Luminous Arc 2 is one of the most disappointing games I’ve come across in quite some time. Being a vehement supporter of the original installment (which was released a little more than a year ago) and being hopeful of any future iterations, I found that Luminous Arc 2 is a run-of-the-mill game that is barely engaging enough to keep a veteran RPG player occupied. Even though imageepoch and Atlus promised vast improvements from the original, I think my time would have been better spent revisiting Alph, Theo and the rest of the Luminous Arc gang.
Sixteen years before our story begins, Beast Fiends begin appearing at an alarming rate. Mattias, head of the “Magic Association” used a forbidden power, which sealed their fate and ultimately cost Mattias his life. Since his death, Beast Fiends are beginning to appear again and it is up to the Magic Association as well as the rest of the kingdom of Carnava to defeat the fiends and restore peace to the land.
Even though this story is quite boilerplate to begin with, some of the characters make playing Luminous Arc 2 quite enjoyable. Roland and Rasche (both sons of famous knight Steven) are typical young military characters looking to find their place in the world and eventually prove themselves worthy. Althea, Dia, Luna, and the rest of the witches are the real show stoppers in the game both in terms of their intelligence and in terms of their latent sex appeal. Pip and Pop are Palom and Parom clones that made me want to find FFIV DS and put it in. With all of that said, I think the villains of Luminous Arc 2 are the most engaging. Without Fatima and Josie, I don’t know if I would have cared enough to continue playing. Fatima is the witch that has turned to the dark side of magic (see Mrs. Darth Vader) and Josie is an undead kitty. Yes, an undead kitty. These two characters really have heart and reminded me of the Disgaea series. I think playing as the evil side may have been a much more enjoyable and memorable experience.
As I mentioned previously, the rest of the game is entirely forgettable from a plot perspective and the story seems much like an afterthought that is mainly used to drive the character from hot spot to hot spot. From tracking down a witch like Luna to searching for the latest magical crest, this type of search and retrieve type storyline bores the player by chapter 20. By the end of the game, I was thrilled to be done with it. While the first Luminous Arc was cute, this game felt bland and uninspired.
I’ll let my soundtrack-reviewing colleagues weigh in on the soundtrack, but let me briefly delve into the sound of this title (keep in mind that the OST gets bundled with the game). Let me say that I was disappointed. With Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono series, Shadow Hearts series, Xenogears) on board, I thought this soundtrack would rival the masterpiece of the original. In my opinion, while not a complete disaster, I thought this accompaniment to the game fell victim to a formula. From the mediocre J-Pop opening to the soothing hymns of town, I felt like I had heard it all before. If you asked me about the soundtrack to Chrono Trigger I could hum it right now, even though I haven’t played the game in about a decade. In stark contrast, at one point, I actually muted my DS because I was so sick of the music. That’s never good. I was also confused with the voice acting. It faded in and out during certain scenes and I never quite understood why certain things were voiced and others weren’t.
Let me first begin with the positive gameplay elements of Luminous Arc 2. The game features a pretty steady battle system. Primarily, it allows the player eight people on the battlefield and easily supplies all of the pertinent information on one of the dual screens: turn order, HP/MP, move rate, etc. Further, by clicking either the L/R buttons on the top of the system you can cycle through all of the creatures and allies data. It is quick and dirty, but it is effective.
During battle, there are some features that really work well. One of them is the Flash drive system, introduced in the first game. This system, a gauge that fills based upon kills and other actions performed by the characters, releases some “limit break” attacks that are unique to each member. This provides the player with some powerful actions that are both visually interesting and essential for long-term success. I was initially skeptical of this system, but all complaints faded when later in the game two characters could combine for even more powerful attacks. Using the friendship concept from the Persona series (you can do combo attacks with people you have connected with) provides for some heavy damage. While not as well executed as something you’d see in Disgaea, it is nice nonetheless.
