Nice attention to detail within the same old strategy-RPG
Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity is another strategy-RPG from Atlus, although Nippon Ichi was not the developer this time. Stella Deus takes us to a grim, futuristic world with an austere style. The empire has nearly exhausted its supply of spirit energy, and the dominant religion teaches apathy. In a world whose main problem is that no one cares, your task is to revive the spirits (both literal spirits and the spirits of the people). To do so, you must confront the rulers who wish to drain away everything.
The theme of apathy is well illustrated by a minimalist art style that focuses on grey, silver, and dark colors. Indeed, the costumes and architecture resemble those of the recent Aeon Flux movie. While this does serve the story of the game, it can also be depressing if you play long hours staring at dark grey and silver. However, the drawings of characters, portraits, and items show a satisfying attention to detail that gives everything an identity.
The game's music is a little more lively, having some soft, rhythmed tunes that help carry you through long battles. Appreciable sound effects also play when you take an action such as striking a foe or using an item. It's also nice that the story dialogues are fully voiced by competent voice actors. Although the dialogue is rather cheesy at times (and not intentionally so), the voice work does help draw one into the story. The best examples are the anime cutscenes that occur periodically throughout the game (and are also very well-drawn). Overall, the audio part of the game is worthy of praise for its long hours of work and contribution to the game.
As for the actual gameplay, it's a typical strategy-RPG. The game menu offers a Tutorial Mode to introduce you to the combat engine. The Tutorial does a good job of easing the learning curve and acclimating you. In its favor, the combat does utilize tactics such as elevation, flanking, weapon reach, etc. However, we've seen it all before. Unlike other recent titles, it doesn't offer any new tactical twist for the veteran to experiment. Although there's no need to re-invent the wheel, if you're going to dedicate 20+ hours to a strategy-RPG, you hope to see a new tactic of some sort.
Where the game really shines is in its Item Fusion system. Almost every item in the game can be fused with an other item to create a new item. Furthermore, the product of the fusion is almost always as or more useful than its components. Therefore, fusion is a very worthwhile activity in this game. In most games, fusion serves merely as a sidequest. Here, however, fusion can be an integral part of your characters' advancement. With so many worthwhile fusions available, there are entire databases on GameFAQs dedicated to the topic. Players who enjoy the concept of fusion can sink their completionist teeth into this game's vast system.
Returning from fusion to the main story, the plot is a standard affair about confronting cliche villains. Although the game takes place in the future, the weapons and plate mail armor give the combat an anachronous medieval tone. The artistic elements of the game never come together well, but the mechanics of the game should satisfy some strategy-RPG fans enough to justify the time investment. All in all, Stella Deus is a polished but slightly mediocre strategy-RPG.