Apr 21 2014

Review of Conception 2: Children of the Seven Stars

2014-04-20-1128212 Stars

Conception 2 is an odd game, but more importantly it’s one that doesn’t make good use of its oddness. It is a game focused almost entirely upon sex and risqué themes but it uses that subject matter for nothing more than titillation with no real sense of meaning or message behind it. That is perhaps its greatest (though far from only) flaw and regardless of how you feel about the things Conception 2 is portraying, that lack of sincerity keeps it from being anything more than the video game version of a Russ Meyer flick. For some people that won’t be an issue and regardless of its flaws, they’ll pick it up for the racy content on display; however if you’re looking for a game that uses sensitive subject matter to evoke actual discussion and reflection (or are even looking for just a decent JRPG), then Conception 2: Children of the Seven Stars will not be for you.

Subtlety is not one of this game's strengths.

Subtlety is not one of this game’s strengths.

So just a paragraph ago I compared this game to a Russ Meyer film and the more I think about it, the more apt that comparison seems. You see Russ Meyer’s whole deal was basically to make porn but still have it shown in regular theaters and he accomplished this by building a narrative around the sex to act as facade, often using strong but sarcastic moral overtones. Conception 2 works very similarly in that its plot also feels like a smokescreen meant only to soften its racier elements; it even does the fake moralistic thing (though with less biting sarcasm) in that the main antagonistic force is literally the biblical seven sins. To quickly run down the premise: you are a recent transfer to a special academy for teens who have received the Star God’s mark, which allows them to fight the monsters that have been plaguing their world. Almost immediately though you are revealed to be more than the average student, tests show that you put out an incredible amount of “ether” which means you are the prophesized “God’s Gift” and are able to not only fight the monsters but are also free to go into the “Dusk Circles” that they spawn from and cut off them off at the source. However there is a secondary benefit to being God’s Gift, your unusually high ether count means you are especially…potent, which makes it so you’re able to easily create “Star Children” through the game’s incredibly unsubtle intercourse analog, “classmating“. That being the case, the academy (that’s also somewhat eerily a church) sets you up with a harem of creepily willing young women with which to breed. From there you must improve your bonds with your many partners so that you can raise a small army of Star Children to help you sterilize the Dusk Circles and save the world.

Before we analyze the way Conception 2 handles its risqué subject matter and discuss whether it helps or hinders the game, let’s talk about the quality of the actual writing. In terms of the plot and story, things are thin and convoluted; there’s pretty much no introduction to the world and they never really give you a reason to want to care about its fate. It has a complex mythology but none of it seems to have any purpose beyond simply justifying the game’s tawdrier elements. One thing that’s done right though is the dialog which can be genuinely funny at times. The localization team clearly knew what kind of game this was and they had some fun with it by throwing in lines that, while questionably tasteful, got a chuckle out of me; it may be crude and a little sexist but I find this game’s use of the term “tig ole bitties” really funny. The only issue I had with the dialog is that there’s not a ton of choice given when you’re talking to people. Whenever someone asks you something, the game provides you with three answers to pick from and quite often I found that none of those choices appealed to me as they all basically said the same thing; you generally get a nice positive response, a sleazy positive response, and a mean/brusque response that looked negative but generally had the same effect as the first two choices. Some proper player agency would have gone a long way here but then again I suppose deep choices and a complex well thought out narrative aren’t what people are coming to this game for, they’re coming to live out a male power fantasy.

Some of the girls you're courting look way too young.

Some of the girls you’re courting look way too young.

On that note, let’s move back to the subject of the game’s racier elements and talk about how it uses sexuality in its story. Now let me make clear that I fully believe sex has a place in games, as it does in any art form, but its inclusion needs to be justified. In the right context, a game covering the same topics that Conception 2 does could act as a poignant discussion piece regarding sexuality in modern society and the struggles and stigmatization that exist around teen pregnancy. Instead this game attempts no more than mere exploitation. It’s a fantasy where your character is not only declared inherently better than everyone else but as a result is then given a number of willing and servile women, many of which the game establishes as being the most popular and or beautiful in the school; it reads like fan fiction written by a sexually frustrated sixteen year old boy. The creepiest part by far though is how they subtly make the main character dominant over each of these women, even the ones whose core character traits involve them being strong-willed or powerful in their own right. It gets to the point that one of the girls, who is established as an experienced soldier with tons more combat training than your character will ever have, decides to start calling you sir and adamantly seeks to serve you in anyway possible. Admittedly she’s doing this because you helped save her village but I still found her immediate submissiveness immensely unsettling. I may be over-reacting a little bit and reading into things a bit too much but the whole game felt very psychologically unhealthy in my mind and the unspoken demeaning aspect of things unnerved me to a fair degree.

