Conception II Review
More and more I have to realize that I have this profound attraction to the dungeon crawler genre. I find a lot of appeal in building and customizing a crew of fighters that I can take with me into battle with maybe only a portrait or simple character model to go off of, even more so if I have a good selection of characters to choose. I also find the Dating Sim a very interesting brand, especially ones that let you choose that person that you want to learn more about and realize (in the more well-written ones) just how deep the human psyche can go.
In comes Conception II, a game that flirts with both genres to produce this unique hybrid that has you flirt enough with girls to get them to make children that you can take into battle all while saving the world from impending doom. While the story likely won’t win anyone over, the combat and design likely will.
Fearsome realms known as Dusk Circles filled with monsters have sprouted up in the world of Aterra, threatening the very existence of humanity. Our hero is a young boy who is blessed with the mark of the Star God, and goes off to attend an academy where others with this same mark are trained to fight these monsters. After discovering that he holds an incredibly amount of ether inside of his body, he is bestowed the name “God’s Gift”, or G.G. for short. With this power in hand, the school wishes for him to venture into these dangerous Dusk Circles and unravel the pile of mysteries found within.
While at school, G.G. has the opportunity to talk to three girls on any given day, working to increase his relationship status with each of the seven girls available. In order to win over one of them, you’ll have to sweet-talk your way through conversations, buy them different gifts at the Gift Shop, take them on dates, and bring them into the dungeons to fight. As mentioned before, this can directly influence the act of Classmating. Each of the seven girls have their own separate storyline to experience, with multiple endings to unlock based on the one you choose (and other endings to see). This provides a decent amount of depth to what would otherwise be your typical harem dating sim.
The only real downside to this is that you will experience a lot of the same conversations with the ladies when you interact with them at school. Many times I found myself skipping through a lot of the dialog, with the game asking me to either choose the same response I made before or try something different. This became rather monotonous, though the occasional new scene brought it back around for me a bit.
Where before, someone would have to put their names on a waiting list, our pal G.G. can skip to the front of the line to participate in a ritual called “Classmating”, where, you guessed it, he can get it on with some of the most talented female disciples of the school to make Star Children. This can be influenced by the stats of the girl you do it with, the matryoshka doll used to initiate the act in the first place, and more. The game even introduces the ability to mate with two girls with what’s called “Tri-Mating” (oh boy) to produce even more developed children.
Up to nine children (in teams of three) can be taken into the game’s many randomly-generated dungeons to fight alongside you in battle along with a female companion. That’s a total of 11 party members, each with their own strengths and weaknesses fitting into a range of job classes. It’s kind of adorable that they actually run around with you outside of battle - like one big, happy family.
Combat is turn-based with player movement around a field. Monsters can be approached from one of four sides . Most of the monsters you will come across has a weak spot that you can attack to deal higher damage, but in order to build a chain which is ideal in taking out some of the more difficult monsters, the idea is to strike any of the other sides, pushing the monster down the turn order, giving you more time to either attack or heal up before they get to fight again.
It’s a thrilling experience when you’re on the ropes only to have one of your children land that hit to kick off the Chain Drive, therefore giving you the time regroup and heal up before attacking again and sometimes completely changing the tide of battle. There is also an Ether Drive meter that goes up by landing successful strikes or using items, allowing you to take turns a lot sooner than the enemy, serving as a nice compliment to the other battle mechanics. The battles can be a lot of fun, especially during the boss encounters.
To keep things fresh outside simply raising a virtual army of Star Children, players have the opportunity to have their kids go Independent, ideally when they reach their level cap which goes up based on the compatibility you have with the respective mother. By having them go off to survive on their own, the city’s level go up, unlocking more locations, such as a Guild and Gift Shop inside town, and unlocking more items to purchase and quests to take on. Not only does this do a good job in encourage grinding out levels, but also keeping your team on a constant rotation - up to a point, of course, but that point doesn’t come until much later.
There were some rather aggravating moments. For one thing, throughout the entire game I was only taking one of the girls, Chloe, along with me to fight in the different dungeons. Yet I experienced on several occasions this cutscene where Chloe would approach me as I was going around town, upset that I hardly ever took her out to fight. You can imagine how confusing this was, especially considering this is as much a dating sim as it is a dungeon crawler, so I couldn’t tell if the game was punishing me for something that I was innocent of.
Another is how identical the dungeons look to one another all the way to the end. I am certainly not criticizing its linearity - you have to expect it from these types of games. However, every single dungeon looked exactly the same as the other with only a different color scheme. Monster variety also left a little something to be desired, although it certainly does a better job on this front than some other RPGs I have played recently.
Conception II also barely takes any advantage of the Vita's touchscreen or backpad functionality. I have personally not played the 3DS version, but someone I know who did echoed the exact same problem. At most you'll get an interactive cut screen where you'll poke or slightly rub a certain spot on a female disciple's body (ideally rubbing their head to comfort them, but not other parts lest you want beaten).
Visually, Conception II looks very sharp and beautiful for a Vita title. Everything from the moving 2D portraits with the nice character designs to the 3D models are all done very well and have this cool, crisp look on the handheld screen. Both the look and the (great) music clearly draw a lot of inspiration from Persona 4, all the way down to the J-Pop tunes that play during monster encounters and even the view of the camera while running around the monster-infested labyrinths.
Of course, some people will take offense with how the content of the game is presented, especially in some of its more hypersexualized moments such as the Classmating, but at no point does it ever takes itself seriously. It’s a weird title, and I appreciated it more as the game went on and discovering how much fun the localization team had with it. It’s full of fanservice, it does pander quite a bit, but pokes fun at these themes to a point that it comes off completely harmless.
Conception II is an unusual beast. On one hand, the game could have used a lot more creativity when it came to the dungeons themselves, the throwaway plot is discouraging, and it doesn't do any one thing exceptionally brilliant in the gameplay department. On the other, the game looks incredible, the music is fantastic, and the combat system can be intense when the difficulty goes up. For fans of the genre, this is definitely one worth picking up, but for those on the sidelines, it may be an easier purchase later on.