Part 63: Final thoughts on the gameExtra Update 2: Final thoughts on the game
So that was Conception Plus: Maidens of the Twelve Stars. There are only two more things left for me to do with this LP. First is to talk about the game itself. Second is to finish off that abomination of an anime adaption.
But lets do the game first.
+ I liked the small tweaks made to the gameplay from CII. Difficulty was still an issue, but at the very least the enemies in the game didnt all immediately fall to a single attack. CII was a never-ending curb stomp from start to finish. There was really only one boss in that game that approached anything resembling a threat, and if you read that LP, you know which one Im referring to. Conception PLUS strikes a better balance in terms of difficulty, although its still not great. The problem with difficulty in this game is the same as the problem in CII: the enemies arent smart enough to use the battle system. So while I appreciated that the enemies were a bit tougher and didnt fall over from a stiff breeze, I still wish that the developers would work on the AI. At the very least, give the enemies some more tools as the game goes on. None of them have ranged attacks that can take advantage of the positioning heavy battle system. Theyre also always limited to only 3 or 4 spells/abilities (which they rarely use).
But still, there was at least some challenge in this game. I made much more use of gameplay features like MECUNITE and Chain Drive than I ever did in CII.
Also, the changes made from original Conception to things like the number of bonding events per day is nice. Sure, it doesnt save a ton of time, but any little bit helps. Honestly, Im not sure why they bother limiting the bonding opportunities per day in the first place. Its not like theres any time limit on story events.
+ The endings: The endings may not have all been winners, but they were still a hell of a lot better than CII. At the very least we got some dialogue between Itsuki and the Maidens, as opposed to the 2 or 3 sentence summary and a single line of dialogue that a lot of the CII heroines got.
+ Character designs: I like the designs of most of the characters in the game, especially the heroines. One of the problems with main character design in CII was the fact that they were all wearing school uniforms. The only differences in their designs came from the little strips of colour that differentiated class status. The heroines and Wake all got battle costumes which allowed them to have a touch of personality to their looks, but for the most part everyone looked very samey. I said before that I loved the design of the AngelMarker uniforms, but the problem is that that was a uniform, not an individual look that made a particular character stand out.
Conception did a much better job in that respect. Every character has their own unique look. Their costumes are entirely their own. Even Mahiru, who is wearing a school uniform. Mahirus only issue is that while her look is unique among the heroines, its kind of boring. Still, I appreciate that everyone had their own thing going on that wasnt simply change the hair colour and maybe put on a hair accessory.
That said, they werent all winners. I think Lillith/Lillies design is pretty bad. Their costume is stupid (theyre wearing a literal belt around their chest. Like they just got through auditioning for a Nomura game) and the weird arrow whatever that wraps around their head doesnt make any sense or tie into the rest of their design. I think its just meant to be a reference to their personality switching, which isnt a bad idea; I just dont think that it was the best way to do a reference like that. Taruas design also didnt click with me. I know her outfit is supposed to be sporty because she runs a lot, but it just looks really dull. Maybe its the colour combination.
= The music: It was nothing special. Some of the character themes are nice, as I discussed in the update where I went over them. Thats about it though. Nothing stands out or sticks in my mind. Despite all the time spent playing the game I cant even recall the main battle theme, and I played the game just yesterday. All of it just became background noise that was eventually tuned out.
There was not a single track in this game that came close to the main battle theme of Conception II. That was catchy as hell and I still listen to it to this day. The CII music for creating Star Children was also something that stuck in your head. Conception Plus never had anything like that.
= The story: Once again, nothing special. It had some potential and there was more than enough gameplay to make it happen if the developers wanted, but they didnt. The story is just that Itsuki got pulled in from another world to beat impurities and save Granvania. The only twists or turns that we discovered over the course of the game were Manas origins and Shangs backstory, which are both thrown out and quickly forgotten. Seriously, Shangs backstory could have easily filled the story portion of one of the 12 Labyrinths. Where did he come from? What did he experience on Earth that made him want to stay in Granvania (WWI, Spanish Flu, genocide, personal issues in his life)? He was a Gods Gift himself, so what happened to the Star Maiden that he worked with? There was a lot of material that they could have used, but didnt. Instead, what we got was a bog standard save the world story that couldnt even carry all 12 Labyrinths.
