CII is a hard game to sell to anyone, mostly because of how bizarre it is. Broken down to its constituent mechanics, it’s basically a party based RPG that seems to be about creating the perfect build. But then you see the package it comes wrapped in, and you realize: it’s a game about dating as many anime Japanese girls as possible, getting them pregnant, and then sending your children into battle. And all of sudden, it becomes a much harder sell to, well, just about anybody.
Even mechanically, my description above is just half the story told. Conception II decides to take its RPG fare and mix them up with dating sim elements. And while there might be some of you who are tempted to call out ‘Persona!’ at that, the truth of the matter is, it actually is fairly different than Persona with its social links is. Where in Persona, the ‘dating sim’ elements are tightly integrated into the overall story, and are actually paths to character development from a storytelling perspective, in Conception II, they seem to serve mostly as a gameplay mechanic to get down and dirty and create as many little superpowered kids as possible. In a sense, Persona justifies its usage of romance (and it never gets explicitly sexual) by backing it up substantively, both narratively and mechanically. That really isn’t a compliment I can give to Conception II, which many times feels like it was created by a horny, hormones ridden teenage Japanese male.
That feeling really is hard to get rid of as you play the game, and truthfully, it makes for a really immature experience that drags the game down. The game seems to rely on cheap thrills and shock values just because- there really is no substance that is backing up the very many liberties that it takes. Ultimately, playing the entire game becomes the equivalent of having to babysit a prepubescent boy just about to hit his teens who makes some not so subtle innuendos, all the while snickering to himself and asking you if you got it. Yes, we get it. It’s not like you were too subtle about it anyway.
"Admittedly, the dialog here is similarly juvenile and immature, laden with so much not so subtle content that you really don't want to play this game when you have company around, but here it's a little more forgivable, as simply in the context of young teenage romance, at least it makes some sense."
But okay, fine, let’s for a second look away from the trappings and try to assess the game for what it is, and how well it does what it tries to do. The conceit goes that you are a superpowered male going to a school with other students of similar power. You have to save the world, and the only way to do that is to get together with your classmates and create ‘stat children’ with them- superpowered kids who egt assigned to character classes right at birth.
To create children powerful enough to shoulder the burden of saving the world for you, you need to get to know your seven classmates. These elements are actually the most well done portion of the game- the game gets imaginative with the situations it depicts, and even though it is really hard for you to screw things up with anybody, even though it needs to be said that none of the specific character arcs that it follows is really interesting (and certainly not a single one of them is on the same level as even the worst Social Link in Persona 4).
Admittedly, the dialog here is similarly juvenile and immature, laden with so much not so subtle content that you really don’t want to play this game when you have company around, but here it’s a little more forgivable, as simply in the context of young teenage romance, at least it makes some sense.
"Battles themselves are turn based, with each group of three children functioning as one unit, and their moves determined by which children are in them. Battles themselves are standard turn based JRPG fare, and should be instantly familiar to anyone who especially plays Atlus's other stuff."
The result of all of this is the little children you make- these are the ones you take with you into battle. Up to nine children can be led into dungeons for battle, and the children all function in groups of three. As mentioned before, each child is assigned a class at birth, which determines what gear and abilities he or she has access to; each child also has an elemental ‘type’ which also plays a role in deciding what moves a child can learn.
Battles themselves are turn based, with each group of three children functioning as one unit, and their moves determined by which children are in them. Battles themselves are standard turn based JRPG fare, and should be instantly familiar to anyone who especially plays Atlus’s other stuff. Spike Chunsoft did however decide to tweak the traditional turn based formula a little, and the result is a battle system that feels like it has a lot of potential that needs to be fleshed out and realized further.
You see, thrown into the mix of stats and gear and weaknesses and resistances, and moves and party members, and attack order, is positioning. Each enemy can be attacked from one of four spots, and one of these is its weak point. Attacking its weak point has the same effect that it does in Persona or Shin Megami Tensei- it pushes the enemy down the list of the attack order, which can be extremely helpful in battle.
"All forms of art should ultimately be allowed to tell whatever story they want, on whatever subject they want- nothing should be taboo. But then, subject matter should always be handled appropriately, and inclusion of certain content should always have some innate justification."
The reason that this system needs work is because potentially, it could add a lot of depth to turn based gameplay- but as it stands now, it’s more a case of guesswork that is instantly validated by the game if you are attacking the right area with a big red arrow. Variable weak points that depended on which attack was being used, in conjunction with a consistent logic to what the weak points are, and some more thinking required on the player’s part, would make this a great battle system (and I can easily see it being adapted for something like Pokemon, for instance). As it stands right now, it basically boils down to random guesswork until you find the weak spot and attack it for massive damage.
This is ultimately the tragedy of the game- it is not substantive enough to justify its rather crude subject matter. All forms of art should ultimately be allowed to tell whatever story they want, on whatever subject they want- nothing should be taboo. But then, subject matter should always be handled appropriately, and inclusion of certain content should always have some innate justification.
So too it is with games- theoretically, a game should be able to incorporate whatever subjects and themes it wants into the story, so long as said themes are treated appropriately, and there is some point to their inclusion beyond just shock value. Conception II, unfortunately, fails on both these counts. It fails to be a good game. There are some genuinely great things here- the battle system has some nice ideas, but all of these need some work. In the end Conception II an average, mediocre one, and an unconformable experience.
This game was reviewed on PS Vita.
The battle system has some legitimately great ideas.
The battle system needs to be fleshed out further, the story is middling, the content and subject matter of the game is extremely uncomfortable, poorly handled, and seem to be present there just for the shock value.
Conception II isn't a bad game by any means- it's just a thoroughly average, mediocre one, and for how uncomfortable it obviously will make you while you play it, average probably just doesn't cut it.