A long time ago, when I was still a naive youngster of 21 or 22, I made some bad decisions. That isn’t unusual; most people in their early twenties make some mistakes. One I made involved a PS2 game called Ar Tonelico. The mistake was that I purchased and played it. It served as a wakeup call to the trend that Japanese games were following and helped me avoid games with similar content going forward, but I still had the embarrassment of having played that in my mind. In the better part of a decade since that game came out, I have successfully avoided similar titles, knowing better that to even get them for a laugh. Unfortunately, I made a similar mistake again with the 3DS (and Vita) game Conception 2.
The thought processes that lead me to buy Ar Tonelico were sound. The previous year I had played Atelier Iris, a charming if insubstantial game with its focus evenly spread between adventuring and crafting. It had a nice throwback feel that helped offset its apparent cheapness. Finding that the team behind it, the developer Gust and publisher NIS America, were putting out another game with a similar look I was intrigued. I didn’t look into it a ton; it was a niche title that wasn’t getting a whole lot of press so there wasn’t a lot to check. I just semi-blindly purchased it at a time when I had some money. I mean, I was in college, and that meant I didn’t really have a steady cash flow, just times when I could buy video games and times when I couldn’t. Ar Tonelico had the good fortune to come out in a time when I did have money. It starts out not especially disconcerting, just some 2D sprites and a battle system all about protecting the magical singer in the back row. Then the game introduces “diving” which has the main character enter the singer/mages (called Reyvateils in the game but that doesn’t matter) which unlocks abilities and costumes. Every discussion about diving, though, is framed with sexual innuendo. It quickly crosses the line odd to creepy with stuff like inserting song changing crystals into the girls’ “installation ports.” It is uncomfortably pervy. It was also a sign of things to come.
The appearance of somewhat skeevy sequences, at least to American sensibilities, in Japanese games has long been a thing. In Lunar 2 you can find pin-up pictures of most of the female portion of the cast, as well as a few joke ones. Many JRPGs have an inexplicable bath scene or the like. Ar Tonelico was the crest of a wave games that existed just for those pervy moments, followed by just about the rest of NIS’s output and stuff like Senran Kagura. As a lover of Japanese games, it was inevitable that I would stumble upon one of these nightmares; Ar Tonelico just happened to be the one that I played. After seeing that crap first hand, and I played all the way through it just for the amusement of my roommate, who found the whole thing bafflingly hilarious, I knew better than to pick up anything like it going forward. Or so I thought.
When Atlus released Conception 2 for the 3DS and Vita, I ignored it. There were other, more interesting games coming out at the same time and it set off my skeev-o-meter like crazy. However, this summer, amid of drought of interesting 3DS software, before Legend of Zelda Triforce Heroes, I picked it up digitally during a sale. The game itself is not very good, but that is compounded by its focus jiggling anime titties and weird sexual innuendo. It starts right in the title: Conception. It is all about making babies. The central mechanic for party building in this game is called “class-mating,”(I must admit that that is a terrific pun. Kudos to the localization team.) in which the protagonist and his female classmate of choice go through a special process that results in the creation of “star children” who make up the bulk of the player’s party. Those kids get stronger the closer the protagonist and the woman are, so the game is actually about romancing anime ladies to make babies, except that any reference to sex must be oblique. Aside from some brief amusement at the pun in class-mating, this whole thing is just off-putting. Almost as much as the Headmaster at the school where all this happens. He talks exclusively in lurid references to the women present. I’ll repeat that. The headmaster of the game’s school setting talks about nothing except how hot he thinks the games girls are. He is just some super creeper. I’ve enjoyed some games that have elements of dating sims. I love Persona 4 and it has plenty of that. But that is only one element of Persona 4; most of the game is about chasing down a killer as an anime Scooby-Doo gang. It strays into weird hijinks occasionally, but it doesn’t linger there. Conception 2, those parts are not additional, they are the focus of the game. The game exists primarily for pseudo-sexual encounters with its female characters, the dungeons and battles are merely there to pad things out. The whole endeavor is gross.
I think I have truly learned my lesson this time. There is no enjoyment to be had for me in this sort of game. With the game market in Japan continuing to shrink, leaving what developers that remain the unenviable choice of having to either risk not finding an audience or banking on the otaku crowd that eats up this creepy bullshit. Conception 2 went for that second option