CIIs was also generic, Im not about to argue otherwise. But at least CIIs story had some reveals and motivations and an actual antagonist. Conception doesnt have a villain; it just has an evil MacGuffin that marks the end of the game. Shang is the closest we get to an antagonist, and hes more of a well-intentioned extremist. He is a good guy in the sense that he wants to save the world and the people in it. The only real issue we have with him is being an asshole about it to Itsuki when his methods are uncovered. Same goes for Narcisstes.
Alfie: The reasons why are obvious if you read the last Extra Update and my ranking of her. Alfie is a fun and interesting character, but she is horribly implemented. She is so lazily included in this game that I would have preferred that the developers didnt bother. Whatever associated budget went into her could have been better spent elsewhere. Alfie doesnt show up in the opening animation, she doesnt have as many Bonding Events (story or generic) as the other Star Maidens, she doesnt get to take part in any of the seasonal events like Flower Viewing or the Autumn Festival, and she isnt integrated with the story in any way despite being the Star Maiden of the Labyrinth that acts as the source of all the Impurity problems. She was created specifically for this purpose and yet shes never used for it. She exists outside the plot. Alfie was completely wasted and Im very disappointed to see that shes apparently nothing more than a marketing bullet point that SC could add to the back of the box in order to make it seem like they made big changes.
What makes this even worse is the fact that it is not difficult to make new events for this game. All of the pieces are already there. If the PC version wasnt locked into an .exe then I have no doubt fans would be able to create entire scenes that look just like the game and mod them in. All of the animations for the Star Maidens (both the 3D and 2D models) are pre-made. You can even go to the database and go through them:
The generic voice clips are even in there. With the CG backgrounds, you would have everything you needed to create entire events. So, if all the tools were there to piece together event scenes, then why did Alfie get so few of them?
Performance issues and script errors: Ive been documenting the frankly stupid number of spelling, grammar, and translation errors (with help from Polsy on the last one) that this game contains. Im not even talking about common errors like mixing up your and youre or theyre and their. Im talking about shit that standard word processors would catch. Does it ruin the game? No. Ill admit that its nitpicky. But this is a professional company that wants people to fork out $60 (close to $80 for me in Canada) for this product. Errors like that dont reflect well on a company and it sure as fuck doesnt make me interested in buying new SC releases. If thats the level of work put in to the game, then its going to be sitting on the shelf until an appropriate price point comes along.
Thats just scripting stuff. Lets not get into the performance issues with the PC version. The low resolution cutscenes that had to be patched out after release and replaced with High Quality versions. The fact that the launcher didnt work for the first week, which meant not being able to configure graphics settings or resolution. The fact that the game will randomly lock up for about 30-40 seconds and come back to a wonky framerate. Then there's the persistent issue with sound not working when the game is started, requiring multiple relaunches until the game finally figures out how to screw its head on straight.
Its sloppy. And yes, I know that the SC North American office is a small team. Spike Chunsoft itself is a relatively small studio. I know that they are probably doing their best, so I dont want to tear into them, but this just hasnt been an experience Id recommend. I cant lie through my teeth and say that a great job was done when all of these little holes are clearly visible, not for something that costs this much.
Star Children: Let me be clear about this, I AM NOT REFERRING TO THE STAR CHILDREN THEMSELVES. I have said multiple times that the Star Children are my favourite part of this game (and CII) and I mean that.
Why Im listing this as a negative for CP is because of how little attention the Star Children get. CII wasnt great about this either, but the Star Children did make more cute comments than they do in CP. They talk about loving their dad and moms, and how some of them are worried about ending up looking like their parents (namely Serina). But in CP it felt like they only ever commented on gameplay stuff. Finding equipment, getting hit by traps, telling you to be careful about enemies. I think I saw a single comment throughout my entire play time where a Star Child said something like I love dad.
Even in Alfies route, where the Star Children actually get to be involved in some scenes, they always refer to Itsuki as Gods Gift. Hes never dad or daddy. The Star Maidens dont even get mentioned, but I would imagine they would just be called Star Maidens and not mom or mommy.
