Planet Stronghold Review

Title: Planet Stronghold
Release date: 2011-02-27
Developer: Winter Wolves
Publisher: Winter Wolves
Genre: Indie Western JRPG

Let's temporarily switch our gazes from the far east to the west and review an RPG by Italian developer Riva Celso - the guy behind "Winter Wolves" and "Tycoon Games". Why he needs two different labels to publish his games is an eternal mystery and WW and TG releases have always been hit or miss with me. They ranged from incredibly shitty (Heileen series) to really good (Bionic Heart and Vera Blanc series). So let's disassemble "Planet Stronghold" and see if it is a good game.

"Did ya call ze cable technician, lady?"

Our noble hero in the flesh.
The story of PS starts on Stronghold - a human outpost in a galaxy far, far away... A young recruit to the imperial army arrives to take his/her place among the best of the best and to ensure our race's prosperity and superiority amidst the filthy alien lifeforms. Lisa or Joshua (depending on which gender you decide to play) Nelson receives a warm greeting of a healthy dose of periodic element No. 82 traveling at high velocities towards his/her esteemed self. Apparently there is a robot revolt going on and our hero is unwittingly thrust into the midst of it and other mysteries of the planet. However that is not your main problem.

Seemingly on Stronghold humans adopted the most efficient political system, absolute monarchy, and the king's beloved son Cliff went missing. It's your duty to find him at all costs. Some years ago humans waged a genocidal war that wiped out most of the alien presence in the region, but now there have been sightings of them and Cliff's disappearance might be part of some sort of a diabolical alien plot.

I won't spoil much by saying that shortly into the game you will be forced to make an important choice regarding which faction you want to support throughout the game (human king or alien rebellion). If you decide to support the king, your task will be to finally get that genocide part right. On the other hand, you can choose to imprison the king and lead prince Cliff and Marada Queen in unifying all the scattered tribes of non-humans on the planet.
I agree, Joshua.
While that might not sound so bad on the paper, in reality the plot of PS is shallow to the core and employs all the clichés available at hand. Young Nelson raises from a simple recruit to the commander of the whole Stronghold's army in the span of about a day. I reckon this is the fastest promotion since Jonathan Harker became a firm owner in just a few months after starting as a solicitor's assistant. The story itself offers absolutely no surprises from the beginning to the end and is a string of convenient "go there, do that" quests. I decided to fight on the alien side and the whole game basically consisted of visiting the five tribes, talk or threaten them into an alliance and get "das happy ende". Oh, there was some deal about evil interspatial robotic locusts (à la Independence Day) trying to sow discord on the planet that came out of nowhere and was an incredibly lame way to finish the game, but by that time I wasn't paying much attention to plot anymore. Epilogue felt rushed, like the writer ran out of steam and just tackled on some short explanations of what supposedly happened later. It was very disappointing and just inspired a reaction "That's it?".

If this game was a porno movie, than its plot could be compared to the traditional "Did you order pizza with extra salami?" or "Did you call a cable technician?" storyline that is just an excuse to get to the part that everyone cares about. In this case it would be gameplay. While I agree that the plot was kind of bearable and provided a sufficient reason for the fighting to happen, I believe that plot is an integral element of a good RPG and thus I recommend Riva to fire his current scriptwriter and use a different one for the upcoming sequel "Planet Stronghold: Warzone". One, that can preferably cook up a good and fleshed out storyline.

"How the frig will you attract a female audience to an RPG without some hot shounen ai action?"

A real black panther...
Romance subplots are an integral part of many modern RPGs and PS is not an exception. Both male and female Nelson have three romancable characters each; two straight and one homosexual. Each playable character has a certain quest that you can complete and which will net you a reward of XP, skills, weapons and a hot night with your chosen one (strictly within the standards of PG-13). You can complete the quests for all your PCs, but only the first finished will end in a romantic involvement in a "first-come, first-served" principle. I played the game as Joshua, thus while I finished personal quests for Michelle and Tom, I obviously didn't get their romantic scenes. However if Joshua's side is any indication, I didn't miss much.

