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Stella Deus
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Genre: Strategy RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US 05/05
Japan 10/28/04



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The artwork is alluring, and very hypnotising.
 
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Stella Deus, for the most part, is very traditional.
 
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Team attacks are popular in this title.
 
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Character building; you can't beat it.
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Stuart Hoggan
Preview First Look
02/12/05
Stuart Hoggan

It has to be said, Atlus is a company after the RPG audience's hearts. The last couple of years have seen them propel into popularity via one incredible game after another. Hot on the trails of the brilliant Shin Megami Tensei and the intriguing Digital Devil Saga looking to leave a great aftertaste, there is one other game that has spelled anticipation in the RPG community - Stella Deus. This game exploded onto the scene after the recent Nippon Ichi phenomenon, and fans have been gripped with excitement ever since. And now the announcement of its release in the US has been dated as May. The strategy-RPG has already become popular in Japan and is in huge demand in the US, picking up where the Nippon Ichi fever finally died down. It looks as though just as the spotlight is set for SRPG's to become a vital part of the RPG genre, Stella Deus' seems determined to bring the strategy RPG into the next generation with a promise of addictive gameplay. And judging by the look of things, Stella Deus is bound to make an significant impact on the genre.

The Project Leader of Atlus, Akibo Sheih had this to say of it's arrival, ŇThe sub-genre of strategy RPGs has really come into its own in the past year and we are pleased to bring fans another high quality title that fans of the genre won't want to miss." True enough, Stella Deus is just one of many recent examples of unexpected games putting an end to the 'silent' era of RPG's in the US. Akibo also speaks of Stella Deus' promise "Stella Deus combines a compelling narrative with stunning hi-res graphics." This is also true: Stella Deus looks more than gorgeous compared to its peers. The game's unique visual style is something rarely seen in the current generation of video gaming. So far, everything seen and documented about the game looks and sounds compelling.

One of the things Atlus is keeping tight-lipped about is vital plot details, but what we do know sounds like an epic already. And lucky for RPGFan, we have a member of staff who has played the game. There is a savage mist called "Miasma" spreading through the Kingdom of Fortuna, killing all in its path. For some reason, the citizens are not all too eager to flee for their lives rather than wait for death to arrive for them. The Lord of Fortuna, Dignus, becomes disgusted by his Kingdom's "weakness" and orders the Imperial Army to eliminate all those waiting for their demise. The main protagonist of this title is Spero, a young swordsman living in the Kingdom who is spared from the Lord's massacre, and then becomes a member of the Imperial Army. He is soon commanded to help a famous Alchemist named Viser on his hunt for Spirits. The energies from the Spirits are invaluable to them, as they believe it will heighten the technological advancements of alchemy to purge the Miasma from the land.

However, there is another faction who is also conspiring to save the world from its doomed fate; the Followers of Ekuei believe that opening the fabled gate of eternity will save the day. One of their followers, the Shaman Warrior Linea, strives to open the gate. To make things worse, the Followers condemn all those who indulge in Spirit Hunting, causing an outbreak of conflict between themselves and the Imperial Army. What separates this from the typical save-the-world 'chaff' is the decline of a biased outlook - Stella Deus features characters with philosophical stances. Spero will face many diplomatic trials with characters he meets, many of who will try to sway his opinions from what is right and wrong. Plus, given the evidence of Atlus' other games, Stella Deus could be memorable here.

For point of reference, Stella Deus' gameplay is similar to that of games such as Disgaea, Phantom Brave and the late Shining Force; traditional, but melded in with it's own wave of new features. The premise is no different, turn-based battles will take place on a grid-based map. You'll also have the typical commands: Move, Attack, Skill, Item etc. However, just like Final Fantasy X, there is also a queue of turns in which you can see who will move in advance. This is a nice touch, and bulks up on the strategy element by enabling the player to plan ahead. As always in the strategy genre, positioning characters and how you maneuver is essential to battle outcome, and more experience will be awarded based on the type of kills. For example, taking an enemy out from behind will garnish more experience than straightforward attacks. Another main focus, judging by screenshots, seems to be the emphasis of combo attacks by a group of characters. In battle you are given the option to combine your attacks with a nearby character to strengthen the damage using special moves. Not only does it serve as a devastating blow to the enemy, but it's a great chance to treat yourself to beautiful flowing animation.

Like most games of this genre, character building takes an important seat at the table of Stella Deus. You will be able - and obviously have to - level up your characters, gain better statistics, learn new special moves and skills and attain the latest weapons and armor. But along with the usual features, Stella Deus lets the player alter jobs/classes, with each character being able to take a different stance, in a style somewhat similar to the class changes of Shining Force. Characters can upgrade their classes through a fairly linear path. On top of this, Stella Deus has a highly vaunted item fusion system that is certain to become popular. Other tokens include the point-and-click-navigated world map. Overall, Stella Deus continues the trend of recent SPRG's bringing fun new concepts to the strategy table that should wash down well with gamers.

One look at Stella Deus and the message is clear; this is one of the most interesting games to be crafted as of late. There is something spellbinding about the minimal, yet effective style adopted here. The artwork is a watercolored pallet of manga and lurid detail, while the graphics themselves are 2D. Stella Deus' visuals have been the defining aspect of its popularity so far. And who can blame people? The game really shines in the artistic technique brought to the table, such as moody shading with broody colors that really come across as striking. The animation is similar to games such as Disgaea; over the top, but that's a good thing. Fluid, elegant and fresh, you could stare at Stella Deus all day. The raw hand-drawings of the cutscenes and the characters in particular are something special. Having watched a video of the game in motion, everything flows perfectly and it really strengthens the popularity of 2D graphics. Other than that, the graphics exert a charming sophistication. Stella Deus seems to have descended from a dream, and it's arguably one of the most sublime visual works of this early year. Accompanying the graphical masterpiece is what will be, most likely, another starry soundtrack from Hitoshi Sakimoto, best known for his Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story work. And if that wasn't enough, voice acting has been confirmed.

So far, Stella Deus has been one of the mist highly anticipated titles to be announced. Already gamers and the people at Atlus have confidence that Stella Deus can bank its way into being a memorable adventure. We have seen the alluring beauty of Stella Deus, and we have a vivid sketch of what to expect from the gameplay. If it's anything like its peers, it will be just as fun and addictive as the Nippon Ichi games - and we've yet to hear a complaint of boredom in that department. Ultimately, Stella Deus is almost certain to be another winner for Atlus, and one that will make them even more popular. The strategy-RPG genre has finally achieved a widespread recognition; Stella Deus can only improve that. And to celebrate its release in the US in May, Atlus is generously giving fans the chance to choose their box art cover. More information about this at www.atlus.com.

Look for Stella Deus to be shipped in May. Special thanks to our Import Reviews Editor, Ryan Mattich; his comprehensive Story Translation Guide, available at GameFAQs, was referenced throughout this preview.



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