sim mechanic depth, it more than makes up for it in the story department. The story is typical anime fair with several twists. If you're familiar with the style of story, then you already know what I'm talking about. Some of them were obvious, but I found several to be good twists. The story is surprisingly deep, much more that I expected from a game that takes advantage of testosterone via the promise of a harem. It's not Persona level, but no one was expecting that.
Anyway, the girls all have qualities that suits their niche. There's the tsundere, the innocent girl, the ditz, the shy one, etc. But, they all grow in character. Each one of them made visible improvement which I feel many games with a similarly sized cast or smaller actually fail at (P4 for instance had some really great ones, but also some really shallow ones). Even if you're not a fan of the archetype, you'll likely find the girl to grow on you in one way or another. I never found myself dreading, or avoiding interaction like I did with P4.
That aside, each girl only has a handful of personal events. In-between those are more generic conversations to fill your BP (bond points) or relationship bar. These can get tedious, but are varied and bearable.
After you've had your round of tea and sexual harassment, you can then partake in the suggestive bonding/mating rituals which create the Star Children. You unlock other options later (like different Matryoshka dolls and other stat boosting things), but for the beginning of the game, you select a girl and perform suggestive handshakes with her essence.
The star child is born and you select from a wide variety of classes. Some are obviously better than others, but they each seem to fill their own niche. After you have three, you can form a team. Different classes perform differently when coupled with others via team skills and passive bonuses. This is where the simple system takes on a more complex tone. It's a fairly steep learning curve, but once it clicks, you suddenly have a lot more fun looking for additional classes and find yourself making more frequent trips to the church. It's definitely worth your time in the end.
Once you've got your teams, it's time to hit the labyrinths. I simply refer to the beginning labyrinths as dungeons since there's very little path and floor variation. Monster variety takes hit here too, but slowly builds it's way up to palette swaps. Let's face it, JRPGs are notorious for this. Overall, I'm surprised that the game manages to still be fresh most of the time. I think the OST is what does the trick, but more on that later.
Monsters are presented to you as 3D silhouettes which can be interacted with. Standard dungeon crawler fair. The difference here is that some enemies feature the annoying AI traits I refer to suicidal behavior. They like to block my darn doors and chests. Later on in the game, this gets to be to worst thing that happens. I found myself frequently walking into a room, and then walking back out to see if I even need to visit it, and sometimes I didn't even bother to open a chest because some crooked turd decided to block it.
In battle, you're presented with a tactics styled weakness system. Enemies have their own facing and you can take advantage of their weakness at the cost of building the chain gauge (exploiting weaknesses generate less chain than a frontal assault). The chain gauge and ether density is a good example of a poorly implemented good idea. The idea is to punish the enemies until they break the gauge and get chained. This can slow them down and delay their turn, and each successful hit increases your damage. It's like the advantage system in Persona, but takes much more to trigger.
The problem isn't the gauge, but the fact that enemies die much too fast for it to be useful. C2 is basically easy mode until the third chapter. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but despite sharp increases in difficulty, the game remains fairly easy all the time, and the chain gauge becomes almost useless in the day-to-day grind.
Same thing goes for the ether density gauge. After funneling so many hours into my game, I still don't know what depletes my gauge and what fills it and why. I expect they wanted us to experiment, but there's no real benefit to completely understanding these concepts. I dare say, actually understanding them more would likely make the game even easier too. Currently, I've trashed every boss the game has sent my way with a solid chaining strategy and persistence. I don't think they're easy for newcomers to the genre, but to anyone with experience will all agree that there's an uneven level of difficulty when it comes to mobs versus bosses.
As a side note, the sub-labyrinths feel tacked on. You can get items to get other classes, but the reward for spending your time clearing them feels wasted as the items and experience gains are lower than the regular labyrinths. This also means that the training lab in Fort City is even more redundant and it's here that padding starts to bunch up and show.
The soundtrack is mostly ambiance. It's the one place that the game really shines in my opinion. Other than the BGM, the background noise is rather soothing. This keeps the game in a lax atmosphere that encourages exploration and experimentation than just rushing through the story.
I found the music to be very high quality. Both the battle music and the ambiance track suits the game very well. I know one of the dungeons had a great trance track that made me avoid monsters to hear it, and the BGM is very Persona-y with a punk j-rock feel. The music voices also seem to take a background to the actual fight. In P4 I felt the opposite was true, like the music was the main focus at times. Overall, it adds to the atmosphere in a good way.
The only thing I found lacking production-wise was the voice acting. It's not enough to bring the game's enjoyment level down since I like the great majority of the voicework, but a couple of the girls were kinda grating near the end, and Wake is just the icing on the cake. I couldn't help but laugh when he yells, Alright! It's a true visual novel self-insert style MC after all. Who DOESN'T want to be God's gift to women? G.G. other dudes, G.G.
The graphics are very colorful and spot on for the fictional world it outlines. The 3D is relatively free of jagged edges and the system performs well with battery usage. C2 does have very minor slowdowns in places, but overall, I have no complaints and am very satisfied with the art direction and animation quality. <3 Breast physics.
So, what we seem to have here is a poor-man's Persona. While I think it's an apt description, that's not quite true. The game manages to differentiate itself in multiple ways that make it the superior portable game. Accessibility and simple complexity come together to make a game that's easy to pick up, play and learn, but hard to master. C2 is definitely quite large, and will provide even the most hardcore gamer at least forty hours of game time. I believe most people who play RPGs can derive more than enough enjoyment to justify the purchase, and is definitely worth at least a rental.
-Pick Up and Play
-Simple Character Driven Gameplay
-Not Tied to a Time Table
-Large Amounts of Content
-Decent Story and Characters
-Great Ambient OST
-Nice Animation and Pleasant Graphics
-Steep Learning Curve
-Low Initial Difficulty
-Terrible Environment and Monster Variety
-Unnecessary Features and Obvious Padding
-Objectively Better Established Competition
Final Score: 7.3/10, or a GameFAQs 7/10
Author's note: I really enjoyed this game for what it is, a portable RPG. Most games forget what portable means in this day, and this is the latest Vita game to take advantage of it. I have to hand it to Chunsoft though. Anyone who has the stones to try a fresh spin on the tried and true dungeon crawler experience will always face stiff competition, especially on the Vita which has the likes of Persona and Soul Sacrifice.
The combination of everything really sets this apart from the competition, and I hope the next Conception game will further hone their particular traits. For now though, this is definitely a great game to add to your library if you're looking for a fresh[er] spin on the genre. It has its share of problems, but overall I think anyone who likes the genre should give it a shot.
Collector's Edition Section:
The game comes with a promotional OST disk with ten tracks in total. The box is pretty much a copy of the plastic sleeve that the game comes in, so it's not really all that special. It's a nice afterthought, but it's the barest minimum when it comes to special editions for those who look for them. Keep that in mind if you're being charged for the collector's edition.
Product Release: Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars (Collector's Edition) (US, 04/15/14)
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