|VITA / NINTENDO 3DS||USA|
By Jack . May 4, 2014 . 5:00pm
It’s hard to explain what I was expecting from Conception II. My interest in the game was almost entirely based around the ridiculous pun of “classmating,” and I figured the absurdity of the concept would be enough to carry me through the game. I mean let’s be blunt here: one look at the game should tell what you’re in for. Conception II is a dating-sim masked as a dungeon-crawler. You make literal babies by not literally mating with girls at school and then sending your super powered spawn off to kill monsters.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say here is that the last thing I expected was to be so thoroughly bored by the whole thing.
First of all, Conception II tries to be a dungeon-crawler. There are certainly a lot of dungeons to crawl through, but the gameplay feels like an afterthought. It’s all randomly generated from about five or six different room layouts and everything looks the same. There’s treasure and traps strewn randomly throughout, but there’s never any exciting deviations taken on by the random generation. It might be some of the laziest dungeon design I’ve ever seen, and the tedious flow of the exploration is only broken up by numerous swarms of enemies.
Throughout my encounters, I caught myself multiple times thinking “it sure does seem like I’m fighting the same battle over and over again!” There’s a very apparent lack of enemy variety in Conception II and that’s what really makes the experience start to grate. It’s not even like there’s a lack of enemy types to place in dungeons, I definitely saw other mobs on rare occasions. The probability is just so stacked towards a particular group’s favor every dungeon that you end up fighting the same encounters far beyond the point of tedium.
If the combat system was interesting enough to carry that kind of repetition maybe things would be fine, but unfortunately it’s not. I was interested at first, definitely. It works a lot like the modern Persona games, except it brings in a mechanic I always thought would be cool to explore: positioning. Where your party members stand matters, as depending on where you’re placed, you can avoid damage or attack an enemy’s weak spot.
Positioning is a good addition, but it doesn’t work very well with the other main mechanic called chaining. Chaining results when you start attacking enemies consecutively In order to maximize your chain on an enemy you’re naturally going to want all four party members attacking the same enemy simultaneously in order to maximize your damage, which results in all of the positions around the enemy being covered. It becomes less about strategically positioning yourself to avoid damage and more putting the party member you least mind getting hit in the most dangerous spot.
Of course the positioning and chaining mechanics not always playing together isn’t really the problem I have with Conception II’s combat. The problem is that even when you do have an enemy mob figured out, the battles are still going to take a while. The enemies have a significant amount of health but there’s no excitement or strategy to compensate for it. I felt like I was going through the motions past the first floor of every dungeon, and pressing the speed up button for battle animations becomes a necessity due to the large amount of same-y mobs you need to defeat.
Perhaps the most important mechanic in Conception II is, as the title suggests, that you can conceive babies with any of the heroines. This can be done at basically any point in the game, and it’s absolutely necessary to do as your children fill up about 3/4s of your party. Moral implications of that concept aside, the idea of creating your own party members always captivates me, but in Conception II I found it to fall flat.
My problem is that it’s impossible to get attached to your little war babies as they are the definition of disposable. Your children group in teams of three and their skills and stats combine to form a single party member. They have separate leveling and equipment, but there’s very little ownership to them. You’re clearly not meant to think about them as individuals and their constant repetitive dialogue makes them more annoying than endearing.
More than just their presence in battles, you’re told from the outset that they’re disposable. In order to encourage continued “classmating” with your female companions, the children you make have level caps that only get higher the further you progress both in the main story and your relationships. Once your current child reaches that cap, you need to kick it to the curb to make room for a newer, stronger one. It’s disappointing, as it reveals the whole child creation act to be more in service of the dating-sim rather than the other way around, and I wasn’t exactly eager to go to class and charm my harem.
Every one of your female classmates shares the common characteristics of blushing every five seconds and an obsessive need to be told what to do by you. They don’t feel like real characters, their issues boil down to anime tropes and they’re all resolved by your mere existence. If you were only hanging out with one girl it might not seem so shallow, but you’re actively encouraged to date all seven girls at the same time to help your star children production. It’s the same story told with a different contrived set of circumstances over and over, and it ends up feeling like almost as much of a grind as the dungeon-crawling.
It’s not like there’s an interesting story to fall back on either. It could have been, but it would probably require being different kind of game. Conception II manages to have one of the most unintentionally creepy videogame worlds I’ve ever seen: the entire planet is run by a cult-like organization funded by a shady corporation that forces teenagers to procreate and send the resulting children off to die in battle.
However, Conception II doesn’t care about the moral implications of child labor or the corrupt religious figure who keeps hitting on little girls. Conception II only cares about how cute you think the girls in your harem are; everything else is just fluff. As it is, the world of Conception II feels like the most over-the-top, contrived way to explain a dating-sim, making the whole plot just feel boring.
Playing Conception II brought back memories of how much I enjoyed the modern Personas or even last year’s Fire Emblem: Awakening, and I think the difference is that those games were charming and emotionally grounded enough to resonate with me. In comparison, Conception II just feels cynically made. It’s a sterile compilation of ideas without the vision to make the game stand out.
Food for Thought:
1. I was pleasantly surprised to find that after completing a couple of dungeons, Conception II somehow managed to find a way to make the “classmating” pun even more ridiculous with “classmanting.” You can figure that one out.
2. My entire time playing I kept wondering if Conception II was in on how silly its world is. A lot of the NPCs and mechanics feel a little too bizarre for any self-aware person to put in non-ironically, but the story seems to play it all straight. I guess I would have liked the game more if it embraced its wackiness rather than awkwardly pretending like nothing was wrong.
3. Speaking of wackiness, you can actually form your baby teams into a Voltron-like mech complete with laser death beams. Definitely my favorite aspect of the battle system.