Alright it’s getting a little too subjective in this review for my liking, let’s move onto the gameplay where we can talk about how this game is objectively bad. At its heart, Conception 2 is a pretty standard turn-based dungeon crawler, you’re going to be wandering around randomly generated floors and slaying monsters Final Fantasy style. There are a number of extra systems layered on top that but they feel obtuse but can generally be ignored. The most interesting and unique mechanic in Conception 2 comes with the Star Children that I mentioned earlier, who act as the majority of your party while dungeon crawling. They form up into three teams of three, each team acting as single unit, with that unit’s stats and abilities being derived from its composite Star Children. This means that you can have a unit that casts healing magic while also having the ability to use powerful physical attacks thanks to each Star Child being a different class. Once a Star Child hits their max level (which is seemingly determined by your relationship with their mother) you can make them independent which sends them off to the city, this raises the city’s level which opens up new facilities of dubious usefulness. Overall it’s a fairly interesting system that gives you a nice rolling set of abilities as you’re constantly swapping in new Star Children but ultimately it felt too tedious to ever want to manage closely. You’ll have nine Star Children on your squad at any given time and manually deciding their team order and doling out equipment just feels like a hassle, thankfully the game will automatically do those things for you if you want but then it becomes hard to care about their progression, it’s something of a catch 22. It would’ve been easier to care if the game made any attempt to liven things up with its dungeons but every single one of them is a dull mindless slog. This is mostly thanks to the game repeating the same battles over and over; it’s not unusual to fight the exact same configuration of enemies up to seven times in a row on any given dungeon floor. It’s not like the enemies themselves are varied either, this game is so rife with palette swaps that it could be mistaken for an interactive paint swatch. I wish I could say the dating sim stuff that’s outside of the dungeons evened things out and made the dungeon crawling worthwhile but even aside from the choice issues I’ve already mentioned, that stuff just isn’t very exciting. The major problem is that there’s never any risk when it comes to managing your time, you can spend as long as you want chatting up the girls and ignoring the dungeon because the story will not move forward until you decide to go back in and clear the dungeon out. There’s no risk of missing out on a conversation and there are no tough decisions regarding which girl to woo or what to focus on because you have infinite time to do whatever you want. This means that the only reason to actually go back into the dungeons and suffer through them is to unlock the next chunk of the story and the conversations that accompany it, which at a certain point stops being worth the effort.

The look of the dungeons makes my eyes hurt, so many contrasting colours and they go on endlessly.

The look of the dungeons makes my eyes hurt, so many contrasting colours and they go on endlessly.

Even with all these issues, an interesting visual style or smart music choices might have saved this game, but sadly the presentation here is just as mind numbing as the gameplay. I talked earlier about the dungeons and how dull they are and a big part of that is their visual design. All of the dungeons look simply garish, they all use a mish-mash visual style and then place that against an indecipherable skybox, they each look somewhat different the overall effect is the same each time. You’ll spend ages running from room to corridor to room, all of which are painted in the same ugly style and floating in the same sea of nebulous space. They were clearly going for an otherworldly hellish motif but the loudness of the style drowns itself out and the repetition only serves to blunt any effect the look could have had. Not helping it is the music, which is going for a quirky Persona style but without the talent of Shoji Meguro. The battle theme in particular feels like off brand Persona music with its weird English lyrics and heavy guitar, but instead of those lyrics fading nicely into the song like they do in Meguro’s stuff, they stand out terribly and only serve to remind you how many fucking times the singer has yelled “BABY, BABY, BABY, BABY, BABY!!!” at you. As for the voice acting, things are a bit of a mixed bag; most of the voices are pretty good but there’s a couple of zonked out sounding girls who need to learn to speak up and talk at a pace faster than that of a drugged out slug. There’s also way too few voice samples for when the conversations aren’t being fully voiced and as a result you’ll see some very innocuous occurrences get overly exaggerated reaction V.O. that really doesn’t fit the text on-screen.

Whether you’re going to enjoy Conception 2 or not is going to depend entirely upon whether its racier elements are a plus for you and if the power fantasy it’s offering is the sort of thing you actively want or are at least okay with. Personally I found that aspect of the game distasteful and somewhat demeaning but I wouldn’t judge anyone else for enjoying this game and getting some titillation out of it. We all get our kicks in different ways and as long as it doesn’t involve kids or animals, it’s nobody’s business. That said, even when you put the controversial parts of this game aside, it’s still not very good; the dungeon crawling is dull, the plot is convoluted and uninteresting, and the presentation is painful at times. That’s why I’m giving Conception 2: Children of the Seven Stars a 2 out of 5 stars, your mileage with it may vary depending on your own particular tastes but for most people its exploitative bent won’t make up for its many flaws.

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