Tom Shatz is the first lieutenant of an imperial army and the person you topple from power in two minutes after you arrival. He is a potential suitor for Lisa and a former hovercraft racer. His personal quest consists of helping him to retrieve his broken hovercraft that for some reason stayed in the desert untouched until Tom decided to get it back. He is quite jealous of your success (very understandably) and likes to question your decisions.

Michelle Lafleur is a personality-less doll and a possible yuri suitor for Lisa. Her personal quest was to retrieve a pistol from the body of her ex-boyfriend that conveniently for some reason crashed into planet Stronghold. This whole deal was a huge WTF for me and despite or, maybe because of, the implausibility of this scenario I was left with knowing less about her in the end than I knew in the beginning.

Damien is a leader of the rebels that contacts you shortly in the game and the last potential suitor for Lisa. There is never made clear who are the rebels and what are they rebelling against. I can just imagine the writer of the game scratching his? head and thinking what other piece of implausibility he can make us swallow. Then he watched "Star Wars" and while shouting "Eureka" added "rebels". Damien values physical strength over everything else and the quickest way to get his sympathies is by beating him and his lackeys in fights. His personal quest (if there is such) cannot be completed playing as Joshua.

Rebecca Fox is a foxy (har har) lady and a sergeant in the imperial army. She is a potential love interest of Joshua and a very pretty woman in general. Rebecca displays tsundere characteristics and her personal quest is a revenge for her sister's death.

Rumi Kai is a blind Asian psychic and another of Joshua's potential loves. She has a very strong sense of honor and despite being in an army despises violence. She prefers to solve all the conflicts peacefully, however she also has a secret aggressive streak and her personal quest involves the destruction of a facility where she received psionic training.

Prince Cliff is a yaoi romance option for Joshua. He is in opposition to his father concerning the treatment of the non-human species and is a strong and honorable ruler. He is also quite lonely. There is no personal quest for him and you will complete his romance by just talking with him a few times. His romance is also unavailable if you joined the king's side.
If that was so easy in reality, all princes would be screwing their royal commanders.
The next three characters are not romance options for the protagonist, but they still have personal quests: Bellamy Dupont, Jacob Miles and Philipp Koenig. Jacob is a cardboard flat character with no depth to him and while he has a certain secret, in the end both the secret and his quest are really laughable. Bellamy is a bit more fleshed out as a character. However he doesn't act his character correctly. He is supposed to be a serious middle aged war veteran, but acts like a youngster and does some really incomprehensible stuff. For example, breaking into a military hangar to get some equipment against the orders of his superior. Very smooth... Phillip is probably the most interesting character of the bunch and a former treasure hunter. He is rude, unfriendly and spends more time in the bar than in a training centre, but is probably the only character that I genuinely liked. His personal quest is a lengthy treasure hunt that provides you some really neat rewards. My only question is "WTF is with his hat?".

Most of the characters in the PS are really flat with minimal characterization. The quests were quite good, but romances were really unbelievable. There was no attraction between the protagonist and his potential suitors before, during and after the quest and the romantic CGs you obtained felt forced and out of place. Moreover, nothing changes between you and your "love interest" after completing his/her quest and getting that CG. Interaction remains the same or even more nonexistent. Epilogue also disappoints by providing a single sentence describing what happens between you two.

Not only that, but while backgrounds and character sprites are drawn beautifully, CGs are a completely different existence. Characters sometimes look totally different between their sprites and their CG presentations and I found CGs to be quite ugly in general. So, to sum up, I was quite underwhelmed by the plot and the characterization in this game. I really hope that the sequel will provide a stronger character exploration, especially because Riva Celso promised us a bisexual futanari alien as a love interest and possibly mentioned a gangbang with king and queen as your rewards (sadly, strictly within PG-13 :-D).

"Nelson tries to shoot the enemy and misses."

Ingenious enemy name.
The gameplay is very solid. So solid, in fact, that it's easy to forgive and forget simple and clichéd plot and poor characterization. It's actually hard to believe that the game was fully coded in Ren'Py. Riva created a full complex JRPG system designed solely for this game that is a mixture of old good FF-like combat and some innovations. There is no active bar and the combat is fully turn based. Your party takes the first strike, after that the enemy party and yours again...