Part of me was hoping that CP would have been a little better about this. That they would have learned something from CII and gave the Star Children a bit more attention. But they didnt. They didnt even bother to include the new Star Child classes that CII introduced. That was something they could have slapped on the box as an added feature, and yet they didnt (CII had Witches, Mercenaries, Gun Saints, Bulletteers, Snipers, Dark Knights, Gamblers, Divas, Minstrels, and Tricksters). Artwork and skills and all that stuff was already done. All they had to do was make the 3D models look nicer.
So thats why I have it listed as a negative. Because the game didnt do more with them. I cant imagine that Japanese fans dislike the Star Children. Theyre cutesy and fun after all. So I dont know why SC seems against the idea of giving them more attention. Lets be honest, its not as though this game didnt have room for extra scenes like that (we went through 8 dungeons without any accompanying story scenes).
Extras: This is a weird one. CP had some extras that CII didnt, but also didnt have extras that CII did. One of the things I complained about in CII was the fact that the heroines and Wake had a bunch of possibilities for extra costumes that never got used (Narika has a costume modeled in 3D, but you cant see it outside of the event it shows up in. Others, like Ellie, have costumes in CGs that dont exist in 3D). CP did give us extra costumes in the form of the Yukata (they also had swimsuits, but CII did that as well), but they only did that for a handful of characters. You also couldnt have the Star Maidens wearing the Yukata in regular events. However, there was an option to put them in their swimsuits for all scenes. That option was also DLC for some reason I cant even begin to rationalize (the swimsuits are in the game. They are used for events that occur in the game. The DLC literally just adds a menu option to tell the game to use that model for all event).
CP had a bunch of funny items and weapons that reference stuff (like the Polyoshka, the enterbrain weapons, the Sho badge), which I dont think CII did (except for the Monokuma badge). On the other hand, CII had Monokuma from the Danganronpa franchise as a bonus boss. CP had no bonus bosses at all.
Supporting cast: CP has no supporting cast. Sure, theres Mana and Narcisstes, but those two are basically good for nothing but moving plot elements forward. CII had quite a few supporting characters, both in the main story and also in the heroine routes. Narika had Sasami, Chloe had Watts, Ellie had that little shitbag whose name I cant remember at the moment, Fuuko had the ghost girl, Torri had Kirks, and Feene had both her childhood friend and also that thirsty Starball captain girl that definitely wanted to bang the ever-loving shit out of her (plus the cat, if you want to count the cat). Those were characters that reappeared throughout the heroines route and interacted with them/Wake. Not to mention the major side characters like Chlotz, Mark, President Marker, Enzea, Ruby, Alec, and Luce. CP doesnt have that. Seiya only makes a single minor appearance for one of Lilliths route. The little barefoot girl only shows up once and then is only mentioned in passing. The Old Man in Mireis route shows up a few times, but hes just a generic NPC without any personal connection to the heroine or protagonist.
By the way, here are those 3 weird ??? entries in the Others section that I was trying to figure out. Human Mana makes sense, but why the fuck were Matyroshka Alfie and Bond Eater locked until the end of the game?
CP has Shang, Narc, and Mana. Shangs only contributions are in terms of plot matters. Itsuki never just hangs out with him or talks to him about his daily life/his past (which you think he would considering Shang is another person from Sora). Mana is supposed to be the best friend character of Itsuki, but shes irritating, and her character never develops. Shes the exposition fairy and the source for perverted humour. Narc gets a few moments, but he also doesnt do a lot of hanging out with Itsuki. He's just there to answer questions and reveal plot developments.
I mentioned this in the anime, but having Seiya act as a foil or possibly even an idiot friend would have been great. Sure, the thread probably would have hated him, but at least we would have had some kind of interaction between Itsuki and people that werent the main heroines. At least we could have had Itsuki socializing with someone else and revealing new aspects of his character and his views.
