When I initially reviewed Acquire’s Class of Heroes 2, I did a personal check of the high school dungeon crawler to see if it marked every check box on a special list. That list is called the “Francisco Fuentes Big Three”, otherwise known as a set of perimeters or elements a game is to contain to be a considered a Francisco Fuentes game. First is the setting, which has to be set in an anime high school. I’m not talking about your Project A-ko style anime high school with their gangs and mech unit fights, but one with dates and class representative meetings. Second is a usually fantasy (but science fiction can also work) world where everyone name drops specific proper-nouns and terminology and expects the player to keep up. Third is the biggest deal breaker, which is a heavy injection of boys’ romance perversion (think panty flashes and jiggling breasts). Thankfully Class of Heroes 2 well short on the third check box, but unfortunately Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars strikes that final square with gleeful abandon.
Developed by Spike Chunsoft, Conception II has you playing in a fictional-fantasy world, as the gray-haired male youth Wake Archus (you get to pick his name, but Wake seems to be the canon name), a recent transfer to an island combat academy. Each student at the academy is called a disciple, as they all share a uniform symbol on their hands called the Brand of the Star God, a mark said to have been bestowed by their god as a means to fight alien creatures that appeared decades ago. Wake learns that he is the fictional religion’s God’s Gift (a title who’s subtlety will quickly appear more Gallagher’s sledgehammer then soft messiah), a forespoken figure whose huge magical energy count allows them to successfully travel through the otherwise hazardous home of the monsters, called labyrinths.
Wake’s role as God’s Gift is to perform a ritual called classmating with the academy’s highest ranking female disciples. Classmating requires a male and female student, for instance Wake and fellow transfer student and swimming nut Fuuko Amicus, to bond their magical energy in order to create adorable demon combating offspring called Star Children. Once the early world building and mechanic informing is unfortunately slogged through, Conception II’s core conceit is now twofold: keep up good relationships with the other female disciples and raise Star Children in a dating simulation, and bringing in a single heroine and teams of Star Children to combat monsters in a dungeon crawler.
Conception II’s focus centered on romancing its harem of ladies initially caused much hand wringing on my part. A big part of that third check box mentioned earlier comes with some character archetypes, as most of the seven girls could easily fit at least one. For instance, Narika Shina is the blue-haired girl whose social anxiety clashes menace against her public role as class vice representative and cartoonish banana breasts. Your home room teacher Chloe Genus encapsulates the worst in modern anime high school and visual novel characterization, as the older sister of your sole male friend Clotz whose back story is that she is a genius and multi-published high school teacher at 18, having graduated from college at 14.
Since I can notice the tropes, I can also see the characters hopefully try to move past their archetypes. Conception II’s thankfully supportive English voice acting seems to push most of the terrible grievances away, and some of the characters become endearing and actually engaging, like the tiny hot-headed Serina Leaf, whose pent-up angry disposition is mediated when you see how studious and goal oriented she is, as Serina models herself after the respect she has for her older sister.
Comparing Conception II to the later Persona games like Persona 3 and 4 is rather expected, but it fits even looking past the obvious dating sims mixed with a dungeon crawler. Conception II’s heavy synth but rather jumpy soundtrack by Masato Kouda isn’t as club jazzy as say Persona 3’s, but it has a similar feel where they are oth feet tapping catchy. Best example is one of the dungeon themes, where the vocals by MARiE work to get you pumped. The combat draws parallels, as both involve placing the enemy in the center while your teammates gang up around them. The seven deadly sins themed dungeons are reminiscent of Persona in that they seem to square rooms and corridors fixed in a displaced virtual realm instead of say an ice cave or dragon’s den. While some of the dungeon interiors, like the Gluttony labyrinth’s walls shaped like mouths, exude Conception II’s semi-distinct design, the dungeon are nowhere near as visually intricate as, say, the underwater dungeons from Fate/Extra.
Some of Conception II’s more troubling aspects come from how it handles classmating. The classmating is paraded like this romantic religious exercise, bonding man with woman, but it just comes off as goofy. The first half is this embarrassed talk Wake has with every single heroine about tip toeing around how the classmating is a metaphor for sex. After a saucy cut scene of the two students holding hands, one that feature the song A Breath’s Distance with the lyrics “Whoa! Touch my heart. Just want to make love to youuuu” followed by the sound of harp strings, the gears abruptly shift. The second part involves picking the job class and name of your new Star Child. But because of the shift in music and how the Star Children are born (hatched) from matryoshka dolls, it feels like a successful classmating/conception is like winning at an arcade crane game. The fact that the Star Children are born fully clothed as lancers, berserkers, and blacksmith with accompanying coupon as a different song plays congratulating you doesn’t help the entire experience from coming off as jarring and mismatched.
Now not everything classmating is off-putting, as the product of the classmating, i.e. the Star Children, are perhaps my favorite part of Conception II. A Star Child’s job class is based on their “mother’s” current stats, and some of the job classes look rather distinct where blacksmiths will have dreadlocks and weld hatches, gunslingers have chaps and cowboy pistols, and merchants will have these weirdly huge hats. The Star Children also share their “mother’s” hair color, so sometimes the kids will look extra cool or menacing, like when Torri Feiiji’s Star Children have her split Black Jack-colored hair. The Star Children also make generally cheery dungeon companions, as they get excited about finding treasure and just generally vocalize how they like spending time with their “dad”. A final interesting aspect of the relationship you have with your Star Children is a process called Independence, which includes sending them off to help develop different parts of the island’s facility.
Pros: Pleasantly distinct art design, with special attention to the fashion present with the Star Children. Catchy soundtrack is great working music. Some of the voice acting helps better endear the characters past their otherwise archetypal roles.
Cons: Recurring feeling that the intended audience was meant to focus more on the ability to gift the heroines’ sexy swimwear accessorizes rather than making huge chain combos and rescuing the world from monsters. Combat is faux complicated, where you are either auto playing it while you wax nostalgic about how you did seem to use the game’s multi-paged info dumb detailing the combat. Isn’t going to work for someone unfamiliar or oppositely considers themselves tired of the game’s modern anime high school tropes. Same can be said about the game’s first few hours where the mechanic tutorials and world building offer a rough bump to walk across.
Atlus released Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars on both the 3DS and the Vita (I messed with both ports, where outside of the Vita better utilizing the screen real state, the ports are identical). I liked Conception 2 maybe more than I normally would. Maybe over thinking its goofy trappings helped? Conception 2 is more interesting and colorful then it has any right to be, but I can only truly recommend it to people who preferred the dating sims parts of the Persona games over the dungeon-crawling ones. For everyone else, I say just go listen to the soundtrack somewhere online.