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Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity (PlayStation 2) artwork

Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity (PlayStation 2) review

"Maybe if it had featured Spyro the Dragon instead of Spero the Boring Guy, things would have been a bit better..."

Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity is a relatively standard turn-based strategy game that, if nothing else, serves as a decent introduction to the genre. It offers nothing particularly special, but it is competently made and features a simple, easy to learn battle system that newcomers should appreciate.

Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity screenshot Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity screenshot

Your party consists of a maximum of six characters, which means no overly crowded battlefields. Enemies tend to follow a courteous, if illogical, rule stating that they may not enter the fray until you've moved within a certain range. Each character possesses a limited set of special attacks and spells, so there aren't too many options from turn to turn. This streamlined approach means it is easy to grasp the basics and then begin working to master them.

Learning to make the most of the AP system is paramount. A character starts out with 100AP as a turn commences. Moving a square on the battlefield consumes roughly 20 of those points, depending upon the weight of equipment. Attacking also costs points, with sword users able to land numerous blows in a turn while characters that rely on axes or spears are limited to a couple of strikes. Spells and special attacks? Those are quite costly, especially later in the game as the most powerful ones become available.

This is where strategy comes into play. An indicator lets you see the order in which every character--friend or foe--will act. By only using a few AP per turn, you can sneak in extra turns ahead of a potential enemy onslaught. For example, if one of your guys is four squares away from a foe, you won't want to run all the way up to him because then you'll only manage a single attack (if that) before you're left waiting for your adversary to expend all of his AP in reciprocation. However, if you move two squares and stop, your character might drop only a few ranks in the pecking order, and thus may be allowed to take another turn before the enemy gets to move. This lets you clear the gap, blast your foe once or twice, then retreat a short distance so your target must expend AP just to come within striking range. Such techniques become especially useful when your guys start gaining passive skills.

Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity screenshot Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity screenshot

Although Stella Deus is simple, though, I wouldn't necessarily call it easy unless you make the effort required to exploit its systems. If you simply play through the story, tending to side quests only as they appear in the guild, this game provides a decent challenge and is occasionally even fairly demanding, particularly once enemies gain passive skills that allow them to inflict status ailments. Being poisoned or put to sleep is a nuisance, and there are others that are more disruptive than that; the "fear" status leaves a party member incapable of doing anything besides moving, while "stone" not only takes away mobility, but also doesn't go away over time.

With a bit of work, though, you can break the game. Between story battles, you have access to the Catacombs, an immense bonus dungeon consisting of 99 levels. On each floor, you fight an assortment of generic enemy troops, and the experience you gain with each victory allows you to easily overwhelm nearly anything the campaign throws at you. If you have, say, five levels on your foes, many of their attacks will miss. Meanwhile, you're causing huge amounts of damage with each strike, which means almost any foe is easily toppled. Pinegrow, the development studio that produced the game for Atlus, actually seems to want players to take advantage of these systems. There are side quests featuring enemies at higher levels than anything you'll encounter in the main plot. If you want to recruit certain optional characters, you have to do a few tricky things such as killing certain bosses in battles where they flee after taking a certain amount of damage. To accomplish such a feat, you must possess exceptionally powerful characters who can deal an immense amount of damage via a combo attack. That's nearly impossible unless you spend a lot of time in the Catacombs.

Of course, using these tactics renders a huge chunk of the game anti-climactic. Pinegrow also didn't help matters by taking a promising plot and reducing it to a collection of the most generic tropes imaginable.

Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity screenshot Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity screenshot

At the game's onset, a lad named Spero is chillin' with his mentor, Viser. An army in service to the warlord Dignus suddenly attacks the village. Spero acts brashly (he is a JRPG protagonist, after all) and that behavior nearly costs him his life. However, Viser makes a deal with the invaders: he'll use his powers of Alchemy to assist the warlord if Spero and the villagers are spared. It's a win-win situation. The world is slowly dying due to something called "The Miasma," and Viser has been working with limited resources to save it through the use of Alchemy. Now that he has secured the patronage of arguably the world's most powerful man, he finally has the funds that will allow him to reach his goals.

And so, Spero and his pals Grey and Adara are sent to harvest Spirits required for Viser's Alchemy, under the orders of the game's resident evil empire. These efforts last for all of a battle or two. Then the heroes encounter Linea, a young shaman who immediately goes off on a rant about how these Spirits are what keeps the Miasma away and how killing them is only hastening the world's demise. From there, it takes Spero roughly .057 seconds to turn against the empire and seek the truth, which is completely cool with his friends. I mean, Grey might constantly snark about how stupid all of this is, but his "voice of reason" act falls a bit short when he's immediately cowed by a biting comment from Adara and jumps into the fray with Spero with no more resistance. More characters join the party from there. The growing group encounters the members of a religious order, who believe people shouldn't try to stop the Miasma, but instead should peacefully accept their fate. At the same time, our old pal Viser seems to be more occupied with building weapons for Dignus than actually saving the world.

Aside from Spero's rush to fill the role of generic idealistic hero, though, the story does manage to work quite well for the first three of its five total chapters. Then you get taken on a very lengthy "spirit quest" so that Linea can finally open the titular Gate of Eternity and save the world from the Miasma. The "questionable religion" and "evil empire" plots are relegated to the back burner while you fight a seemingly never-ending series of "are you worthy?" battles, culminating in a climactic moment which immediately is undone so that your party can remain intact. After those events unfold, the final chapter feels abrupt, with virtually every major adversary getting taken out in rapid succession as you rush toward the closing credits.

Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity screenshot Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity screenshot

As it tells the story, the game's spoken dialogue soon enters "so bad, it's good" territory. Most of the characters sound like they never received a script, then were heavily dosed on NyQuil and given their lines off a teleprompter with no context. Moments of high drama sound like bored teens reading a grocery list, meaning any actors who display emotional range (such as the one who plays Viper, a gleefully psychotic officer in Dignus' service) come off as an odd duck. That may also have something to do with how Viper is drawn to look like a tribal warrior but sounds like a cackling cartoon. Regardless, the voice acting is comedy gold. Given the amount of dialogue in this game, you'll probably have quite a few chuckles.

Of course, when I'm using a game's horrid voice acting as a legit selling point, that's a sign that the game itself is hardly elite. I certainly had my share of fun with it, but the further I progressed, the more I wished it would just end. There are roughly 50 plot-related battles in Stella Deus, not counting a number of side quest conflicts and any time devoted to the Catacombs. That's simply too much busy work for an SRPG as simple as this one. Once the plot becomes dull in the fourth chapter, so too does the overall game. With some of the excess removed, this would have been a great game for genre novices. As things stand, though, it's merely adequate.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (March 29, 2015)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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