Conception Plus – Maidens of the Twelve Stars review (PS4)

Spike Chunsoft’s Conception Plus: Maidens of the Twelve Stars is coming out in the West on November 5 for both PS4 and PC (through Steam), over seven years after the original game came out for the PSP. Was it worth the wait? We played the PS4 version.

I never actually played the first Conception game, as it was a PSP release that was exclusive to Japan. While I was an avid PSP gamer at the time, my appreciation of JRPG games didn’t go so far as to seek out non-translated titles and learning Japanese just so I could play them. I did play the follow-up (Children of the Seven Stars) though, which was one of the earliest titles to be released on the Playstation Vita and which did get an international release.

Now, Conception Plus: Maidens of the Twelve Stars remasters the original game, giving me my first shot at playing the entry that started it all. Having played through the story it was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a somewhat familiar experience. Playing as Itsuki, you task is to woo a dozen attractive girls staying at the National Star God Academy in order to reproduce and battle the monsters that plague the land of Granvania alongside your Star Children.

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Of course that setup sounds a bit bizarre, and that’s a brand of gaming that Spike Chunsoft is known for. But while there’s a distinct air of ‘dating sim’ to the setup, the game doesn’t involve you trying to get girls naked and having sex with them – that element is all about bonding finding a pairing that will allow you to produce Star Children with the right DNA and attributes to help come out victorious in the game’s turn-based battles – which play out inside a dungeon crawler type of game.

When creating children, which happens as part of a magic ceremony rather than through traditional means and a long pregnancy, who you pair up with determines the character class and special abilities of the child, which becomes important when you start thinking about how to build parties. Once in battle, you start leveling them up until they hit their ceiling, after which you can set them off on their own quest of life and replace them with new ‘recruits’.

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Unless you’re into the visual novel style of gameplay which applies to most of the “dating” stuff, the real meat of Conception Plus lies in the dungeon crawling and combat portions of the game. Dividing your children among groups is a tactical choice, as they all work together more or less as one once in combat – sharing their health and other attributes. Combat’s handled in a way that’s fairly unique to Conception in its combination of maneuvering and attacking/defending at the same time. As far as turn-based strategy of the JRPG variety goes, this is one of the more dynamic examples out there.

There’s a bit of a grind to progression in the game though, as it can take a while to level up when you hit a wall. Level designs are randomized to help with the grind, but I would have enjoyed a more tightly designed experience myself – one that emphasized the tactical options within the excellent combat mechanics rather than the grinding that it can now turn into.

Conception Plus: Maidens of the Twelve Stars is definitely a niche title, and the writing is a good example of this – it pokes fun of anime tropes, social issues and similar games in the genre, but you have to be somewhat well versed in all this to fully appreciate it. With core themes that will not appeal to everyone and a bit of grind, this is a game that’s best suited to a very particular audience – if you enjoyed any of the previous Conception releases, you know that that’s you.

Score: 6.5/10

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