Release Date: April 26, 2005
Pre-order 'STELLA DEUS: The Gate of Eternity': PlayStation 2
Strategy RPGs used to be few and far in between in the U.S. That's why every Ogre Battle game released in the territory becomes a hot commodity almost simultaneously with the day it hits stores, thanks to the small print runs those games have always received. (Case in point: the video game store I work at received a copy of Ogre Battle for Super Nintendo. Seventy dollars. It sold out within three days.)
This might be hard to remember, but there was a time when Final Fantasy Tactics was not a very popular game at all – its hype came long after release, finally prompting Square to re-release the game along with Xenogears to the hungry public. But now, while the genre still languishes in a set corner within RPG-dom, it has gained massive strides in popularity. La Pucelle, Disgaea, and Phantom Brave, all differently titled games from the same series, have set the internet on fire with discussion over which release is the best. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Advance Wars are the kings of the GameBoy Advance. If there is a time to release an SRPG, it is now.
Atlus, always willing to release whatever they feel even slightly confident in, will finally get some reprise for their experiments, if there is any justice in the world. Their latest SRPG, Stella Deus, is almost upon us.
Unlike Atlus' recent Shin Megami Tensei games, with their incredibly creative gameplay and unorthodox storylines, Stella Deus looks to be, well, another SRPG. It follows all of the genre quirks and expected tidbits, especially the slightly unnecessary narrative sequences. These have always been kind of understandable, since not much story can take place outside of massive chunks when every single battle can take 20 minutes or more to complete. But you know what? Every SRPG follows this trend, so unless you plan on making Stella Deus your first purchase for the genre, you will hardly notice.
If anything, the slightly interesting story is detrimental to the game, because those of us who plan on scrolling through all of the text ASAP will find ourselves missing out on a few bits of gold panned from the river. It does open with the usual Japanese cliché of an evil fog covering a beautiful land and destroying all within. But there's a twist: instead of everybody fighting to save the world, as in Legend of Legaia, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, and... well, just about every other RPG, the denizens of the Stella world turn to complete, bleak nihilism, vowing only to let the world pass them by and do nothing about it. A pioneer by the name of Dignus decides to change things, and organizes an army to whip the people back into shape – with the threat of death for non-compliance. Helpful? Sure. Draconian? Definitely.
Where things start to get dry is when the main character is introduced. The hero, Viser, is trying to find more peaceful means to save the world by, you guessed it, going out and getting rid of all that nasty fog, just like in every other Japanese RPG you've ever played. Boring character, often boring story.
But the game, while predictable as ever, is just what fans of the genre need: blinding difficulty. If we aren't going to get incredible innovation, this is the next best thing. Otherwise, it's all the usual, Disgaea-style stuff: polygonal terrain, anime-inspired characters, set on a grid, running through a turn-based battle system. Going with the current trend (in great form here, I might add), instead of being able to select a single action per turn, point values are charged up for each action, representing time passed. The biggest difference of all is actually in the otherwise expected art-style: characters are not super-deformed midgets, but full-grown characters with a slight hint of Shin Megami to them.
Stella Deus looks to be a solid SRPG, but not a genre-defining one ... but hey, that's okay! It's been a while since Phantom Brave came out, so I'm sure most of us are itching to get our hands on another good game of that same ilk. Keep an eye out for the full review, coming soon to a monitor near you.
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