|Platform PS Vita, 3DS|
|Developer Spike Chunsoft|
|Release Date 2014-04-15|
Conception 2: Children of the Seven Stars never really reaches maturity.
Children of the Seven Stars is the first and only of two Conception titles to make it out of Japan, and as with its predecessor, it folds a dating sim into a dungeon crawler-heavy experience. Spike Chunsoft is using the same pick-up line role-playing games have all but run into the ground: wanna save the world?
But the franchise seeks to earn a name for itself by making things a little — well — risqué by sexually charging its otherwise bland ideas. Conception 2 confuses shock value with interesting gameplay and leans on a skeezy hook to carry it through a 40-hour-plus experience. For all its flashy ideas, Conception 2 delivers an unimpressive, unsatisfying performance.
A concentrated dose of dungeon crawling, relationship building and sketchy situations, Conception 2 takes an age-old premise and sexes it up. You're an elite high school student gifted with special powers, and you're fighting to defeat a global crisis in the form of labyrinths — otherwise known as dusk circles — brimming with monsters. By combining your power with that of other students, you create Star Children to rally at your side for each new labyrinth.
Spike Chunsoft is using the same old pick-up line
I spent most of my time charging into these generic dungeons. Although levels spawn anew each time you enter, they offer little variety. Rooms feel exactly the same every time, give or take the size and number of enemies present, and even the monsters themselves are repeated over and over again. With one exception, every dungeon featured laughably easy mid-bosses and final bosses that I could almost always beat on the first try.
Conception 2's enemy encounters fail to be entertaining, but they do offer some complexity to the turn-based battle system. Enemies can be attacked from four different sides, and as you fight you can swing to different sections to inflict maximum damage on weak points. The game gradually builds chains for each monster you successfully attack and defeat, which in turn makes enemies slower and combo hits easier to stack. You and a selected female partner can combine skills for useful special attacks, and Star Children also gain access to varying special attacks depending on the make-up of their squad.
Class variety and teambuilding are Conception 2's most successful components. Different combinations of Star Children classes yield varying results for skills and abilities, which made me want to experiment with as many combinations as possible. The squad-based formula made switching in new, low-level kids easy; I never felt as though I were being punished for trading my most powerful allies. When a child reached its level cap, it was to my advantage to grant them independence. Once free, they move into the game's town, increasing the quality of quests, or provide new shopping options.
The handling of Conception 2's heroines — a huge part of the game — is far more troubling than the Star Children they help create. With seven female co-stars to choose from, I can't complain about a lack of options — but the game approaches romance as an exercise in conversational endurance. Relationship building with these women feels dead-eyed and hollow.
The handling of the game's heroines is troubling
When I wasn't in battle, I spent time talking and giving gifts to my female companions. Every girl has a different storyline you'll explore, from ghostly discoveries to speech coaching. There's no limit on when or how much time you can spend socializing, but this removes any impact your decisions have. If I missed the chance to speak with one girl, no sweat. I could spend a few hours resting — with no consequence — to ensure she'd be ready to talk when I wanted. My time never felt valuable, and neither did the relationships I made; instead it was a way to rack up bonding points needed for other areas of the game. Spending time with all seven girls became exhausting and, finally, boring.
Not to be outdone by a few of the game's creepy NPC characters, I had the option to occasionally respond to different girls in a negative way. There were three heroines that I chose to be consistently mean or lecherous to, but even my best efforts to be horrid had no impact on my overall relationship with the character. Negativity, which was quickly forgotten with a gift or general conversation, instead influenced the character's mood — a factor that affects her ability to produce strong allies through "classmating."
Classmating, a holy ritual to produce Star Children, is the intersection of the game's dungeon crawling and social aspects. This means I spent a lot of time doing it. Conception 2 makes it clear that classmating is not actually copulation — instead, characters are making physical contact through handholding as they combine their spiritual energy to birth children. It's the implied and not-so-implied gestures during that ritual that make it far more graphic.
When you speak with your partner pre-mating, she tends to blush, mention her embarrassment and gush about how she hopes to help produce strong babies. The ritual itself takes place through bizarre, practically pornographic cutscenes. Your chosen heroine appears as a hot pink, 3D silhouette and proceeds to writhe, stretch, bend over or slowly bounce on-screen before linking hands with the game's hero.
The blatant sexualization of these young female characters — which the game makes a point to inform you are around age 16-18 — isn't only problematic, but uneven. Your male character is never stripped down or given the Ken doll treatment; he makes his appearance only at the end, when the two hands entwine. Conception 2 introduces "classmanting" briefly, in which two or more male characters can try to produce Star Children — but it lacks the same suggestive cutscenes, instead defaulting to two blue hands joining. The male characters involved are also quick to express their discomfort about the ritual, making the act feel sexual once again and borderline homophobic.
The peep show is mercifully skippable, but I was encouraged to classmate often and with purpose. If a heroine is in good spirits and properly leveled, she'll produce stronger and stronger children. Building a relationship with the character also helps open more powerful classes, which you can then mix and match in your squads. Until you unlock higher stats, however, a great many of your classmating sessions will produce the same children over and over again. Repeated sessions start to feel less like a way to explore options and more of an effort to reach a new level cap with the same party.
Conception 2: Children of the Seven Stars is trashy and drab
Conception 2: Children of the Seven Stars isn't a race for the skilled, but a marathon for the determined. I spent more than 45 hours exploring the game's repetitive dungeons, wooing its generic characters and desperately trying to care about what I was doing. As if the game's drab gameplay wasn't enough to turn me away, Conception 2's underage eroticism is alienating and just plain icky. Animated scenes feel like an ode to upskirts, and the game has enough boob jiggling to give me whiplash. It's a trashy, thoroughly underwhelming experience I cannot wait to forget.
Conception 2 was reviewed using final retail code provided by Atlus. You can read more about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews