Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity - Review   

I See Why "Eternity" Is in the Title...
by Heath Hindman

35-60 Hours


Rating definitions 

   In previous console eras, tactical RPGs were a bit more rare than they are now. Wondering when the next such game would come along was a feeling like unto the anticipation of Christmas Eve. This has changed in recent days, thanks to several companies jumping into the niche. Naturally, more games of this type being made means more good times for tactical RPGamers, but it also means an increase in the available crap. Stella Deus falls under the categorization of the latter.

   Stella Deus stars a young sissy named Spero, who is probably named such because calling him the rhyming word "Hero" would have been a sin in 90% of world religions. Players take their effeminate on-screen representative on an amazingly original quest to save the world from an evil mist. This "Miasma," as the folks call it, is destroying whatever unfortunate part of the world gets enveloped in it. The population then splits into two main groups: one that is trying to save the world with new alchemy, the other thinking the world's destruction is the will of god and not resisting. This concept is a nice break from other games/books/movies that more often have the religious side as the ones getting in people's faces, but it doesn't do anything to work excitement into the tale. After the stereotypical large-breasted, hot, and innocent-yet-tough female party member educates Spero about what's going on, the party decides to set alchemy on the back burner in favor of seeking the fabled Gate of Eternity, which just might be the key to preventing disaster.
Three Fun End

   The shoddy way the story is told doesn't help matters. Again, like Hoshigami, most dialogue between characters happens in scenes where one character's animated portrait occupies the screen. The text of what he or she says appears in a blurb below while a voice actor makes a lackluster attempts to please listeners. Seriously, this is some of the worst voice acting to be found in the current generation of video games. It's painful to listen to. Thank heaven players can just hit X and make the character's full line appear immediately and cut the talking short. Still, the dialogue scenes take entirely too long. Maybe this will sound like a minor quarrel, but the gap between appearances of on-screen characters takes entirely too long. Go ahead, mash any button to try and speed up the process; nothing will help. The process of trudging through such a scene goes like this: Press X, wait for someone to fade in, say a line (even if it's just "..."), then slowly fade out. After driving to the park and having a picnic, one might return home just in time to see the next character on the screen. Then one can hit X, hear two words before hitting X to cut off the voice acting, see the character start to fade out, then go rent a movie. Why not save some time and annoyance by telling the story Fire Emblem style?

   Then come battles. These are actually a high point in the game, although that's not saying much. Being a spiritual successor to Hoshigami, there were bound to be similarities. Any action at all, including movement, will cost a different amount of "AP." For example, one character's turn may consist of moving two spaces, using an item, then attacking, while another character might stand in the same spot and attack three times. Movement cost may also be affected by what items a given party member is carrying, so careful planning must be used in virtually all aspects of battle preparation and the use of one's turns. Experience is gained after each successful non-movement action, be it spell, attack, etc. Characters then gain SP, which can be used to learn new skills or marginally improve individual stats. Adding more depth to the fighting is the combo system. When the players work two or more members of the party into certain formations, they can pull off group attacks that can prove devastating to even the deadliest of bosses.

   Unfortunately, there are flaws that come with these battles. Namely, one that has plagued sub-par TRPGs everywhere: the "traffic jam." In too many battles, the opposing sides start way too far apart, leading to an unnecessary lag time between the start of the battle and the actual exchange of blows. Furthermore, when said exchange is happening, there is a tendency for one part of the map to get overly crowded, despite players' attempts to mix things up. This starts out as slightly boring, but eventually gets flat out frustrating. On the bright side, there are no random battles in Stella Deus. All of the leveling-up can be done in an area available in most towns called the Catacombs. This works similarly to the Tower of Trial in Hoshigami, minus the suck. Each floor of the Catacombs has a level, and all foes in the stage are of that level. Clearing on floor opens the next, and the next, and so on, although there is always a cap on how many floors can be cleared at a given point in the game. This is a great system. Don't want a random battle to slow you down on your way to another town? That's fine; they don't exist. Want to level up some characters in the party who are falling behind? No problem, just head into a low level area of the Catacombs. The environments down there can get aesthetically bland, but the combat is still the same, so that doesn't matter much. Overall, this system is just as good as those of most other TRPGs.
Hottie Of COURSE she convinces you to go look for the Gate. She could convince a man to do ANYTHING.

   Building a character is fun at first, but gets dry and dull as the game drags on. As mentioned, SP play a large role in the process. Deciding how to spend the SP is neat enough, but after the joy of using the system has spent about 10 hours with the player, it flatlines. A given character's base job can't be changed. The skills that become available to each character is dependent on his or her job class, as one would logically assume. One can teach a character an ability or two not on the standard skill set by fusing certain items alchemically, but doing so will only result in a character having skills that are kind of silly on someone of his or her class. Trying to really customize a character by using the SP to tinker with stats doesn't even do a whole lot because of the high cost. So making a healer who has the STR to be a half-decent melee fighter takes so long it's not worth while. The appearance of customization is present, but those trying to put the ideas into practice will be met with a good deal of disappointment.

   The game looks fine. All of the character portraits look great, and the in-game graphics are yet another area in which this game one-ups its elders. Of course, this was to be expected, since it's on PlayStation 2 instead of the original PS like Hoshigami was. The music can't quite keep up though. It's bland and boring, with no noteworthy tracks. Add in the fact that the characters voices are turned down too low in battle and suck during dialogue anyway, and there is no reason not to turn on a CD instead of listen to what's coming out of the TV when playing Stella Deus.

   Stella Deus is a game of waiting. Players will be looking at their watches during story segments, remembering how bored they are while watching Grey's (a supporting character) attack that takes what feels like 30 seconds to do, twitching with anticipation waiting for the enemies to meet the allies on the battle map, and ultimately...looking forward to the game being over. It's more exciting than Hoshigami, but so is getting hit by a Crysler.

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