A young man stands on the precipice of adulthood, his parents and sister slain by horrible and other-worldly monsters. A strange mark glows on his hand and at that moment he is given power to give others the same hope that was cruelly taken from him.
Through his later discovered ability as a God’s Gift, he becomes the very embodiment of the world’s hope.
You play as the protagonist who is discovered to be a God’s Gift, a male disciple who emits a vast amount of Ether energy and can therefore provide a sort of bubble of it for Star Children and female disciples. This enables them to fight inside of the monster dungeons known as Dusk Circle, which wasn’t possible until now.
What makes this plot so interesting, however, is that this isn’t some government-sanctioned sector created solely to stop the monster threat and collect teenagers with the mark (aka the disciples). This whole shebang, including the training school for said teens, is run by both a massive corporation and churches that have cropped up to rule the areas. The very real issue that the mega-corp is profiting heavily from people’s suffering, as well as whether their end goal is to save the world or to keeping churning out said profits, constantly hangs over the player once the wonder and newness of everything fades.
Moral dilemmas aside, gameplay in the Dusk Circle Labyrinths (Labyrinth being the term for each Dusk Circle dungeon) is naturally turn-based, given the genre. The protagonist pairs up with one of several S-class female disciples and can bring up to three 3-member teams of Star Children. These cute little tykes are born from a female disciple’s Star Energy and a male disciple’s Ether and aid in the extermination of monsters by using their arsenal of physical attacks and skills. A female disciple and the hero can also attack and use skills in the same way. When using a female fighter alongside her specific children, they become much stronger in battle.
Similar to Final Fantasy X, the key to mastering Conception II‘s battle system is learning how to maximize the number of ally turns while suppressing the foes’. This can be done by targeting elemental weaknesses, building the chain gauge in order to speed up ally turns, using certain skills, hitting enemies in weak areas, etc. By doing this, players minimize damage received and ensure a swift end to battles.
Each Labyrinth has a Dusk Spawner (read: boss) that must be defeated and sealed into order to suppress said Circles. The Labyrinths themselves feature several floors that are randomly generated, making every foray into them a different experience. Level designs are pretty interesting and varied, even if not the most graphically impressive. I also really enjoy the conversations between the Star Children while I’m exploring.
The hero, female disciples and the Star Children level up through enough experience points, but unlike the former two, Star Children have a level cap. This cap is determined by a variety of factors, such as the mood and level of the female disciples. The overall strength and elemental alignment of each Star Child is also determined by the “mother.”
At this point you’re probably thinking “I get Star Children but what are bonds and how do you improve them in the first place?”
This is where the other half of gameplay comes in. Bonds forged between female disciples aren’t just a few sprinkles on top of an already delicious cake — they’re an essential ingredient. In order to ensure that the hero has powerful and trustworthy allies at his side, he must first get to know his comrades on a deep and meaningful level. The hero must speak with the heroines and occasionally choose one of three dialogue options. As in any dating-sim, picking the answer that coincides with each girl’s personality is key to getting closer.
But these relationships aren’t just superficial. As I mentioned before, several factors are considered when creating a Star Child including elemental alignment, level cap, overall strength, stat distribution, etc. While the element is decided solely on which girl you choose, the other factors are decided by their strength and emotional status, which is what makes bonding and training with the girls so important — the stronger the bond, mood and level, the more powerful Star Children you can make.
It takes awhile to initially improve the ladies’ moods as you can only take part in a limited amount of these events before having to “Rest” in the dorm or go to a Labyrinth to make time pass. The limit is honestly very strange and completely unnecessary, since there’s no time limit in the game (essentially you can keep “passing time” for events indefinitely and then choose when to move the story along). It would have been more efficient to eliminate the “passing time” element altogether.
The scenarios themselves were rather enjoyable, especially due to the interesting personalities of every student. A few of the girls do fall into certain stereotypes but they are developed pretty well. Other girls such as Fuuko, Ellie, Torri and even Chloe are well-done and unique from the start. I loved watching the relationship between the female disciples and the hero grow; unlike many other games in this genre, they felt like real people with faults, issues and personality quirks that really flesh them out.
There’s also the process of Classmating (great pun I know) itself. This involves the protagonist and a female disciple pouring their Ether and Star Energy respectively into a Matryoshka doll (a Russian nesting doll) in a special ritual. It does not involve any sexy-times. Sorry guys. Also you’re free to skip over the incredibly stupid “symbolic” scene, because I sure did. After this, the Star Child’s class must be chosen. This is important because each class has its own unique skill set and even special skills that can only be activated when certain class combinations in a team are made.
What makes all these bonding sections really stand out is the artwork, which is really nice, well-detailed and consistently well-designed. Monsters get a bit shafted in the unique department but still suit each Labyrinth well. My only real complaint is that the art strays a little too much on the “moe” side for my tastes. Making it worse is the fact that only females suffer this issue, except for a thankful couple here and there (thank you Ruby and Feene) — the males are perfectly presented as their age. For the females I actually prefer the 3D renders of them, since they actually look their age.
On the music front, it’s not too shabby; nice, catchy tunes but nothing really memorable.
By the way, if anyone is still deciding on what system to purchase Conception II on, there aren’t many differences between the PS Vita version of this title and the 3DS version (which is what I played). It all boils down to whether you prefer a second screen for gameplay mechanics or a larger and more vivid image. For those wondering, this is what the PS Vita version looks like in battle:
Conception II does an excellent job of combining both the dating-sim and JRPG elements and creating a fusion that make sense. While there are a few eye-roll worthy moments, such as the stereotypical boob-grab gag after falling over, overall the characters (both main and supporting) are all likable, believable and help to support a surprisingly engaging plot. Combat is equally fun and the simply yet deep strategy behind the turn-based system makes every battle shine.
While this title certainly isn’t perfect, Conception II will surprise you on just how much fun it is. If you’re a fan of turn-based JRPG with a dash of visual novel elements, then this title will be a solid entry into your 3DS or PS Vita library.