If you play your cards right in Stella Glow, (metaphorically speaking, (it isn't THAT uninspired)) you get to bang God. (again metaphorically (but like, barely)). It's actually a very elegant merging of themes, plot, and gameplay. It's also just as crude as it sounds. This is why I play games. This is why Japan wins.
The guiltiest of pleasures. Someone came to the conclusion that dating sim and tactical jrpg mesh well together. Full disclosure: if you stacked all the shits I give about dating sims, you'd have a very thin film. Still, Imageepoch made the 7th Dragon games, and the third one (which in some shape or form was also a Sega game (I should really ask someone)) is one of the best, most unapologetic JRPGs ever. Which brings me to the first guilty pleasure: Tactical JRPGs, no matter how stupid. And 7th Dragon III was pretty damn stupid. You could fuck everyone. Like… literally. Except it wasn't literal, but they sure didn't try to hide it very well. Stella Glow is definitely stupid in the same way. Alto, the token eunic-like MC, stabs all the girls with his thick dagger, to make them overcome emotional trauma, and learn badass new spells. Also, they sing. "Volt Shower" is really catchy. I definitely hoped Stella Glow would recreate the 900 mph turn-based combat of 7D, but marinated in a sweet, sweet tactics sauce. As you've already guessed, nope. It's slow and trudging. In fact, it was so slow, I threw the game aside after the first few battles. "Fortunately" I had a disagreement with my former boss and so we came to an agreement that I would no longer need a salary. This kind of deal gives you a bunch of spare time, and since my mind had turned to gruel, I picked up Stella Glow where I had left off.
Guilty pleasure number deux is of course that this is trash anime. It's a harem anime with all the bells and whistles, and girls of ages that make Americans squirm (that sentence says very little. The infantilization of Americans has reached a level where I saw people feel uncomfortable about a 21 year old being sexualised). The belly-flashing Popo is 15, so… don't fuck her? I mean she's a cartoon, but hands off mister, hands off.
I mentioned I don't care about dating sims. But Sir, you say, how come you're playing this dumpster-tier anime garbage then? Surely your cravings for fast-paced tactical JRPGs don't outweigh the tediousness of managing dating action points? Don't worry, lad, I reply. I hacked the game to shit. Which is also why I could avoid the crime against humanity that is the English dub. I can't really say whether Stella Glow is too easy or hard. YouHacking the game gives me access to a lot of mechanically interesting spells and abilities before they should be there. It makes the game easier, but definitely also more interesting. I think it might be the better approach.
To be fair, the writing isn't actually bad. While the girls are definitely lusting over Alto in a very trope-like manner, their individual stories make them fully realised characters. The late-to-the-party character Mortimer is quite a sad character, and very engaging. The fact that she has a moogle-like speech impediment is both cute and annoying. To be fully fair, the villains' motivations and behaviour are stupid as shit. I gave it a pass, since I wasn't really expecting any better.
This is why I don't write reviews. There's nothing to recommend. Stella Glow is a perfectly good way to waste time. You are going to be wasting time anyway. Don't use social media. Do not-fuck an anime witch! (The girls are witches. It's a story thing. I'm not calling them witches as a pejorative). The mechanic of characters being adjacent to each other has potential. The bar that increases with damage dealt and kills, until you can use your conductor, Alto, to "activate" a witch, provides strategy. Theoretically, any game could be the greatest game ever made. With Stella Glow, it's just so easy to pinpoint HOW it could have been the GOAT, that being sad is really unavoidable. It is what it is, and that's fun too.
Towards the end, the dating aspect rears its silly head again. The concept of emotionally investing yourself in a relationship with a decision represented by a cute anime girl makes a lot of sense. That of course makes it too bad that the dating scenes didn't hook me. The girls are written to love you from the start, so there's hardly a relationship to build. It's a lot more fun hanging with the male characters. The game's individual character endings you can view if you max a relationship, are the exact opposite. Here all the girls get either cute, sexy, or emotionally interesting endings. Lisette's kinda all three. Nonoka's is just some implied "paizuri". I'm a man of culture, so I appreciated that. Popo's is better than her character is normally written, and Mort's is for those who like the Ayanami Rei type in a sukumizu (again, culture). The guys all just get silly, stupid endings.
The "true ending" final boss is a real fun battle, but strikes me as balancing on a knife's edge between fun challenge and super annoyingly difficult. It didn't have to be this close. If the game was smoother, faster, more springy, and didn't have little unnecessary waits in every action and animation, battles could feel fast-paced, even though they're turn-based. Have you ever seen a clip of Magnus Carlsen playing Chess? Tactical games should strive to let you play like that, even though you're a little stupid, and Magnus is a very bright Norwegian fellow. So I end back at the "why couldn't the creators of 7th Dragon (3?) create a tactical JRPG as fast as 7th Dragon (?)?". That would have gotten me just a little closer to feeling like Weeb Magnus Carlsen, instead of Sexy Anime Bingo.
Stella Glow: Hack it, undub it, pick Lisette's ending.