Friday, 20 November 2015

All-Star Cringes and Star Children: Conception II Review

My battle team wins a challenging battle and everyone rejoices as one of the island's threats is destroyed. A scientist makes a joke about getting drunk with high school kids and some boy love shower jokes are made. Then, of course, there is some talk about a character's breast size and after that, a new dungeon opens. But what more can be expected of a 60-hour playthrough of a game about high school students classmating to make children to fight with them in labyrinths? Obviously I didn't expect a sophisticated RPG, but when the game's shallow dialogue is placed next to it's fun, well-thoughtout dungeons, the experience feels a little disconnected to say the least.

Conception II is half Dungeon Crawler JRPG and half Dating Sim. At first glance, this combination sounds like a lot, but the Dating Sim elements are linked surprisingly well with the RPG elements. Star Children, the mystical beings created to fight with you and your chosen heroine, are at the centre of the experience and are the bridge between Conception II's social and combat elements. During the dating sim part of the game, you can strengthen your bond with your chosen heroine (or multiple heroines, if that's how you roll) by treating her how she wants to be treated and showing her basic polite courtesy. This effects her mood, which plays an important part in the strength of the children you get from 'classmating' with her. In battle, these Star Children are your pint-sized teammates and strong ones are needed to beat the challenging dungeons that only get tougher throughout the journey through the multiple floors of each individual dungeon.

Surrounding the dungeons, classmating and the world of Aterra is Conception II's story. In-game cutscenes are used to progress the main story and hanging out with characters individually is done to progress the dating sim portion of the game. The main story of the game is fairly straight forward: the world has been over run by monsters coming out of Dusk Labyrinths (Conception II's dungeons) and people are in danger. Luckily, the protagonist has a rarely high Ether amount, which gives him the ability of a guaranteed conception rate during classmating and earns him the title of 'God's Gift' among adults and students in Aterra. This power also means he is the best person to enter the dungeons, as his Ether can surround him and his team and keep them safe from the dangerous Dusk Energy found in Labyrinths.

This is most of what we know about God's Gift. He's given one of those 'blank slate' personalities that are common in dating sims so the player can imagine themselves in his position, which makes it very hard to feel any connection with him. Throughout the story, we're introduced to the story and dating sim's heroines and some other side characters, like the puberty-charged Chlotz and the class rival Alec, who had the most interesting story in the game. Sprinkled around this are important adults in society and high school students making easy, blatant 'naughty' jokes about body parts and Classmating, so much so that the story only remembers to flesh itself just a little out towards the end.

The dating sim portion of Conception II is just as guilty when it comes to a lacking plot. The high school girls that you can befriend and flirt with follow many typical anime tropes, such as Narika, the shy but big breasted girl, the spunky tsundere character Serina and the airheaded Torri, whose slow talking I couldn't stand listening to. Some of these tropes are done better than others thanks to good voice acting and actual background stories. Other characters I felt like I almost got to understand, but then the game skipped over anything pertaining to giving them a personality or backstory, usually in turn for a joke about sex, boobs or panties, leaving some stories feeling shallow. Most of the key events in the dating sim portion are based around seeing slightly raunchy looking anime pictures of the girls or putting the girls in awkward, risque situations rather than spending time giving them character development. I'm not against fan service at all, but sitting through pointless fluff dialogue instead of character stories felt strange and like a forced grind. The worst part is that if you want the strongest Star Children, a few of the game's later mechanics require you to sit through multiple girls dialogues, which was especially frustrating for some characters.

Making Conception II unique is it's Classmating mechanic, which acts as a bridge between the battle and the story part of the game and is the way Star Children are made and classes are chosen. It is said that God's Gift and a heroine both perform some sort of mating ritual involving holding hands and thinking deeply about each other and thus, a Star Child is born. This sounds way more innocent then the sexualised silhouettes shown, but hey, at least they're consistent with the attempted titillating feeling of the whole game. After watching (or skipping) the ritual, you are presented with many different Classes to choose from. It was fun thinking of which one would benefit my party most and Conception II gives plenty of selection, with more standard RPG classes like Swordis and Magician being available next to unique Diva and Merchant classes based around special abilities inspired by their namesakes. A small thing I would've liked if there was a way during the class choosing process to see which Star Children classes I already had in my party so I could make a better decision when choosing, but the process of class selection was otherwise enjoyable.

Conception II's dungeons, called Labyrinths, are one of the better parts of the game. Each dungeon is randomly generated and filled with monsters, treasure and traps to keep you entertained while travelling through it's depths. Battles with monsters involve using directional attacks to either deal the most damage or to increase the chain gauge most, which has the potential to consequently delay the enemies attack. Fighting against these monsters are you, your chosen heroine and a legion of up to 9 Star Children. With 11 people in battle, I thought battles would be easy because of my party's sheer numbers, but each Labyrinth's floor increases significantly enough in difficulty to require a lot of grinding and the strongest Star Children possible. I found myself using a combination of grinding in the Labyrinths and the Training area depending what rewards I wanted - if I needed money for better equipment, the more difficult Training area was a great second option to just grinding in the regular Labyrinth.

Despite each floor and enemies looking very similar, each Labyrinth is kept interesting thanks to enemies that increase in power and health floor-by-floor and dungeon traps. I found that just as the dungeons started to become repetitive, a cutscene, a powerful enemy or a trap would appear before me and change my progression. Battles also provide variety to the more typical turn-based system, with using limited Bond Points earned during the dating sim portion to speed up your party or being able to combine one team of Star Children into an OP mech. Whether it was in the form of skipping a floor or not being able to use my skills, because the combat was fun, the Labyrinth felt like a well deserved break from the awkward dialogue choices.

Conception II's dungeons and class systems are good fun, but in the end and after 60 hours, I had to ask myself if they were fun enough to sit through the hollow feeling story. While I enjoyed my time in the RPG based parts, there are definitely other dungeon crawlers with the same amount of grinding and difficulty that boast a more interesting story and use more interesting enemies. In the end, while Conception II is a fun dungeon crawler, but I can't say I enjoyed it trying to seduce me into thinking it may have a deeper plot somewhere and then just giving me panty photo. There are enough dungeon crawlers around for me to be sure there's something with mechanics just as good and a much better story, but I wish this one worked out.

Score: 5.9/10
Good dungeon mechanics, but there are better games with real stories and dungeons just as good. Too many attempts at being risque and some wasted character ideas thanks to a severe lack of real plot.

If you want to check it out for yourself, you can pick up Conception II from


Do you know a dungeon crawler with better character development? Leave it in the comments below and start a discussion!
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Note 2: I did some editing on this recently (2016) to fix some errors and add some better word choices. Opinions are still exactly the same, the writing style is almost identical and no scores were changed!

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