I've just started Stella Glow for review, and so far so good. Actually that was true to a point, then it killed the pace by throwing a bunch of story in with the occasional ‘you can't win’/’you can't lose’ story progressing fight. Hopefully I'm past that now and back in to the routine of killing monsters. While playing, and we're talking about the very early stages, something struck me, something about the tone of the game that made it stand out.
I'm reluctant to call Stella Glow sexist because that's a more damning statement than it deserves, especially as I've only seen a couple of hours of it. Undeniably there's moments in the script that are sexist, the question being if it's merely a reflection of a specific character or the game itself. There's a point early on where Alto, the main character (ish), says something along the lines of “you're going to fight, but you're a girl?!”, his parental figure even says that he's allowed in to the woods while her daughter isn't because he's a boy. Now, I'm willing to accept that it's consistent with the narrative of the game world, something that gets forgotten sometimes. Why couldn't a girl be a hunter? Sure of course, but in this thing aping a small village in the dark ages, it's more likely that would be seen as a man's job.
So that was striking, but given how quickly Alto is put back in his box nothing really worth dwelling on. It's actually Hilda, the game's antagonist, and her outfit that first caught my "that seems topical" eye. Hilda, a fairly young looking girl, is dressed in an outfit that's split down her torso revealing her skimpy underwear. Later in the game you’re introduced to Nonoka, the shinobi guard of the fire Witch Sakuya. Nonoka is straight away remarked on for how she's dressed. Her huge breasts are only barely covered, and even then only by a bra and a fishnet top. Also, I'd like to take a moment to note that I'm writing this in a coffee shop and anyone who can see my screen is making all sorts of judgements about me.
I want to be clear here, I'm no prude. I've no issue with 'Carry On' humour being in games, nor have I got a problem with titillation being in games. In fact were it ever removed completely I think it would be a huge shame, I'm an adult, I shouldn't be dictated to as to what I can and can't play. People have different tastes, some sit uneasy with me, I'm not really in the market for waifu games, but if that's what you're in to, cool. I wish those games were better, and I probably will judge you a little bit, but I'm not going to add you to a watch list or anything. I'm also not writing this to slate Stella Glow for what it is, I'm not writing a think piece about how it's some insidious danger, I'm sure someone else probably will if the game gets any sort of traction.
No, what spurred me to write this is how out of place and time Stella Glow seems. When you've got any and all possible hints at sexualisation or offence being pulled from games, with outfits being modified in Bravely Second, gameplay being removed from the new Fire Emblem, and even Street Fighter coming under fire, seeing Stella Glow's more risqué moments stands out. They aren't even that bad, light sexism aside, they just feel at odds for the culture around games at the minute.
Then I took a look at the release lists, the PS4 port of Witch and the Hundred Knight is out this week. I reviewed the PS3 version of Witch and the Hundred Knight,
it's alright, I also found myself sticking up for it when it was criticised for the dress sense of its characters. Even the bit where one of the characters is tied up, it's all actually fairly good humoured. It's in bad taste, sure, if that's not a contradiction, but it's not malicious, it's not trying to take advantage of anyone, it's simply telling a story where you play as the bad guy.
Stella Glow isn't doing that, or at least as far as I know, which is I think part of why it stands out. It's a game that shifts in tone, people are being taken advantage of, the horrors of war, of betrayal, are looked at, even a bit about drug barrons and being addicted to something resembling meth. Then, in the next scene, a hyper positive 'kawai' young witch will make you mud tea. There's a line at one point, while talking about the horrors of war, that I'll paraphrase;
"Hard to take without a drink huh?"
"I can't imagine it's any easier with one"
Having moments like that paired off against activating a Witch power by holding her in your arms, smiling gently as she squirms nervously, then slowly pushing your dagger into the jewel of her heart... I dunno man, it's not that I think it's wrong or dangerous, it's just odd and out of place. Whether that's both in the game and in the greater context of gaming at the minute I can't say. And who knows, if Stella Glow had come out 2 years ago it maybe would barely even register with me, but as things stand it's something that's stayed with me as I'm playing through the game