Black Stella Ptolomea is not the second, but the third attempt at creating a game based on the “Black Stella” universe envisioned by Re:Zero author Tappei Nagatsuki and How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend author Fumiaki Maruto. Girls und Panzer’s Takaaki Suzuki, and Kingdom Hearts Composer Yoko Shimomura.
This game is tough to review because Black Stella is missing a ton of assets. Several features aren’t available there isn’t even an options menu, the gameplay’s basic, the overall presentation is lacking in many areas, and the gacha system wasn’t even implemented. On one hand, it isn’t really fair to review a game in such an incomplete state, on the other hand, Black Stella Ptolomea is supposed to launch this summer, and there are games with an unknown release date that have much more feature complete betas.
Since its release is only a matter of months away, the title probably won’t receive a massive overhaul in that time, this review will be a reflection of the state of this game in its current state but do keep in mind that it is still possible for the game to improve in many ways. As it stands though, Black Stella Ptolomea is incredibly rough, and its current state doesn’t instill a lot of hope in its launch.
*Black Stella Ptolomea was played on an Android Galaxy S8 on Black Stella Ptolomea’s default and only graphical setting.
▍An Unimpressive Showing of a Touted Story
The first thing that’s apparent in Black Stella Ptolomea is its presentation or lack thereof.
The game’s story mode is fairly straightforward. The mode is split into scenarios and quests, with scenarios being a dialogue between characters as still images with no voice acting and little in the way of changing its presentation. It just mostly serves as an exposition dump to move the story along.
The story follows you as Tobi, a leader of a task force dedicated to taking care of the threat caused by the massive hole that appeared in the Minato ward, set in 2049 the story takes place sometime after the incident and these tasks forces have become commonplace, and dealing with monsters is just a new part of life. The story briefly goes over their daily lives, their missions, and personal problems. After a scenario though you can tap the story button again to go into a fight instantly, with almost no context in the story outside of its premise.
▼ One moment you’re talking…
▼ Then you’re fighting, with little connecting the events.
Characters may occasionally talk about the previous mission, but the presentation is very rushed as the moment a scenario ends, you’re sent back to the main menu and have to select story mode again to begin the fight. Even if that was fixed to be a single sequence, Black Stella Ptolomea’s writing still doesn’t mesh the fights and scenarios together cohesively.
Black Stella Ptolomea’s story is in a really weird spot. It’s a narrative that’s had quite a lot of thought put into it to even warrant having a third go at it, but the game doesn’t do a good enough job of presenting it, making it pretty unengaging to watch. It feels like the developers were really set on making a game out of this story, but haven’t taken advantage of games as a medium to tell the story, resulting in a disjointed experience that’s neither very fun to watch nor engage with.
▍Incredibly Basic Turn-Based RPG Combat
Black Stella Ptolomea plays similarly to the first iteration of the title as a turn-based RPG. This isn’t normally a bad thing but it makes you wonder why the developers would return to the same game system they didn’t find successful from the beginning, while also stripping away some features.
In Black Stella Ptolomea you queue the actions your party will do against different targets and then can confirm their actions and watch them fight.
Because of how the targeting system works, and since each turn only happens if all of your characters move, the game lets you split each character’s attention to multiple targets, letting you perhaps debuff two enemies instead of attacking one at a time, or debuff one enemy right before another character uses that opportunity for big damage. This can open up a little bit of strategy as the game also has an elemental weakness chart so you can more effectively focus down enemies.
Each character has five active abilities, each ranging from the standard attack, buffs, and debuff, with an ultimate ability that you can use after performing enough actions, and does a kind of flashy super attack with a lot of damage. Outside of these commands, you can equip characters with weapons and accessories, each with various effects like granting buffs at the start of the battle and different stat bonuses.
You can also level up characters and gear by spending EXP items on them, and ascend them using certain materials to increase their max level. Surprisingly the game will seem to implement skins for weapons and accessories, which is a nice little touch.
I wish there was more to say about Ptolomea’s gameplay, but from what was in the beta that’s everything there is. The game doesn’t add anything else to the loop of selecting a character and performing an action, and there aren’t any other ways to engage in the combat, like stopping an enemy from moving, chaining combo attacks together, or any other system mechanics tying down a repetitive gameplay loop.
Black Stella Ptolomea also doesn’t do enough to make combat flow on the player’s end. Since you have to pick your targets for your characters, one would assume it would remember that unit’s previous targets to make selecting moves much faster, but It doesn’t, meaning you need to set your unit’s target at the start of each turn, then select their action, and finally hit confirm. Combat also feels unresponsive because whenever you select a character their commands take a moment to show up before you can tap on it, making you have to wait a second before you can issue any commands.
▼ On one turn you target multiple enemies, next turn the game forgets.
Combat presentation also takes a lot of shortcuts. At the start of every action, the game has to reset the scene by fading to black, then orienting the camera to whoever’s involved in that combat action. It makes combat look clunky and causes the rest of your party members to not seem involved in the actual fight as everyone’s just waiting to take their own turn, rather than acting remotely like a team.
Although there is an elemental system, the game expects you to remember the enemy’s weaknesses, as the game doesn’t actually show you what the enemy is weak to, rather you have to remember the weakness chart and compare it with your units. This is arguably a very minor gripe, but even most other modern RPGs will indicate to you if a character will deal more or less damage during combat, and having to have your player memorize information and not show it in-game, just feels like a very basic feature that’s also missing here. At least the game could have used some of the screen real-estate to just display the elemental chart, but it’s locked behind the pause menu.
▼ The arrows also point to the element it is weak against, not strong against…
There are just too many things going wrong in the game’s beta for it to be enjoyable, and while that is something to be expected for an unfinished product, it does leave a lot of worries about the game’s launch state if this is what players can expect from the beta while the game’s only a few months from launch. Even a title like SD Gundam G Generation Eternal, a game that still has no release date in sight manages to be significantly more feature complete than Black Stella Ptolomea.
It’s boring, clunky, and a mess in a lot of places, and while there are many things that can be fixed, the core gameplay loop lacks any real engaging quality to it. The game does have some moments of neat presentation and care with some of its attacks looking kind of nice, especially the character’s super attacks even in what I can only hope is its unpolished state.
While things like strategy and tactics in an RPG will evolve as the game progresses into its end game, Black Stella Ptolomea’s core is just so barebones that it’s hard to imagine the game evolving without several more months of work.
▍Black Stella Ptolomea Does Not Look Good
Black Stella Ptolomea’s closed beta test is just disappointing but at this point, it’s not even surprising anymore. This is the third time the game has been rebooted after two failed attempts at a turn-based RPG, then a tower-defense hybrid, and now returning to a turn-based RPG with a similar story, but woefully lacking in execution.
Cyberstep was chosen to take over the project and it seemed like it would be the true iteration of this game, but it still hasn’t had enough time to bake in the oven, creating a mess of a game that has basic components, and not much else going for it. The story’s presentation is weak and doesn’t take advantage of the medium, the gameplay is repetitive without much room for strategy, and there just isn’t a whole lot going for the game. There is something that could be there for a fun turn-based RPG, but you wouldn’t be able to tell at all from this beta.
If Black Stella Ptolomea was to be released by this summer as expected, don’t expect it to be live for long much like its previous iterations. Unless the publishers and developers are willing to delay this title to work out its kinks, it might just be better to release the game’s script online instead.