All right, enough with the sulking already! Stella Glow, which I started this weekend, has effortlessly returned my temporarily fleeting faith in games. Even if it is preciously little else than just a very conventional strategy-JRPG, it still manages to entertain in a solid fashion. The game takes place in a world whose petty god has decided to punish his apathetic followers by stripping away the ability to sing. Now that skill is only possessed by a small handful of witches who use songs to wield powerful magic. In a small hamlet of Mithra, childhood friends Alto and Lisette experience this power in the worst possible way, as the Witch of Destruction, Hilda, one day appears in the village with her cohorts, turning it and its inhabitants into crystals. Alto and Lisette escape this gruesome fate only because Lisette – much to even her own surprise – awakens as the Witch of Water while Alto discovers that he is the fabled Conductor; someone with the ability to enter witches’ hearts to tune their feelings and unlock their latent powers. While that is certainly a lovely turn of events, it sadly takes four good witches to rise against one that is evil. Luckily the rulers of the kingdom have at least some idea where Alto and Lisette could find the remaining three witches. As the armed forces of the nation’s capital, Lambert, can spare a whopping three knights to assist them, another team of world saviors is ready to depart.
Okay, that’s not much of a story but at least it’s one that rolls gracefully. Lambert acts as the operational headquarters from which the team embarks to the world map, traveling from point to point to reach the next story mission. The battles are faithful to the genre; very traditional skirmishes fought on isometric maps where units take turns to move and act, trying to take advantage of various types of terrain and high ground. The battle system doesn’t really feature anything new or innovative, but its chibi-style attack animations are cute, and the level of challenge is quite pleasing. Even the characters’ strongest special attacks rarely take out an enemy in one hit, so working as a team and isolating hard-hitting foes from one another is paramount. Stella Glow isn’t particularly difficult but survival definitely requires at least a little bit of constant thought. Each story battle has a recommended character level, but should one lack in faith or skill, the world map has plenty of optional encounters to grind with.
Every now and then, story missions are interrupted with limited free time that Alto can use to socialize with his companions, work part-time jobs, or go on exploration trips. Those last two would apparently reward with money, items, and gear, but so far I’ve always spent excess time chatting up my team members. Not only is this a good way to get to know everyone better, it also provides them with new skills and passive bonuses to be used on the battlefield. Unfortunately free time between missions is limited to just three activities, so establishing a thorough emotional bond with everyone is most likely going to take quite some time.
Aside from the stinginess of spare time, the pacing of the game in general is commendable. The storytelling cutscenes are hardly ever exceedingly lengthy, the usual talking portraits are sometimes replaced by proper anime clips, and battles follow one another on a brisk pace. To put the tempo into perspective, it has taken me only a little over 11 hours to recruit both the Witch of Wind and the Witch of Fire, and my happy entourage is already nine members strong. It already seems like merely gathering a four witch ensemble won’t solve everything but let’s get back to that after locating the Witch of Earth. For now, though, this journey is turning out to be an upbeat one!