The Idolmaster: Stella Stage has a huge cast. There are 13 different idols to produce and work with as you play. By the time you get one character to a high enough rank to earn an ending, you might very well have unlocked almost the entire cast as possible leaders. One might wonder if it is possible for one or more to get lost in the shuffle. But as a long time fan of the series, I say that is quite impossible. These are all very unique and well-defined heroines. They are so interesting and such good singers that someone might go ahead and continue playing after getting one to the S-rank level and earning her ending so you can help others achieve their dreams of stardom.
How is this possible? Well, The Idolmaster: Stella Stage’s structure encourages this. It starts by assigning you one idol to work with, and as you rank up as a producer by leveling characters up and helping them rise through the ranks, only adding new singers when you show you can handle it. This means you get a substantial amount of time working with each character. When you first meet her, you are introduced and learn a bit about her and her dreams. As she ranks up, she will encounter the rival idol (Shika from 961 Productions) and overcome personal blockades. In between these segments, you see the characters engaging in daily life in the 765 offices. You may see characters watching TV together in their downtime, practicing being cute in pictures, trying on recently acquired outfits, celebrating holidays or birthdays, and just generally supporting one another.
There are personal touches in these stories that can help characters feel more identifiable. Miki Hoshii is one of my favorites. Why? Because she’s a heroine who tends to undergo real growth in the games. She starts out as someone cruising through life because she does well in school and as a singer without having to put in any real effort. This isn’t helped by her parents, as her father is a politician who says she doesn’t have to do anything, as she can succeed through nepotism. But, as she starts working through the ranks, she realizes that she needs to actually work for her success. Seeing her mature makes her more interesting as a character.
Some characters are trying to change or improve themselves. Makoto Kikuchi and Yukiho Hagiwara are perfect examples. (And also happen to be best friends in the game!) Makoto’s father always wanted a son, which meant she turned out to be a bit of a tomboy. (She’s proficient in Aikido!) But, she wants to be a little more feminine and be recognized for her singing and dancing, so she decided to become an idol. Meanwhile, Yukiho is incredibly shy, a little anxious, and is quite unsure of herself. She’s been sheltered most of her life and wants to become an idol so she can be more confident. Just like Miki, they grow as people and performers throughout the game; we see them become more confident and reach their goals.
Then, there are the young women who seem like they’re looking for serious career paths. Or at least, ways to support themselves. Ritsuko Akizuki is at 765 because she was an intern. She wants to be a manager and producer herself one day, but for now she’s actually performing to help learn the business and aid the company. And Yayoi Takatsuki is there to help her family. She is the eldest of five in a poor family. To help her parents out, she started working as an idol to provide support and reduce stress on her family. (Fortunately in The Idolmaster: Stella Stage, her father has a job, as he was unemployed in previous installments.) In both of these cases, we want to help them find ways to support themselves and learn the business so they can be professional successes because they are kind, driven, and deserve it.
But even if you don’t find yourself liking one of the heroines’ personalities or backstories, there is another way The Idolmaster: Stella Stage could win you over. There is A+ voice acting in this game. Or, rather, maybe I should S-rank? Each of the heroines is voiced by a woman who is incredibly well established in the industry as an actress and often singer too! To make this part a little easier, I’m going to just go ahead and list a few of the other roles some of the actresses have filled, so you can see exactly how notable they are.
- Ami and Mami Futami are voiced by Asami Shimoda. She also played Aria in The Caligula Effect, Pipin in Fairy Fencer F, and is perhaps best known for providing the voice for both Rin and Len Kagamine for Crypton’s Vocaloid set.
- Azusa Miura is voiced by Chiaki Takahashi. She also played Litchi Faye-Ling in BlazBlue, Arfoire in Hyperdimension Neptunia, and Maya in Shin Megami Tensei: Deep Strange Journey. She also was in the singing group Aice⁵ with Yui Horie, Akemi Kanda, Masumi Asano, and Madoka Kimura.
- Chihaya Kisaragi is voiced by Asami Imai. She also played Tsubaki in the BlazBlue series (and performed “Shinsou,” BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II’s theme song), Ikaruga in the Senran Kagura series, and Kurisu Makise in the Steins;Gate series.
- Haruka Amami is voiced by Eriko Nakamura. She also played Belgium in Hetalia, Beatrice in Freedom Wars, and Mirei in The Caligula Effect.
- Hibiki Ganaha is voiced by Manami Numakura. She also played Rion Kugayama in Tokyo Xanadu, Alfreed in The Heroic Legend of Arslan, and Pine in Demon Gaze.
- Iori Minase is voiced by Rie Kugimiya. She also played Rise Kujikawa in Persona 4, Alphonse Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist, Shana in Shakugan no Shana, and Haruka Sawamura in Yakuza.
- Makoto Kikuchi is voiced by Hiromi Hirata. She also played Mao in Disgaea 3, Ryuto in Mugen Souls, and both Miyabi and Ranmaru in Senran Kagura.
- Miki Hoshii is voiced by Akiko Hasegawa. She also played Mia in FIre Emblem: Path of Radiance and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Sapphire in Disgaea 3, Motochika in Senran Kagura, and Kisaragi in Criminal Girls.
- Ritsuko Akizuki is voiced by Naomi Wakabayashi. She also played Dongurigaeru and the Ocean Prince in Puyo Puyo Tetris, Sheska in Fullmetal Alchemist, and Rika in Boogiepop Phantom.
- Shika ????? is voiced by Rie Takahashi. She also played Fjorm in Fire Emblem Heroes, Emilia in Re:Zero, and Mash Kyrielight (Shielder) in Fate/Grand Order.
- Takane Shijou is voiced by Yumi Hara. She also played Kazumi Mishima in Tekken 7 (and performed its ending theme “I’m Here), Yumi in Senran Kagura, Muse in Tales of Zestiria, and Shiori in Omega Quintet.
- Yayoi Takatsuki is voiced by Mayako Nigo. She also played Reu in Mugen Souls Z and Lilica in Arcana Heart.
- Yukiho Hagiwara is voiced by Azumi Asakura. She also played Laphicet in Tales of Berseria, Yuko in Criminal Girls, and Akira in Negima!.
Part of the reason The Idolmaster: Stella Stage succeeds, and really all The Idolmaster games released for consoles and handhelds capture people’s attention, is because of the characters we are working with. Bandai Namco pulls together amazing voice actresses and creates amazing characters for them to voice. They give them backstories and motivations that make us want to root for them. Not only is the game itself solid, but the reasons each of these young women want to be a star are admirable. We see how devoted and talented they are, and that makes us want to root for them.
The Idolmaster: Stella Stage is available for the PlayStation 4 in Japan.