Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars Review (Nintendo 3DS)
Hey, girl, lean in close. I know we've only had one conversation before this, but how would you like to conceive twenty children with me, then come run around a dungeon with me and the eighty children I've conceived with several other teenage girls? That's the question asked by Atlus' new RPG/dating sim, Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars.
During your babymaking/monster-slaying antics in Conception II, you'll play as the bland, renamable protagonist Wake (or whatever you might choose to name him. We called him Jose), who is a member of an elite academy of monster fighters tasked with repelling the dusk creatures invading the world. To beat these baddies you'll "classmate" with one of several girls to create an army of Star Children— supernatural kids who fight by your side as (somewhat) customizable party members. To make sure your Star Children are as strong as possible, you'll have to ensure you have a strong emotional bond with their mother, as well, meaning that you'll have to date several pretty anime girls... because the fate of the world depends on it.
Okay, so, Conception II's premise is silly, and it's not shy about the entire game being a weird metaphor for sex, dating and child-rearing, but, in actuality, this is a game that is equal parts dating sim and dungeon crawler. The dating sim aspects of the game are barely tolerable, at best. The many girls in the game are the kind of bland, stock characters you might see in any anime. You know, there's the perky one, the shy one, the one that's all business, etc. There's a lot of voice acting, which helps get you through the many, many cutscenes you'll have to endure, but it's still a trial by fire. Conception II thoughtfully includes the option to fast-forward cutscenes (or skip them entirely); it also lets you auto-battle your way through the turn-based combat, and when you factor both of these things together it almost seems like this is a game that doesn't actually want you to play it.
Those with a hankering for hack-and-slash dungeon crawling won't find that hunger satisfied, here. During each outing, you'll pair up with your girl of choice and get presented with a Sailor Moon-esque transformation sequence for both of your characters as they change into their battle outfits. While your male hero's outfit looks stylish and relatively functional, the only function most of the gals' outfits serve is a sophomoric attempt to titillate— something that happens a lot in Star Children II. The turn-based combat sees you and your many offspring duking it out with the dark denizens of the dusk. JRPGs are often known for having convoluted battle systems, and Conception II keeps that tradition alive and well. Elemental affinities, chain combos, over-chains, Seventh Skills... there are numerous systems to learn here, but rather than present you new information when it might be useful, Conception II frontloads you with an indigestible amount of knowledge. During your first major dungeon outing, your first ten or more random battles will be accompanied by information screens about battle mechanics you won't see for a while because you're level freaking one. By the time this information would actually be useful you will have long forgotten it.
Most of Conception's visual and audio effects will fail to impress. The cutscenes are primarily animated with still images being moved around to give the illusion of motion, making it seem like you're watching anime marionettes performing, with the one exception being how lively the developers made several women's breasts. The monster designs, special attacks, and dungeon aesthetics are all equally lifeless. The only place where the visuals remotely impress are during the one-on-one scenes with any of the datable girls (although here, though the graphics are impressive, they're also a little bit creepy). Speaking of which, since this is a game about dating, it would have been nice to throw in some extra options, with some datable lads for any ladies or gents who aren't into dating girls, and maybe the option to play as a female character. The name of the game is Conception II, and, though some might argue with the biological imperatives of having a male and female character pairing, that argument falls flat when you remember that this is a game about making star babies by classmating with a score of underaged girls. Real-life accuracy isn't exactly a goal here.
As a dating sim, Conception 2 falls flat thanks to its bland characters and uninspired storyline. As a dungeon crawler it falls even flatter thanks to bland, overly-complicated combat, unrewarding equipment/skill progression, and mind-numbing level design. Oh, and here's a tip, game designers: if you have some element of gameplay that you suspect gamers might want to fast-forward through on their first playthrough, make it more engaging. If you're a huge fan of dating sims, turn-based RPGs and anime, you might find something to like in Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars, but everyone else should just let this child get put up for adoption.
This review was completed with a purchased digital copy of Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars for Nintendo 3DS.