Stella Glow is a strategy RPG developed by Imageepoch and published by Altus Soft, telling the story of Alto and Lisette, a pair of teens on a quest to save their village after it is crystallized by the evil witch Hilda. Along the way they join the Regnant Knights, a group of warriors working to set the world to rights. Unfortunately, it is Imageepoch’s final game, but this is a brilliant swansong that manages to blend a fantasy world of witches with a J-Pop soundtrack.
The game’s characters are engaging from the outset, and I found myself warming to them quickly. While Alto begins as a played out amnesiac archetype, his genuine empathy, self-assuredness, and determination make him a charming protagonist. Alto’s relationship with Lisette also works wonderfully, as the two go back and forth with playful banter. The rest of the cast is a collection of diverse personalities. Whether it is the authoritative and charismatic leader Klaus, lady killer Rusty, or the bubbly and bright Popo, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with each of these characters.
Together they form the 9th Regiment of the Regnant Knights, and set out to defeat Hilda, the Witch of Destruction, and her Harbingers. Song plays an important part in the story, with none but the world’s witches able to sing. While Hilda’s song is initially beautiful to listen to, it is imbued with a chilling aspect as she uses it to crystallize Alto and Lisette’s home of Mithra Village. The 9th Regiment’s quest to recruit four witches and reverse this damage becomes all the more enjoyable for the songs that accompany it.
Stella Glow features a highly polished take on isometric strategy RPG gameplay. Instead of a more traditional turn based system, a turn order system is employed here. When a character can take their turn depends largely on their speed stat, but also on what actions have been made recently. For example, choosing to wait will bring about the next turn quicker than attacking with reckless abandon. This system made battles all the more interesting, while also introducing tension and freshness.
The game’s enemy AI proves to be a fair challenge. Various enemy types appear throughout the game, with a number of weird and wacky takes on goblins, orcs, and even possessed rabbit dolls. Each poses an intimidating prospect which makes swift eliminations essential. I got overwhelmed by sheer numbers on occasion, with enemies ruthlessly targeting the members of my party they could inflict the most pain upon. Arrogance is easily punished, and I became engrossed for the simple desire to keep all of my units healthy.
Map layout is another praiseworthy facet of the game. Each map has multiple paths that open up flanking opportunities for both friends and foes, which makes room for quickly adapting strategies on the fly. There is also a great sense of verticality, with the topography of maps giving advantages for holding the high ground. Imageepoch’s level of understanding of how to craft a strong map for memorable battles sees them delivering on the promise of the game’s combat system with flair.
But what of the game when you’re away from the battlefield? Free Time mode allows three actions to be undertaken between missions, making time a limited commodity. Exploring visited areas to potentially gather some useful items or taking on a part time job for some extra gold offer brief distractions with the promise of reward. On rare occasions one of the game’s witches will require tuning, a process that opens a puzzling map inside their mind in order to solve internal conflict and unlock new magical abilities.
The task I spent most of my time with, however, was talking to my fellow knights in the barracks to improve bonds and unlock additional abilities. While the game delivers a satisfying story and character development through the main plot, the extra material here offers an additional layer that, while optional, is well worth the investment. Having the option to learn more about these fascinating characters is very welcome, with the powerful skills and support abilities an equally welcome added incentive.
A part of why this aspect of the game is so successful is due to a great voice cast. Each and every character becomes all the more likeable as the effort of the English language cast elevates the game above the average dub. On top of this is an impactful J-Pop soundtrack. The witches that join your team become that much more important when they use their Conduct powers, unleashing a song that affects either every enemy with powerful debuffs or gives allies a boost. Aside from the potentially tide-turning effects, the songs are especially rousing for their positive energy when I found myself in a tough spot.
To top it all off, the game’s art style is gorgeous. Each of the game’s characters feels like a true individual, which is achieved rather simply through colour choice. A bright palette contributes additional joy as characters pop off the screen, while maps become all the more engrossing for the rich detail packed into environments. There is also a beautiful art card that displays when returning to Lambert, with new characters filled in as they join the team. It is a perfect summary of how I feel about this cast of characters, a team joyously returning home in perfect harmony.
Needless to say, I had a ball with Stella Glow. From the opening moments in Mithra Village the game had me hooked to it’s satisfying story, rich characters, and rewarding strategic gameplay. That writing this review is the only thing keeping me from continuing my adventures with the 9th Regiment is perhaps the best way I can convey the utter delight I feel while playing. While the knowledge that the company that brought this game to life are defunct is sobering, at the very least the team at Imageepoch got to say goodbye with a fantastic effort. Who would have though witches and upbeat pop music could be such a winning combination?