Stella Deus - Preview

Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
ESRB: Teen
Release Date: 04.26.2005
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A tactical RPG worthy of the PlayStation 2

Stella Deus: Latin for God of the Stars

"God's will for our broken world is destruction. Those who accept this and await their fate will be welcomed at his side"
(Aeque Teachings)

Following the legacy of Disgaea and Hoshigami, Atlus is birthing the next big thing in tactical RPGs. While not terribly outgoing, Stella Deus is a soft-spoken, down-to-earth creation, slated to arrive (via the stork) on the North American consumer's doorstep this summer. Stella Deus is hardly a genre-busting game, but it will certainly flesh out the skin-and-bones apparatus the TRPG genre exists as today.

The world, as known in Stella Deus, is constant prey to a dark and terrible plot device called the "Miasma." Taking the form of a strange mist, the Miasma swallows up everything it touches, decaying human civilization to a point of chaos. For a time, people existed lawless; thieves, gangs, murderers and other such societal ills thrived in a mist-infected world. However, out of the chaos, a peculiar philosophy emerged. Defeated, the people of the continent of Solum turned to the religion of Aeque to find fulfillment. As written above, the teachings of Aeque mandate a pitiful submission-let the world dissolve, and try to accept it. Apathy is the word of the day amongst the people of Solum. All hope is lost, and Aeque is making sure of it.

Out of the unspeakable doldrums comes a powerful warlord in the neighboring kingdom of Fortuna. Taking advantage of the Solumites' apathy, he cuts a swath through the continent, capturing cities and villages. Overlord Dignus is his name, and conquering helpless hamlets is his game. In addition to this, he despises Aeque and their philosophy of non-action, and is determined to bring life back to the world. His primary method of motivation, however, is quick and painful death. Thus, the stage is set for the adventure; opportunistic overlords, mystical mists, dreadful destruction, and awkward alliteration.

Not all who still live believe that the Miasma is undefeatable. Apart from Overlord Dignus, there are several sects and groups who would seek to save the world from the menacing mist. Some believe that furtive energies called "Spirits" hold the key, through the forbidden technique known as alchemy. Others would hold that a mystical portal known as the "Gate of Eternity," once opened, would remedy the problem. As is customary, many of the views are diametrically opposed, which means that much of the groups' efforts are wasted on fighting each other, in addition to the Miasma. The main character in the game is a member of Overlord Dignus' Imperial Legion, a katana-wielding fellow by the name of Spero. Interestingly enough, most of the supporting characters subscribe to different philosophies, which means that Spero is constantly torn between various the various methods for the world's salvation.

"Overlord Dignus is his name, and conquering helpless hamlets is his game."

Artistically, this game is unparalleled. Leaning heavily on the hand-drawn manga-style art, the game sparkles with aesthetic charm. Most of the cut scenes seem like clips from a good anime, with all that entails. The characters are not incredibly detailed during gameplay, but the simplicity is appealing. The backgrounds, however, are immeasurably detailed, as if the game took place within a watercolor painting. Very fluid and sophisticated, it is easy on the eyes and a feast to the senses. On the matter of sound, Hitoshi Sakimoto's soundtrack promises to be memorable, and the voice-overs ought to be enjoyable.

With regards to its battle system, Stella Deus seems to use a good, traditional battle setup, adding several strategic twists along the way. Once a battle begins, players can deploy up to six characters that they can direct around the grid-based map. Every character begins his/her turn with 100 Action Points, and spends these until his/her turn is over. Action points are consumed by movement--one character statistic dictates how much AP is spent per square moved--and the use of attacks, skills or items. At turn is over when the player wishes to end the turn, or if the character's AP drops to the point where no further actions may be executed. The turn order is visible at the top of the map, and since a character must acquire 100AP to receive a turn, each action will move the character farther down the turn order. In other words, the more AP you spend, the longer it takes for that character to recover and receive another turn. The map also plays a large role in battle, as positioning of your characters can affect the damage dealt. When characters are close together, you can instruct them to attack together, which deals massive damage to the enemy and allows the gamer to sit back and watch some interesting choreography.

Characters become stronger by gaining Experience points as well as "SP." Every attack, item, spell, or miscellaneous battle action nets the character a certain amount of Experience and SP. Also, attacking from different angles (from behind, for example), will increase the amount of goodies obtained. SP is used for the acquisition of special attacks, as well as the increase of character statistics. This adds a degree of customization that many RPGs seem to lack. In addition to this, characters in Stella Deus can change between specific jobs/classes, and improve their class over time.

As for sidequests and replay value, there are various missions that you can opt to take through various guilds and groups. These challenges can range from delivering/acquiring items to defeating monsters. There is also an interesting item combination system, which (although likely to be less involved than the Dark Cloud 2 invention system) ought be a good way to make some interesting weapons and other powerful gizmos. While battles are fixed to plot events, the Catacombs of Trial offer a constant supply of cannon fodder to level up your characters if needed. Moving from place to place is done by a point-to-point system (as compared to a "free-roaming system," as in FFX), where you move to different locations by selecting them on a map. Moving is not as instantaneous as you might think, however, as the game keeps track of the date, and traveling between cities consumes time, based on their distance apart.

Stella Deus promises to be a tasty treat for gamers who like their battles long and hard. Boasting over 50 hours of gameplay and goosebump-inducing graphics, it ought to become near and dear to the hearts of TRPG fans all over North America. While the plot is nothing special, it compliments the solid graphics and gameplay nicely.

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