Singing is great, isn’t it? Imagine if instead of singing in the shower you just, I don’t know, stood there and stuff? Don’t even get me started on what the world would do without lip sync battles! Well in the world of Stella Glow, God has decreed that no one can sing anymore. So I guess they’re free from Frozen’s “Let it Go”, at least…
Stella Glow follows the story of two young villagers; Alto, the player character, is a young hunter who remembers nothing of who he is or where he is from. The second character, Lisette, has taken Alto into her family home. When Lisette’s village is turned into crystal by an evil witch, Alto and Lisette set out to find a way to reverse the spell. They quickly discover that to do this they must find four of the witches of the land, seemingly none of which are particularly nice or interested in helping out. I really like this general concept for the story and it flows really well, both in the script and the pacing of the cut scenes. Another aspect of the story is that witches have found a way to sing and can use songs like magic. As well as this, Alto has the ability to “tune” people’s hearts (which seems to mainly just mean having a conversation with them inside their head).
After introducing the player to Alto and Lisette, Stella Glow immediately jumps in to combat. I really love when games do this, getting some gameplay in immediately doesn’t have to disrupt the introduction of a story and, for me at least, it ensures I don’t lose my mind whilst plodding through way too much exposition or boring tutorials. In many a tutorial I’ve found myself shouting “let me punch something, damn it!”. Here the tutorials were quick and concise and while it may have helped that I’ve played games like this before, I found the small amount of guidance given to be perfect in explaining things whilst also letting me get on with what I was really interested in – the combat!
Much like games such as Final Fantasy Tactics before it, Stella Glow ’s combat is tactical and turn based. Battles take place on a square grid where characters can move a set amount of squares and attack within a certain range. The turn order can be seen as portraits of the characters along the bottom and can be affected by things such as a character’s abilities or skills – for example, rogues often have their turn come around quicker – or the strength of a characters attack used in a previous turn. Each character also has abilities that can affect turn order, attacks, defense or boost allies. Alto has the ability to counter attacks made in the squares next to him. This is really useful, and often can change the pace of a battle, but it’s the characters and abilities revealed later in the game that really make the combat interesting.
Like many games of the genre, each character has an HP and SP bar. The SP bar allows characters to use skills, which are often related to their fighting style (e.g. magic or blade attack) but hit a lot harder than a normal attack or can cause status effects. Despite my initial impression of the combat system as being a bit dull, as the story progressed even just a few chapters I found myself really enjoying it. Gradually combat moved away from being so easy it felt more like target practice and became a genuine tactical challenge. As more characters materialized, I realized that the tactical decisions that could be made were much vaster than simply ensuring an enemy can’t attack you from behind to do greater damage.
The player is only given a certain amount of free time, so it gives a feeling of agency that I really appreciated.
As well as the battles, the player can work through events and “free time” sections of the story. This is done once the initial introduction to the story is over, the game opens up as it allows you to explore the map and interact with your allies. Spending time with your buddies builds Alto’s rapport with them, resulting in unlocked abilities and other perks. These conversations are usually quite short and therefore this relationship building doesn’t feel like too much of a chore, considering the benefits of doing it. Exploration involves going to areas and fighting monsters, as well as events that can result in receiving special items. The player is only given a certain amount of free time, so it gives a feeling of agency that I really appreciated.
It’s undeniable that Stella Glow looks nice. The occasional animated cut scenes look really amazing and the normal gameplay looks pretty good too. It’s still living within the constraints of the 3DS, but the colours are vibrant and each battlefield is interesting to look at. The character portraits and designs are great too, though I’ll choose to not discuss why so many female characters are in their pants, this time…..
Stella Glow started off a little slow, but nowhere near as slow as other games of its genre have done in the past. And, despite being an incredibly impatient person, I can happily look past this because once it gets going it gets many of its various elements right. It’s far from being in my top 3dDS games but I still really enjoyed the game. I would definitely encourage anyone looking for a new JRPG to get stuck into definitely take a look. And if you’re unsure, at least check out the trailers and intro because the theme song is really, really great!