IGN Review of Luminous Arc 2
The Nintendo DS is following GBA's tradition of having a plethora of quirky role-playing games, be it a collection of traditional turn-based affairs, strategy RPGs that test your wits and small-party strategic play, as well as games like Revenant Wings that meld action and RPG together into a new RTS-like experience. Luminous Arc fits into the strategy RPG category, as Atlus's DS take on the "chess board" Final Fantasy Tactics design blends a lot of elements from games you've probably already played in the genre. With Luminous Arc 2, the team has expanded on what the first game offered, so while it may not be too innovating when stacked up with the countless other games of its kind on DS, it's still a fun affair, and one that both younger "entry level" strategists and Atlus fans alike should have no problem getting into.
If you're looking for serious innovation though, you may need to look elsewhere.
Luminous Arc 2 may feel like it's predecessor, which means it'll in turn feel very similar to the likes of Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2, and Hoshigami Remix, but it also has its own unique style, and one that will practically determine 100% if Atlus's offering is for you or not. Luminous Arc as a series is as much a manga as it is a strategy game, as you'll likely spend a good chunk of your time (unless you're a heartless story-skipper) reading and watching the characters interact as you will actually on the battlefield and grinding out bouts between mages, archers, swordsmen, witches, and monsters. It's a living manga, and more than that it's a typical design for its era (lots of large chested women and baby face cutie-pie magic casters), but it's also one filled with some pretty interesting characters, lots of voice acting to keep things interesting as you go, and some beautiful art both in and out of the core game.
Going into the specifics of the story in Luminous Arc 2 is basically an exercise in futility; there's just too much. Instead, we'll leave it be by saying this game is not a direct sequel to Luminous Arc one, though you will see a larger emphasis on witches – specifically the Frost Witch – this time around. A few characters drop in as a cameo along the way, but other than that you've got a new story, a new cast, new plotlines, and a game that's entirely standalone. We're not telling you to ignore the original Luminous Arc by any means, but if you're interested in the sequel, you can jump right on in without worrying about being out of the loop.
The story – like any good manga – follows the story of an unlikely hero and his band of buddies. Players take control of Roland, a knight in training who quickly learns the hidden power of the Runic Knights through a series of unlikely circumstances, and within the first few minutes of the game players are introduced to a cast of over 20 characters, which only gets bigger as you go along. It's a bit much to take right from the beginning, but it also ensures that less time is used to character stack one by one, so you can get your feeling for each player in this huge novel of a game, and move on with minimal initial hand-holding.
The combat is essentially the same from the previous game, but it has been tuned a bit for the better. It's a little tougher, but the same design is kept overall, so you'll see exactly how much damage and hit percentage you have for each attack, how much HP both your allies and enemies have at all time, the order of attackers across the top of the bottom screen, and essentially every piece of info you'd ever need. Some NPC (non-playable characters) don't interact until attacked, or until closer enemies are taken down, so you won't get flooded with piles of enemy fodder all at once, and battles are extremely fair overall. If a hit percentage says 75%, you're going to hit it three out of four times. If it says 99% you won't see that random miss occurring once every few hits; it's literally one out of 100. There's something to be said for the formulaic, "all the cards are out in front of you" style of the game.
There's also more strategy though, and it's the main reason we had a better time playing Luminous Arc over its predecessor. This time around only two items can be taken into battle for each character, so you can no longer item spam to heal over and over again. Experience is also a bit more challenging to get, as a regular attack might only do a few points in comparison to a final blow, so if you want to level up someone like Rina – the cutie with a bow, and our favorite in the game – you'll need to make sure she's at a safe distance, but also ready for the final shot once an enemy is whittled down to the last few points. With that being said, we found battles to be a bit more streamlined as well, so in the end it's not that levels take longer to get (they actually feel faster this time around), but that it's a more strategic affair, rather than just letting whoever is closest steal all the exp away.
The bigger changes in the game though are due to the latest battle system upgrades. With the story hinging on a new device called the Runic Engine – a man-made "Lapistier" that's fused to a person's hand; namely our hero Roland – even an unlikely hero is able to gather serious magic power by stealing away properties from others. This means that with each new magic-user in the game (witches specifically, via their magical rings) Roland is able to learn new "Engagement" abilities that effectively change his class, magic type, and abilities mid-battle. The more of these you learn, the more versatile he gets throughout the game, with entire battles hinging on what Engagements you use, and when. You've also got traditional Lapis (basically stat buffers) that can be assigned to every other party member as well, and of course they get supers just like the first Luminous Arc, which are fueled by the DP meter. The Lapis system really opens things up though, as you can now use experience aiding buffers for characters, greatly improve select stats, add to the amount of money received after battles, and the like. As you'd expect, intermission makes a return as well, with After Breaks included for upping the friend points for one main cast member at a time. It's the little things that make Luminous Arc a charming experience over the normal turn-based strategy offering.
The in-game presentation is also significantly upped from last time. You've got the same low-frame animations for sprites, and the actual attack effects could be much stronger (they currently don't look like much of a step over GBA all around), but the overall look is a lot cleaner, including everything from main interfaces and backgrounds, multiple face reactions for each character during story sequences, better transitions from screen to screen, a more unique interface layout, and even a neat little "BG Music" displayer that tells you what track you're listening to. Needed? Not at all. It's still a nice touch though. On the audio side, you still get VO cutting in and out after a few lines of dialogue, which is weird, as you never really know what scene is going to be read-only, and what is going to be fully recorded, but the voiceovers sound much better this time around (in quality of line delivery), and there's substantially more, perhaps a byproduct of the game's shorter overall play time. Just like in Luminous Arc, players can go online and battle in group-vs.-group format. Just make sure you level your guys up, as competition is stiff.
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