Ah, Japan. The land of virtual girlfriends, tentacles and vending machines full of worn school girl pants. All things considered, it's no wonder that sometimes, the more 'otaku', er, interests can sometimes mix together. Sexual overtones, innuendos and women with impossibly large chests are nothing new in the land of Japanese role-playing games, and the silly situations, light-hearted conversations and childish humour found in them are the perfect antidote to the more serious shooters of the West. And I say this as a perfectly normal woman, who's played through their fair share of games-consoles-personified-as-nubile-young-women Hyperdimension Neptunias and other such games that are so often the target of much eye rolling and outrage.
Latest in the long line of suggestive games is the dating sim and dungeon crawler hybrid, Conception II - a harem of schoolage fantasies all wrapped up in a single game. Playing as the new disciple Wake, whose first day at the academy takes a turn for the strange when he discovers he alone possesses a massively inflated magical Ether count, he's soon yanked out of his classes and brought before the church elders, who hail him as the one prophesied to save the world, or as they put it in the game, the legendary God's Gift - or GG for short - which soon becomes your new nickname around campus. But with such power comes great responsibility, and God's Gift's seemingly limitless Ether reserves mean he's the only guy around who can reliably undertake the holy ritual of Classmating. Taking one of your similarly talented female classmates into the designated church hall, you have the chance for some serious one-on-one time in which to make Star Children. These Star Children can then travel into the world's dungeons, alongside Wake and one of the fertile females, to help root out the cause of the world's troubles.
As a kind of dysfunctional family outing, ma, pa and up to nine kids (which could have one of seven potential mothers) travel across the land of Aterra and start fights with the local, angry wildlife. The dungeons that litter the land, known as Dusk Circles, are a randomly generated series of rooms and corridors, with enemies, treasure chests and the occasional healing spring dotted around - each dungeon has multiple floors and portals to take you from one to the next. On the final floor of each Dusk Circle is a bigger, badder and more dangerous boss, who you need to destroy to neutralise the dungeon and prevent it from spewing out monsters into the surrounding areas.
The battles themselves are turn-based, with you, your entourage and the enemies taking it in turns to choose what action to take each time. Splitting your team into four groups, one of you and the missus, plus three groups of three children, each cohort attacks as a single entity, and can be placed in various positions around each enemy. Encircling each of your opponents are four different positions from which you can attack, with one or more highlighted as a weak spot, where you'll do extra damage - and, on occasions where your target is building up to a strong attack, areas where you'll suffer more damage if you stay put. There's also 'Chain Meter' and 'Ether Density' counts which build up with each successful attack, and can prevent enemies from moving, or cause you to land more critical hits, helping you turn the tide of battle. None of these really factor into the first half of the game too much, but as time goes on and the enemies become more challenging, making use of these tricks becomes much more important.
However, there's a whole other game at work outside of dungeons, when you're back at the academy, trying to juggle the affections of the seven ladies and fumbling your way through some pretty hairy dialogues. Whether it's attempting to mitigate the damage done by a totally accidental chest grab, helping a girl get over her touching phobia or being there for a terrified Fuuko when she thinks she's seen a ghost, each girl has her own unique quirks and storyline to play through, and many of them turn out to be not as shallow as they first appeared. As the game progresses, you move on from small talk and flirting to going on dates, and even taking part in some fairly risqué heroine-specific events, such as taking 'swimsuit' photos of a girl who conveniently forgot to bring her bathing suit...
You see, how the girls feel about you is key to producing the best possible Star Children - upset one of the ladies and they'll likely refuse to do the ritual. The better you and the heroine get on, the stronger your child becomes, with a higher maximum level they can reach. Much like real life romance, the girls like talking to you, being showered with gifts and going on dates - but can feel a bit rejected if don't classmate with them often or neglect to take them with you to the dungeons (ooh er). But with only time to visit three of the ladies each time you return to town, you'll need to prioritise and organise your affections if you want to successfully produce the best offspring and save the world in the process.
Classmating itself is a barely-veiled sexual innuendo of a ritual, in which the lights go down, with neon nude flashes of nippleless bodies casually writhing around with eyes wide shut, before a close up of two hands join as the scene fades out - and while there's no body contact shown, the dialogue before and after the act is about as suggestive as they come. Tons of blushing, panting and awkward situations peppered with innuendos aren't for the easily embarrassed, but for those that can laugh it off, it's surprisingly entertaining.
All going well, you should soon have Star Children coming out your ears - and those that have already reached their maximum levels, but aren't strong enough to keep on your team, can be sent out into the wild, increasing the level of the game's city. Increasing the city's level opens up new shops, a guild where you can accept side quests, and other useful facilities to help you out on your adventure, including a gift shop where you can buy presents and accessories for your harem.
With more jiggly chests, innuendo and baby-making than you can shake a stick at, Conception II won't be for everyone. The story itself isn't much to write home about, but the dating aspects are just interesting enough to keep you coming back and the battle system isn't half bad either. Providing you can handle the double entendre laced dialogue and don't mind plodding through the initial few dull hours, you'll find a surprisingly light-hearted and quirky game underneath.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS