Conception II: Children Of The Seven Stars (Demo Review)

So many of us have been eagerly awaiting Persona 5, which could be released as late as 2015 in North America (Europe hasn't been announced yet) on PlayStation 3. The new directions that this innovative JRPG franchise could take are mind blowing and every time I think about it the fanboy inside of me goes a little insane with excitement. While we wait, Atlus are releasing a slew of Persona spin-offs including Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (3DS), Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) and Persona 4: Dancing All Night (PS Vita). 
So where am I going with this? Well there is this new RPG game coming to the West from Atlus called Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars. Many have been saying it is 'Persona-like' because it has a social simulation aspect to it. Well, I need more games for my PS Vita, so I thought I'd check it out. It has already been released in Japan and America, with the European release being on the 14th of this month. In the meantime, you can download a demo of the Prologue chapter from the PlayStation Network store and carry your progress over when you actually buy the full game (which is pretty neat). So this is a review of the demo. 

The game, developed by Spike Chunsoft, is about a guy who you can chose the name of (like most people, I just put my own name in, so I'll refer to him as 'you'). You live in a world where demonic monsters pose a constant threat to society. These monsters are formed in Dusk Circles, which have formed in several locations throughout the world. You discover that you have the mark of the Star God on your hand, and attend a school that trains people who bear this mark, who are all in their late teens (the mark disappears shortly after they become adults, which is convenient). You are discovered to have a particularly high amount of 'ether' in your body, which allows you to enter the labyrinths within the Dusk Circles and still use 'Star Energy', a feat not previously believed to have been possible (this is where the turned-based battles and dungeon crawling takes place) and you are considered a 'God's Gift' (why thank you) because of this. It is also discovered that you have a 100% chance of creating 'Star Children' with S-rank female students (the highest ranking within the school), which you and the heroine can use to fight monsters. These children are created via a process called 'classmating', which involves you and the female student touching one another and then forming the Star Child via a special matryoshka doll. The more you talk to them and say nice things, the better the Star Child that is produced.

Yeah, you heard that correctly. It's kind of similar to the Persona social link system but the whole thing is blatantly and rather crudely based around childbirth, I mean, the game is called 'Conception'... The whole concept did get a few chuckles from me though, that's for sure. No word of a lie, there is literally a scene where your character says, very casually, might I add, to his friend who has an S-rank sister, 'I'm glad I have your blessing to make Children with your sister'. In fact the whole casual nature of everything surrounding this 'classmating' thing kind of weirds me out. You are literally going up to girls and being all like 'hey, I just thought I'd come spend some time with you, we are going to be making children after all'. If a guy approached a girl in real life with his only motive being that he wanted to bear fruit with her, he would most likely get a swift kick in the nuts. No dude (except a total moron perhaps) does that. But that is what is in the game, so we'll just have to let it slide, so put on some R. Kelly or Marvin Gaye and I'll stop getting side-tracked.

So there is an overworld map with a tonne of options. You can go talk to the girls you want to mate wit- sorry, 'classmate' with, you can go make star children in the Church, you can go to dungeons, you can go to simulated versions of dungeons you've already been to so you can grind a bit, you can go to the Dorm where you save and manage your team and then there is a shop you can go to which has lots of things to purchase and take along with you on your quests.
While the cutscenes are all using 2D art, when you communicate with the heroines the graphics become all 3D and snazzy. I've got to say, they look gorgeous! The crystal clear PS Vita screen really does them justice. You talk to them and then occasionally you get to answer a question, which can either make them like you more, or get annoyed at you. This is all well and good, and I enjoy this kind of thing in a video game, but the problem is, I'll pick a nice answer that isn't rude in the slightest and the heroine smiles and responds happily, but when I go back to the map screen I see that she has become annoyed at me? What? I was being a nice guy, and this is my reward? I knew I couldn't trust virtual women. Give me the real thing any day.

The RPG element isn't bad at all. You run around with a heroine of your choice, and a bunch of Star Children (who seem to multiply for some reason) exploring pretty empty dungeons. When you go close to a monster and swipe at it, a battle starts. The battle system is pretty basic, and for a newbie JRPG player like myself, it isn't too much of a problem to get my head around. There is a circle split up into four parts that surrounds the enemy and you select which part you want to attack on. Some parts give you an opportunity to swipe at the enemy's weak spot, other spots allow you charge at it head on for bigger rewards. When you do cool moves and stuff, a cool animation of your characters plays, which further adds to the visual appeal of this game. It really does look great.

I think the biggest downfall of this game is the amount of tutorials and text it shoves in your face, the tutorials go on for what seems like forever! Because game companies are getting stingy and not including manuals in their games now, they have to spam us with tutorials and information because they think we could never figure it out on our own. Everything in the prologue is explained to you with a barrage of text. Look, I enjoy reading, I have a book on the go at the moment, and I love story based games. But the writing in this game is far from gripping, in fact most of it is just complete waffle, and I found myself wishing it would end half of the time. Also, I'm a slow learner, so it isn't that helpful to be told what to do before I do something, you should tell me as I'm doing it, like a proper tutorial should. You know, like 'hey, this does this, try it now. Great! Now try this!' The game does do this at some points, but not as often as it should for the amount of stuff you need to take in. I don't want to be told what to do with a massive paragraph beforehand, I want to actually try it out, and if I get it wrong, the game can correct me!

Although I have only played the demo, it is actually quite long and packed full with content, so it is a great way to get a pretty filling taster of the game. So what did I think overall? Conception II: Children Of The Seven Stars has a very interesting concept but unfortunately it is not executed well at all. While the graphics are stunning, the plot is a bit lame, the game is way too dialogue-heavy, the gameplay feels repetitive, and the part I was most excited for, the social simulation part, felt incredibly shallow. There wasn't really much in the way of interaction, and the logic behind which answers upset or perk up the heroines is kind of bizarre. They are also quite lifeless in their characterisation. So sadly, I've got to just be straight up and say, this game has a lot of wasted potential.

You can get the Conception II: Children Of The Seven Stars demo on the Sony Entertainment Network website here. What did you think of this demo? Let us know in the comments section below, via our Twitter, or via our Facebook page.

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