Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars is one of the strangest games that you’ll ever play. Its premise – which, in essence, revolves around mating – provides an odd starting point, but get past this and you’ll find a surprisingly enjoyable excursion that’s only really let down by repetition and some unnecessarily sexual content.
This turn-based role-playing game with social simulation elements stems from a once Japan exclusive series, beginning with Conception: Ore no Kodomo o Undekure. For those who can’t speak Japanese, that subtitle roughly translates to – and we’re not making this up – ‘Please Give Birth to My Child’. Still, the original received positive reviews in the East and prompted Atlus to localize its sequel overseas.
Much like a Final Fantasy title, the plot is independent of its predecessor, meaning that you won’t need to be familiar with the original to understand the story here. The narrative deals with a malevolent Dusk Energy, which has been leaking out of portal-like labyrinths and creating terrifying monsters that threaten to destroy the world of Aterra. Fortunately, the Star God that the planet’s inhabitants worship has granted certain teenagers with the power of the Star Brand.
As a result of this mark, they become Disciples to combat and keep the monsters at bay, but it’s impossible to eliminate the endless sources that the beasts come from. That is, until you arrive. As the long fabled God’s Gift, you, along with the help of seven girls capable of spawning Star Children, are the world’s last hope and must use your newfound abilities to rid the planet of the evil that’s plaguing it once and for all.
You could dismiss the whole game based on its premise alone – especially the part about Star Children. To be clear, the protagonist actually needs to “classmate” with several girls to conceive these monster-fighting kids, which are created by his Ether and their Star Energy. Yes, it’s weird, but there’s some quality to the narrative's complexity. Indeed, we were shocked by how well the story links several characters’ histories, past plot points, and back stories. There’s much more to sink your teeth into, too, and we were fascinated with how these aspects intertwined to create a compelling yarn.
The personalities you encounter may be a bit of a mixed bag, but the seven girls that you interact with in particular all have loveable, fun traits and understandable faults. We wanted to get to know each one because they reveal more about their past and true feelings if you treat them respectfully. As such, you’ll spend a lot of your time reading dialogue and watching the 3D gals chat to you, often picking preset sentence responses in order to converse with them. Although there could have been ways to make these conversations more engaging – like with more serious, meaningful topics or a timer – we didn’t expect to enjoy the offering here as much as we did.
In regard to “classmating”, we initially expected it to merely be a juvenile feature, but the story informed us otherwise. The characters view this as a serious, necessary ritual that’s more important than their desires; it’s primarily conducted to create Star Children to save the world, and many characters hold it in that regard. Still, the game doesn’t shy away from its more inappropriate aspects. Despite the surprisingly strong story, there’s a lot of immature and awkward dialogue that will cause you to roll your eyes, a minigame where you’ll use the Vita’s touchscreen to rub a girl’s body on rare occasions, and a ridiculous amount of attention focused on breasts in the dialogue and graphics. It doesn’t feel consistent with the characters, and that’s a shame.
Assuming that you can ignore these issues, the gameplay is interesting – even though it may take you a while to get the hang of things. Streams of overwhelming instructions are thrown at you within the first couple of hours, and it’ll take you some time to understand everything. We already mentioned the conversations and how they work, but they’re just one portion of a list of activities at your disposal. You manage everything through a top-down view of your city, with a host of options to choose from.
For example, the Dorm Room is the place where you organise and manage technical stuff like equipping weapons and armour to your girl of choice and multiple Star Children. Your skills – special moves typically performed with others – can be checked, your party members can be switched out for new matchups, and you can make your offspring “independent”. This consequentially levels up the city to unlock new places like the Gift Shop or Guild, where you can find presents to give the girls and accept quests to take down specific enemies or find items in exchange for currency.
Meanwhile, the Academy is where you’ll spend a lot of your time talking to the characters – primarily the seven girls. You’ll notice smiley faces around each one’s icon, which indicates their mood in response to how you interact with them. If you make one of them happy, you should “classmate” with her at the church. Besides choosing an option that gives a Star Child an increased stat sometimes, the only thing that you do here is watch a cutscene with a naked silhouette of the girl for a few seconds, and then choose which class your offspring will be: a Medic, Thief, Magician, etc. There are other classes, too, and these are revealed over time, and all play different roles on the battlefield.
Speaking of which, the real gameplay begins with Labyrinths: dungeons that you need to explore and fight through floor-by-floor until you reach their bosses. With your unique Star Children teams and female accomplice, you’ll use basic attacks, skills, and more strategies in the turn-based battles. There are also elemental attributes like wind, earth, and fire at play, which force you into thinking strategically about which party members to use. It doesn’t stop there: you can attack enemies from the front, left, right, or behind to yield more powerful attacks if you locate weak spots, so your formation is important, too. Multiple enemies can occupy the screen at once, so you’ll also need to spread yourself thin yet efficiently to deal with the threats. There are other wrinkles on top of this – such as the Chain Drive and Intercept systems – that add to the experience and contribute to its already unique identity.
Alas, it does suffer from some issues. While the battles seem surprisingly deep at first, they gradually begin to lose their novelty. There’s a good assortment of enemies to fight, but we couldn’t shake the feeling that the encounters felt too similar. We believe the difficulty is partly responsible for this, which is much easier than we anticipated. Despite the initial learning curve, we only died once during our first 15 hours of play, and we never really felt challenged, prompting us to make sloppy moves and still achieve victory. There’s some great complexity on display to be sure, but the breezy difficulty means that it’s never fully realised, which might leave you fighting off monotony.
At least the visuals are sharp for this anime-inspired game. In dungeons, you’ll be exploring 3D environments, and while these are generally dull and uninteresting, the character models themselves look great. It’s the dialogue scenes, however, that stand out the most. Vibrant, anime comic book-like cut outs of the characters are shown and act out simple body gestures and full facial expressions for most conversations, which helps to bring them to life. When you speak with the girls, they’re portrayed from the top-half – of course – with far more detailed models employed. Overall, the artstyle – along with the game’s great costume aesthetics – make it a visually solid release.
Unfortunately, the audio is a mix of both the exceptional and the mediocre. The music will catch your ears with beautiful orchestral pieces and catchy Daft Punk-esque techno tunes, but the audio fails to score during the “classmating” sequences and battles, with odd vocals and instruments that become more irritating over time. The voice acting is also fairly solid to our surprise, but it’s unfortunate that the Japanese dialogue isn’t included. There are weak performances from several characters, but others are generally solid and won’t have you searching for the mute button.
It’s also a good thing that this is a substantial affair. The game will take you about 25 hours to complete if you rush, but if you play at a slightly slower pace, you’ll certainly get in 35 or so hours. Unless you really enjoy the experience, we’d argue that there’s not enough incentive to play through a second time, but your initial run should provide you with more than enough value for your money.
Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars is a strange title, but it offers an intriguing experience that’s let down by a few issues. Indeed, the bizarre story elements, off-putting sexual material, and repetitive gameplay mechanics may turn you away from this eccentric title, but look past these problems and you will find a way to appreciate its otherwise interesting narrative and entertaining cast.