One of the innovations is an aggro bar that denotes how much the enemy hates a specific character. A good way to raise aggro is to make lots of attacks by using a "burst" command or deliver hard hitting psionic attacks. The enemies will gang up upon the character with the highest aggro and leave other member of your party to do as they will. Another useful feature is the ability to go to the equipment menu for your characters during the battle and equip and de-equip what you want without losing a turn. You can also adjust your difficulty level in the game options at any time if you find that this RPG is too easy or too hard for you (I found the normal difficulty level to be just right for a non-hardcore RPG player like me). Oh, and let's not forget that you can save anywhere (yes, even during the battles).
Stomping the ants.
One weird thing is that your strongest class is 'Guardian" that both hits the hardest and can soak the most damage. "Soldier" class, the most common tank of RPGs, is pretty much made of pussies here. Both Bellamy and Michelle, who start in that class, can launch probably the most shots per turn, however their overall inflicted damage has always been the most minuscule, not to mentioned that they croak it pretty fast. "Scout" is also very useful and has both a high accuracy and inflicts lots of damage. Not so big of a problem is their lower HP and less shots per turn. "Psionics" are very useful in offence as well as defence. They can not only heal and revive fallen party members, but can damage, shock and weaken enemies.

What I have a problem with, is that all the characters start with a very low accuracy and only less than half of your shots will hit an enemy in the beginning of the game. The same doesn't apply even to the weakest of enemies, who will hit you with 9 out of 10 shots. Even at the end of the game you will often see the title message on your screen. That was a minor annoyance, though I must own that the alpha release was much more dreadful in that aspect and only 1/10 shots used to hit the enemy there. Thankfully, developer fixed that.

The combat is not everything. All the characters can specialize in environmental skills (like Sneak, Science, Explosives and etc) that can be applied in the game world outside of battle, which I found a very nice addition and I hope that it will be expanded in the sequel. These skills can be used for various purposes. For example "Sneak" might allow you to reach your destination without being noticed by enemies, "Explosives" - to attack a group of enemies with grenades preemptively to weaken them or "Science" - to manipulate computers and consoles. "Charisma" skill was also oddly useful and not only allowed to talk my way out of a few fights (including one boss fight) but in one case gave me an additional quest and a big XP reward.
In PS shops operate for free.
In the end I found the gameplay aspect to be really well executed and addicting. This is one section of the game where I have almost no complaints (with the possible exception of hit to miss ratio).

Furthermore, there is a small addition of achievements, that you obtain for completing certain objectives in the game. Some of them are of the expected kind, like "never loose a battle" or "complete at least one romance subplot". However, one of the achievements kind of bugs me as it's impossible not to acquire it. "I hate aliens" is awarded for killing a hundred of them and you will already have a hundred such kills one third into the game. That raises a question why it is an achievement at all...

Diabolical Reasoning and Manipulation (DRM)

Up until the end of year 2010 Mr. Celso made his games DRM-free and upon purchase you used to get a link to download the said game in full. "Planet Stronghold" was the first game that introduced an online activation and all the games since followed that road. Not only that, but he started to update his older games to employ the same kind of Devil's invention.
DRM surely looks ugly.
For you, who lament this unfortunate change of events as I did, I have to comfort you. Fear not, in this case DRM might actually be a blessing in disguise. When you bought the full games from WW/TG, your personal download link worked only for a certain amount of time and after that you couldn't re-download it. Here, not only you can download the demo of the game you bought and register it to turn it into a full version anytime, but upon registering the game once you can make your own crack that will work indefinitely and you will never have to go online to register the game as long as you don't lose that crack. When I realized that, the big bad tiger DRM turned into a cute "Hello, Kitty" mascot. In the end, you won't have any problems backuping your copy of the game and playing it in an uninhabited island 50 years from now.


Ultimately "Planet Stronghold" is quite a good RPG and, dare I say, the strongest game WW/TG has ever made, that suffers from a lackluster plot and very weak characterization. Try it before buying. Oh, and one last advice. Some websites call PS a visual novel/RPG hybrid which is essentially not true as this game has exactly zero characteristics that would denote it as a visual novel. It's a pure RPG. Nothing more, nothing less.