The other issue with having no support cast is that few of the Maidens feel like they have lives outside of Itsuki. They all have jobs or work that keeps them busy, but none of them have a social circle. Ruka is the closest, as she has the children at the orphanage. But Reone? She supposedly is friends with Mirei, although we rarely ever see or hear of them interacting with each other. Femiruna? She has servants, but shes specifically shown to have difficulty finding a friend. Yuzuha? Reone visits her with medicine, but thats the extent of their relationship. Arie mentions in a generic event that Ruka helps out and goes shopping with her sometimes, but we never see the two of them together. Its a far cry from CII, where Narika and Fuuko hung out regularly, Fuuko mentions hanging out with friends and getting lunch together in some of her events (friends that arent main characters), and Serina is shown out on the town with two of her own friends. Stuff like that makes you believe that the heroines have lives outside of the protagonist. Its important, because if you have a character whose life revolves entirely around the player avatar, then that makes for an extremely boring person.
Pacing: The game has none. There are only 4 main story events in the game outside of the intro/ending. One story event happens per seasonal dungeon you complete for the first time. As we saw in this LP, Mana actively mentions that Itsuki/the player should try and switch up the labyrinths each time rather than clear a seasonal labyrinth entirely before moving on. The game even has a mechanic to encourage switching seasons (enemies getting stronger when the season outside matches the season of the dungeon). For any typical player, that steers them towards the idea of "clear a labyrinth in Spring, then clear one in Summer, then clear one in Autumn, then clear one in Winter, then repeat".
The problem is that doing this burns out the entire story within 4 dungeons and you're left with 8 more dungeons to clear where absolutely nothing happens. I never tested what happens if you rush the Ophiuchus Labyrinth immediately, but I would imagine that the enemies and final boss would crush you. The weird thing is that there is also no true benefit to sealing every labyrinth. The story even tells you (once the Ophiuchus Labyrinth appears) that sealing all the remaining labyrinths is pointless. This game doesn't have a bad ending or a true ending, so there's no reason at all to not do the final dungeon as soon as you can. It makes everything feel like a waste of time.
So if you go in blind to this game, you'll most likely wind up getting what you saw here in the LP. You'll see all the main story events after the first four to six dungeons that you complete, then you'll probably go and grind through the remaining dungeons because "Hey, there's got to be some benefit or reward for doing it all!" By the time you get back to story stuff, you've probably forgotten what the hell is even going on.
This shouldn't have been a difficult thing to do. If all you have are 4 main story sections and there are 12 main dungeons, then just have a story segment trigger after "Cleared Dungeons = 1/4/7/10". Say what you will about Conception II's story, but at least we didn't have a gap of 8 dungeons before the story decided to stumble back out.
So yeah, you may notice that the positives are few and the negatives are many. I didnt hate this game. If I wasnt LPing it, I still would have played through it. I definitely wouldnt have spent 40 something hours on it, but I would have gone through the story (Ill be honest, I probably would have just rushed the boss after Labyrinth 4). I liked some of the characters enough to want to see their bonding routes all the way through. Its also a game that I could easily play while watching a video off to the side (for the dungeon crawling portions).
But its a very generic JRPG. Its also a very generic visual novel. I wouldnt tell anyone to pick this up at full price. If you asked me what price I would recommend it at, Id say $20 at most (and only if you were super bored or otherwise a diehard JRPG/Dating-sim person).
As for comparing it with CII, Id take CII any day of the week over this. CII wasnt amazing, but at the very least the story had some semblance of pacing and there was a decent supporting cast. Wake was also a more enjoyable protagonist than Itsuki. Wake had some passion (also bloodlust). Itsuki starts off with a few hints that hes the hero type (as in thinking hes an RPG/TV hero), but shortly afterward hes lost to the background of the plot and little to nothing is said or shown to advance that. In terms of the heroines, regardless of whatever complaints I had about Ellie and Torri, at least things happened in their character routes. The things that happened kind of pissed me off (especially in Serinas case), but at least I felt something, unlike with Tarua in CP.
CII also had catchier music and the fact that the heroines accompanied the protagonist into battle made them feel like more active forces within the story.
So, yeah. Thats about it. I didnt hate my time with CP, but I sure as hell didnt enjoy it as much as CII. I had a lot more fun doing the CII LP. Maybe SC could look into remastering that someday.
Please for the love god, Spike Chunsoft. Dont actually remaster that someday.