In addition to these gameplay elements, which are both found in the original, Luminous Arc 2 tries some new things. According to the website, the developers “have listened to the fans and have made several refinements to make Luminous Arc 2 a truly worthy sequel!” Well, in some senses they have, and in others they haven’t. For example, Luminous Arc 2 feels like a pretty shoddy Final Fantasy Tactics clone. Because I am not a huge fan of that series, this was a major turn off. For example, Luminous Arc 2 incorporates the “victory conditions” caveat to most battles (seen in Fire Emblem, FFT, and most other SRPGs) as well as the dreaded “guild quest” system. Here is a big gripe for me. There are not many games that have done the guild quest system well for me (FF XII and Oblivion come to mind as great examples) and LA2 fails miserably here. Why have a guild system? A developer should include a guild system if it allows them to lead a player through a different part of the world—open them up to secret treasures and difficult maps. LA2 doesn’t do this at all. Instead, you’ll be fighting tedious battles with minimal reward. Basically, it’s a way for a player to be able to grind. If you want a grind battlefield—do what the Shining Force series did and allow the player to go into battle and then egress out of it (keeping their experience). I just thought this was a pointless addition. The developers sure didn’t listen to me as a fan!
In addition to these somewhat meaningless changes, the new “engage” system was annoying to me at best, flat out stupid at worst. As you continue to meet witches during the story, the main character Roland can become “engaged” with them during battle. What this means is that Roland can garner some of that witch’s attributes for the rest of the battle. For example, if you’re fighting a fire monster, engage with your water witch in order to knock him out. It’s basic, and I didn’t really understand the point of it.
Another gameplay element that returns from the first game that I abhor is the lack of a true world or world map. Unlike the Shining Force series, which allowed characters to find hidden items or characters in battles, explore towns, and generally get a sense of progression while traveling the world, Luminous Arc 2 allows for none of this. Battles are not interactive—there are no secret squares to stand on or Jogurts to find. While there are towns, you wouldn’t know it as you never see them and are limited to a touch screen that basically says “Shop,” “Library,” “Advance the story.” Overall, the gameplay involves advancing the story to get to the next battle (which is pointed out on the map as a hotspot), and then doing this over and over. This is by no means limited to this particular title (Lost Magic does something very similar), but it does detract from the overall gameplay.
Similar to the last installment, the equipment and shops of the game don’t really add anything to the experience. After completing a battle, players get money they can use to buy equipment or items at any towns along the way. However, there is really no accomplishment in any of this: during battle the weapons are not illustrated any differently, and money in the game is far too easy to get for any sense of accomplishment when acquiring a new item. Overall, the idea of going to the shop felt more like a time killer than fun.
I thought the graphics were a step backward in the series. Even though I liked the flash sequences in battle, the DS is capable of so much more. Overall, I thought the game’s artwork was average, but excelled in character design. Interestingly, when looking at Roland, Rasche, and the like, I was reminded of a game like Trauma Center. Characters had facial expressions in real time and sometimes their looks were ultra-exaggerated. Regardless, even though this game didn’t push the envelope, it was fine to look at.
While I may have been unfair in terms of improvements over the original, I will say the control in Luminous Arc 2 is leaps and bounds better than the original. If you remember, Luminous Arc had a terrible stylus system that could thankfully be turned off in the preferences screen. This game has a unique seamless integration of both a traditional and a stylus interface all in one. If you want to move your character, input a command, or cast a spell, you can do this with your stylus or with your d-pad and buttons. It’s all up to you. It’s easily the biggest improvement I witnessed from the original to the sequel.
Even though Luminous Arc 2 is a pretty extensive handheld title (40 hours, multiple endings) with a bonus OST, I cannot recommend it to you. If it was March or April and you were dying for a new game, I would say to buy it cautiously. But we’re in the middle of the Christmas season and there are so many games out there. From A+ titles like Fallout 3 to handheld ports like Chrono Trigger and Star Ocean to long awaited PC games like A Vampyre Story, don’t spend your precious time or money on Luminous Arc 2.