It's not all that uncommon for many niche Japanese games to be written off simply because of some racy content, regardless of whether there is a genuinely good game behind it all or not. In the case of Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars, there is a very good game behind it all indeed. Despite the very unusual concept of making additional party members in form of Star Children with females, there's only a moderate amount of fan-service in the game and it never takes centre stage of the experience, either. With a premise like this, the developers could have easily made a bunch of attractive, boring girls and called it a day.
Thankfully, that's not the case for the seven female heroines that the player can interact with. On top of being very likeable characters, most of them have good backstories and the events with them over the course of the game are simply entertaining to follow, making building relationships with all of them well worth the effort. It's also a very welcome change of pace between the exploring of labyrinths, the locations the other big part of the adventure takes place in.
The overall story of the game is about teenagers that find a brand on their hand one day, one that grants them special powers to fight against monsters that come out of seven Dusk Circles across the planet. These chosen people are called Disciples and are trained at the Star Academy to defend the world. The protagonist - that can be given any name - is special, in that he has an extraordinary amount of Ether compared to other male Disciples, allowing him to actually enter the feared Dusk Labyrinths and fight the opposing monsters. Additionally, he can reliably create powerful Star Children - up to nine of which can be taken along into labyrinths - with female Disciples that possess a large amount of Star Energy in a ritual called Classmating. This ritual involves the characters touching each other and then forming the Star Child via a special matryoshka doll. Once it is born, the player can select its name and class. The available classes are based on the stats of the Star Child, which in turn are dependent on the selected mother.
The idea certainly sounds strange, but it works really well and creates a satisfying mix of dungeon-crawling, team-building and dating simulation. Star Children have to be grouped together in trios and can have different classes and elemental affinities, resulting in team decisions that could be compared to a franchise like Pokémon. The labyrinths that have to be conquered consist of multiple, randomly generated floors, where the goal is to find the portal to the next floor while picking up treasure, evading traps and fending off any monsters on the way.
The party consists of the protagonist alongside one accompanying heroine and three trios of Star Children, for a total of four controlled units on the battlefield. Battles are initiated by coming into contact with monsters and are strictly turn-based. They, however, offer a few mechanics that add an extra bit of strategy. Positioning is important, as enemies can be weak to being attacked from either one or even multiple directions. While regular attacks naturally always hit what's in front of a unit, many skills can hit from different angles, such as attacking an enemy from behind despite standing in front of it or hitting multiple weak points at once. Using these skills wisely is crucial to gain the upper hand, as it's not possible for more than one group to stand in front of a weak point simultaneously, with the exception of the main characters that can stand alongside one group of Star Children.
While all conventional stats such as Attack or Magic Defence do what they usually do, Speed is actually influenced by the current Ether level on the battlefield. Having more Ether speeds up the party and this can be achieved by performing powerful attacks, killing foes, or using a special skill with the main character that uses Bond Power, something that's acquired from viewing events with the various heroines.
Two more extra mechanics are the Chain Gauge and Mecunite. Each attack on any enemy fills part of the Chain Gauge, although the amount depends on the direction of the attack. Filling it to a specific point will chain the currently targeted enemy or boss and significantly slow it down, allowing the group to deal massive damage with no retaliation for a short period of time. Mecunite enables a group of three Star Children to transform into a powerful Mech and benefit from greatly increased stats and a variety of skills that depend on their classes and elemental affinity. This mechanic is very useful during tough battles, but it does require a decent amount of precious Bond Power.
Even though the gameplay mechanics are very solid, going through the labyrinths can become repetitive after a while. Luckily, the breaks between chapters are a great change of pace, where it's possible to interact with the seven heroines and improve the protagonist's relationships with them. While getting to know them is entertaining on its own, it's also a part of creating Star Children, as the relationships affect their overall strength and growth. It also works in a way that promotes strengthening the bonds with the girls and occasionally replacing Star Children in the party. This is because they are assigned a maximum level at birth that increases as the game progress, so they will eventually stop becoming stronger. While that may sound tedious, it's actually not very time consuming to bring new groups up to a level where they can hold their own.
This aspect also ties into another feature of the game, where Star Children can become independent and help out in the Fort City, increasing the level of the city, creating new useful facilities, and expanding existing ones, such as the item store. These additional facilities include a training camp and a gift shop that sells various gifts and wearable accessories that can be given to the heroines. In addition to that, completing various quests for the laboratory can also result in new equipment being added to the shop.