- Format: 3DS (version reviewed), PSVita
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Atlus
- Developer: Spike Chunsoft
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.atlus.com/conception2/
The original Conception released in Japan in 2012 but never saw a release in the West, probably due to the declining popularity of JRPGs in the region. No doubt spurred on by the recent success of the Persona series – which Conception draws a lot of inspiration from – Atlus have decided to publish the sequel over here anyway, hoping that there’ll be enough people thirsty enough for a new game of its ilk to not be deterred by a lack of the original.
Conception II definitely isn’t for everyone. The entire game revolves around animé girls, featuring a lot of what is commonly known in the animé fandom as “fan service” – essentially female characters put in a lot of awkward or lewd situations, complemented by pantie-shots and some of the most physics-defying boob wobbling known to man. This will immediately deter a lot of people and they’re certainly better off just avoiding the game.
The premise of Conception II is a fairly standard one: A select few children between the ages of sixteen and eighteen receive brands, indicating that they’ve been given more Star Energy by the Star God. These children become Disciples at the Academy, where they learn to do battle with the monsters that pour forth from the Dusk Circles, of which there are seven to represent the seven deadly sins. This should sound familiar to anyone who’s watched animé in the past ten years as it’s a premise that has been done to death by now.
Your character is revealed to be “God’s Gift,” a male born with a ridiculously high amount of Ether, and this is where things get a little less clichéd: Due to your status, you must “classmate” with female S-Rank disciples. Classmating is the rather vague process of the male protagonist and one of his female classmates getting together and using ether, Star energy, and matryoshkas to create Star Children, small characters who serve as your squads in battle. These Star Children are affected by your choice of mother in a variety of ways: Stats, elements, and class are all determined by this, naturally leading to a lot of customisation.
You put three of these in one team, preferably combining a shared strength to maximize on that. Their skills can also be combined into a more powerful variant, and they can mecunite in combat to become a single, more powerful ally for a short period of time as you battle through each of the Vice Labyrinths.
Labyrinths are multi-floor dungeons that are randomly generated each time you enter. God’s Gift’s goal in each is to fight through its maze and defeat a Dusk Spawner, the monster responsible for the appearance of the monsters. Combat is pretty simple; you select from attack, skills, and defend. Positioning is important, as which of the four quadrants surrounding an enemy you attack from determines damage and chaining. Each enemy is weak to attacks from a different location.
Chaining and ether density are two mechanics that play a huge role here. Chaining occurs when you attack an enemy from an area labelled caution – where it’s going to attack – and building this chain slows the enemy down, increases your damage and experience. Ether density increases with each enemy defeated and decreases with each of the player’s squads being defeated and determines the player’s team’s speed.
As mentioned earlier there’s a palpable Persona influence on Conception 2, most notably its manner of integrating gameplay with the relationships you build with these female S-Rank classmates, though it’s a lot more in the vein of a visual novel. This is presented quite poorly – while the artwork is generally good, it often resembles a flash game when characters have disproportionate limbs that move rather unnaturally, resulting in incredibly jarring visuals.
A visual novel relies on its writing and Conception II’s is pretty poor. Characters are bland to the point of homogenisation, with pretty silly character traits that don’t go any where: Narika is presented as shy only to come across as anything but thereafter. Chloe’s entire personality boils down to being popular and the very fact that she has a brother. While Persona had deep characters whose everyday lives were written in an endearing way, Conception 2’s bland cast’s struggles with dirty comic books and student council meetings are just plain boring thanks to these shallow characterisations.
There are a lot of mechanics at play in Conception II, but they’re all so easily manipulable as to be entirely unrewarding. The combat tutorial is longer than the time needed to master it due to so many ways to effortlessly abuse your enemies, while you effectively have unlimited attempts at improving relationships – and thus the quality of your star children – since you have no time limit. There is also no Game Over state, you’re simply kicked out of a dungeon if you run out of health.
The worst thing you can usually say about a game’s soundtrack is that it’s merely ineffectual, but Conception II outdoes itself with music comprised of distracting annoyances. Most of the music is the digital equivalent of birds chirping at an ungodly hour, only there are somehow thousands of the buggers.
It would be great to find something to enjoy in a game with such a bizarre and unique concept, but every component is just so poorly constructed and executed that it’s an entirely unpleasant experience. It’s a shame to be so reductive, but it really is just a poor Persona wannabe with none of the mechanical integrity or narrative charm.