Links of Interest
Official website
Winter Wolves site
Game on Desura
Riva Celso blog
Also you can buy the game on Desura

Final Verdict: 73%


  1. Anonymous9/11/11 23:30

    The same developer (Winter Wolves) made a really terrible game called "Love and Order" (an allusion to Law and Order) and I really felt compelled to comment on what a disappointment it was somewhere on the internet (guess what, this is it…).

    This is a strange sub-genre of pseudo-Japanese visual novels …and, unlike the real thing you can't blame the translator for bad writing.

    Really, with "Love and Order", I should have been warned off by how bad the writing in the intro sequence was… but no, I ignored that, and paid the $20 (!) for the full game, because it had an innovative interface, and (I thought) would have some kind of wry perspective on the various genres it broaches (office comedy, murder mystery, legal drama, etc.).

    Wrong, wrong, wrong…

    …and, yes, I'd feel differently about it if the price had been $4.99 or just $0.99, but regardless of the price and regardless of how I feel about it, the writing is terrible.

    Aside from questions of, "is it fair to compare a visual novel to the standards expected of, say, a novel", the fact of the matter is that the dialogue in "Love and Order" would be completely inexcusably bad even relative to a mediocre TV situation-comedy --or, indeed, a TV show of any genre (including "Law and Order", alluded to in the title of the game).

    This is a game that relies heavily on office flirtations and flirtations in the office context are a large part of schlock television (with no pretensions to being high art, nor even to equaling successful novels)… but there is absolutely no way you can look at any chunk of dialogue from these Winter Wolves games and say, "Sure, that's on par with witticisms in broadcast television…"

    Man, it is really sad to say, but "Love and Order" is a much worse game than (e.g.) "Re-Alastair" (and that one is freeware).

    I don't think it's meaningful to criticize the game for failing to animate (e.g.) a boring office meeting… but if you seriously have nothing to say (be it witty, tragical, or somewhere in-between) about boring office meetings… why produce such a terrible narrative that forces the reader to sit through such badly written scenes repeatedly?

    Visual novels rely heavily on writing (yes, writing)… and the slightly unusual G.U.I. for "Love and Order" tricked me into thinking this would be a well-written game (and hey, the authors aren't Japanese, so no language barrier!). Man, I was tempted to start my own blog because of how terrible this thing was… but then I saw that you had started your own blog for similar reasons.

    I would never buy anything from Winter Wolves again… and I'm not surprised at all to hear that Planet Stronghold (similarly) sucks in all aspects aside from its G.U.I.; what you fail to mention is that this G.U.I. is only "good" relative to visual novels… nobody who is serious about R.P.G.s would be impressed by this.

    Relative to the current standard of R.P.G.s, this is a step backwards

    And the sad thing about Love and Order, is that it is a step backwards relative to Portopia (from 1983!) ポートピア連続殺人事件 --i.e., considered as a murder-mystery visual novel. Seriously, genuinely, with no over-statement: if you evaluated Love and Order as a mystery, in that genre, it would score 0%… and I think that if this wasn't a blog for visual novels, but evaluated "Planet Stronghold" relative to the leading standard in R.P.G.s, this would also be a 0%.

    My message to game developers is: don't publish a visual novel if you're not prepared to actually write a novel… you can never compete with the leading edge of other genres, and, conversely, you can never compete with real porn.

  2. @Anonymous:
    In defence of WW, "Love and Order" was written by Christine Love and not by Riva Celso (aka WW) thus all your complaints about writing should go to her. Nonetheless, one look at that game was enough to make me sure that I don't want to touch it with a ten metre stick. Though that disdain has most to do with a fact that I hate stat raising games. I find them boring by default.
    About "Planet Stronghold". It's mostly what I call a surprise factor. I expected a decent to good writing and it severely disappointed me, I expected a horrible gameplay and it surprised me. Still, I would never even dream of comparing it to a serious AAA RPG title.

  3. Anonymous8/12/11 20:50

    I'm sorry for the anonymous if he decided to stop playing Winter Wolves games, because while I agree that Love & Order was bad, the others are really good (Remember Me and Winter In Fairbrook that is just out today).

  4. @Anonymous

    Advertising? :)