Stellaren II is part visual novel, part dating simulator, part turn-based strategy role-playing game, part dungeon crawler with reaction-based action mechanics, and part horizontal bullet hell shooter. This is ninedux's third title of the Stellaren series featuring a male protagonist with a customizable name (John as the default) and two stories in the sci-fi/thriller genre with optional minigames.
In Rene's story (prologue), it starts with John committing a murder at a star port in the mining colony of Horus after his Neuro was hacked, erasing his memories and allowing the hacker to take control of him. Thankfully, his murder attempt was foiled, and he was apprehended by private investigators employed by Weber Industries, the largest mining corporation on the planet.
As the investigators try to piece together the evidence after reprogramming John's Neuro, other terrorist attacks and mysterious disappearances force the investigators to bring John along and see him more as a teammate than a prisoner, and John will also get to know a diverse array of characters. Their investigation leads them to a powerful entity behind a series of abductions, and a desperate bid to rescue a close family member.
In Len's story, John is brought onboard as part of Len's team. They embark on an adventure across various planets and space installations to find Len's missing sister, meet some characters from the Stellaren series, and save humanity itself.
Plot and Character Development
The plot is ninedux's strongest suit with an emphasis on story-driven narrative, mixing the thriller genre with some dating elements in-between. The scriptwriter does an excellent job of combining these two genres by introducing the player to a variety of tense combat situations and having some time off to interact with certain characters and build their affection points without slowing the pacing of the story.
Although the visual novel has two routes with one optional romance ending at the time of this review, the affection system and certain storyline decisions can affect the story in terms of whether certain characters would live or die later on with a slightly different script and dialogue. These characters also have a significant background story and relationship with other characters, making the player feel invested in them and giving the player an additional motivation to try out a different playthrough to see how the story would develop if they are kept alive. Thankfully, the developer has published a full walkthrough at the developer website forums to help players with this part.
There are some cons though. The protagonist is a faceless male protagonist, and in the dungeon crawling and combat segments, he is relegated to a lamp drone operator role in which the robot is portrayed as his avatar. Besides a short mention that he used to be a researcher at Weber Industries, there is little else to expand on his story. I also noticed some spelling and grammar errors here and there, along with some coarse language.
Artwork and Visuals
The artwork is nice with a small amount of fan service at certain parts of the story. Although this is not the main draw of the game, the portraits and character sprites are attractive enough that I hope this game will consider adding Steam achievements and trading cards in future. Some of the CGs also help to portray the tense and emotional moments in the game well.
My only complaint is that the visual novel has very few male artwork sprites compared to female sprites, and only Aris's special move animation in the turn-based strategy segment, Arisgun, looks more impressive. Unfortunately, she will only appear in two battles in the entire story with little else in terms of combat animation.
Audio and Sound Effects
The background music and sound effects help to add a degree of immersion to the story, featuring a variety of soundtracks that match the futuristic sci-fi themes in the visual novel. The Rise, The Fall, Cast of Pods and Light Years Away are frequently used in the combat segments to bring out the tense moments, while I Don't Want to Do This Without You and Resolution help to bring out the touching and emotional moments.
In terms of sound effects, I like the sound effects of moving drone robot parts, automatic gunfire, spent shell casings being scattered, and destroyed enemy spacecraft as they add to the tension and thriller aspect of this visual novel.
The minigames are entirely optional with the option to skip it in the Steam or paid Android version without penalizing the player too much. Although there is little incentive to play through the minigames because it does not significantly influence the outcome of the story, and the enemies in the repeatable turn-based strategy battles will scale up according to the party level, I played through all of them without skipping because they are fun enough to play.
After spending close to 30 hours to read the entire visual novel and play through all the minigames without skipping, and another 20 hours to attempt another playthrough with no character deaths after referring to the developer's walkthrough, I feel that the visual novel could have more character romance options and possibly some bonus CGs to increase the replay value because the scriptwriter has put a lot of care and attention to character detail where the character dialogue will properly reflect their near-death experience that it truly feels rewarding to save even a minor supporting character from being killed in the story.
Despite some faults in the game such as no option to skip only read text, and the game crashing if I bring up the menu to check on character affection during a dialogue choice, Stellaren II is an interesting science fiction thriller visual novel with some romance, minigames, and a little fan service that will keep the player interested to see what happens in every chapter and how the story will develop. Hence, I highly recommend this title if you are a fan of the Stellaren series, or you are simply looking for an interesting science fiction visual novel with a thriller narrative that will keep you entertained for many hours at a very attractive price.
Stellaren 2 trailer on YouTube by Ryoko Haruka
- Engaging story with good visuals and audio
- Guide available
- Fun and optional minigames
- Very good value for money
- Some typo errors and coarse language
- Minor gameplay problems
For more reviews or recommended games with at least one good romance ending, check the curator list in Visual novel, JRPG, Anime