Luminous Arc 2 Review for Nintendo DS

Luminous Arc 2 Review for Nintendo DS

A Satisfying Representation of the Strategy RPG Genre

The recent Valkyria Chronicles for the PS3 demonstrated that genuine innovation can take place in the strategy RPG field and rejuvenate interest in the genre. Even though that game did a lot new – like doing away with grids – it still showed its strategy roots.

Luminous Arc 2 screenshot

So, while there is no checkerboard design laying out characters’ movements, the principle of limited mobility, which encourages properly executed plans of action, was still there; it was just tucked beneath a more elegant surface.

Why bring up Valkyria Chronicles? Well, if it was an example of how to push a genre forward, then Luminous Arc 2 is its antithesis. Luminous Arc 2 is a strategy title with no grand ambitions. It simply sticks with grids, a generic magic-filled story, and a Final Fantasy Tactics-like layout for battles. However, instead of these qualities coming off as negative in any sense, they’re the exact opposite. Everything is done well enough that Luminous Arc 2 feels sort of like comfort gaming – a title whose charm and well-executed mechanics outweigh its conventional gameplay.

Like many a fantasy RPG, Luminous Arc 2 sticks to a very customary story. Roland, a knight in training and his two friends – Rasche, a fellow knight and Rina, an archer – get caught up in a conflict between magic associations over the proper use of their bewitched abilities. The Rev Magic Association has noble intentions, seeking to only use magic to beat back the onslaught of Fiends – the game’s evil beasts – whereas a rogue group, led by the Shadow Frost Witch, has more sinister aims. Early on, Roland’s hand binds with the Runic Engine, a piece of technology that allows him to harness magical powers and become a Rune Knight. Since the Runic Engine is paired to him, he promptly goes from zero to hero and it’s up to him and his rag-tag group of friends to stop the conflict at hand.

Those familiar with Final Fantasy Tactics will find themselves right at home with Luminous Arc 2’s combat system. All battles take place on a limited, sprite-based set of grids. Typical expectations – like attacks from greater heights netting more damage and side and back hits being more effective than straight ahead blows – are all there. Character order is displayed along the top of the screen, so you can keep a tab on the flow of battle and possible move and attack options are laid out ahead of time. You can also preview the damage of a particular attack beforehand as well as get an idea of whether or not the attack will hit or miss (measured via a hit percentage). These guesstimates are fairly accurate, making the feature necessary for later battles where every strike counts.

Luminous Arc 2	 screenshot

Even though that all sounds very expected (and it all works well), there are some things Luminous Arc 2 does that sets it apart. First, there’s Roland’s Runic Engine. Alone, it has no effect in battle, but whenever there is a witch in your party, Roland can use an ability called Engagement to pair his engine with a witch’s magic, giving him new abilities and spells. For example, if Althea – a fire witch – is in your party, when Roland enables Engagement he’ll get a set of fire-charged attacks. However, should Roland’s witch partner die, then he’ll lose those abilities. The decision to tie Roland’s battle capacity to his witch partner’s constitution adds a layer of depth, encouraging you to look after particular characters and think carefully before launching headfirst into battle.

The Drive Points (DP) meter also breaths some distinct life into Luminous Arc 2. Every time you execute a successful action – whether it’s hitting an enemy or healing a party member – your character gains DP, which can fill up to three blue bars. Once you have DP, you have two decisions you can make. DP can be used to enhance actions – for example, it can power-up attacks or make potions more effective – or it can be continually stored until you have enough DP to execute a Flash Drive. These Flash Drives can be thought of as Limit Breakers, allowing your characters to unleash a super powerful move. Making DP a limited commodity is a great decision, as it gives greater weight to your actions.

Luminous Arc 2	 screenshot

Even with all the smart design choices on display, there are some significant pitfalls. One comes from the way experience is divvied out to your party. It’s not spread out in a collective manner; instead, characters gain experience by the individual actions. So, every time a particular characters does something – like making a successful attack – they get their own set of experience points. Okay, no problem so far, but the characters that score the killing blow of an opponent get a significantly higher amount of points. This can lead to problems where you widdle down an opponent’s health with, say, an archer, giving the archer about 9 experience points, but then the final blow goes to a knight, giving him 33 experience points. It results in level discrepancies among your characters pretty quickly. There also is a nagging problem where many battles allow the computer to keep calling in reinforcements. This can turn quick, tactical affairs into drawn out, frustrating play sessions.

Outside of battle, you can make stops at various places like towns and camps to simply chat with other characters or buy supplies. The nice thing about items in Luminous Arc 2 is that you’re never really stuck trying to figure out if you have the best stuff equipped for your character. Chances are that the newest shop on your map has the best stuff for your party, so you just roll in, buy it, equip it, and move right along.

Luminous Arc 2	 screenshot

There is a level of tinkering, however, that comes from the Lapis system. These stones boost characters stats and can be freely swapped among party members in-between battles. From boosting fire attack damage to giving you more defense, it makes for a system that is simple to grasp and opens up a lot of potential for experimentation.

Atlus fans should feel at ease with the story break segments. Before and after battles, dialog segments between characters take place. They are pretty lighthearted and serve their purpose: bringing out the charm of the brightly colored characters, which include oddball cast members like a cook who uses an egg beater to bash his enemies. There are occasional bits of voice work, but the implementation comes across as weird due to the fact that sometimes only half a scene will be voiced, so you’ll be listening along and then switch back to reading text. Pairing with the standard story segments are special breaks where you are given the option of chatting with a particular character in your party (via a dialog tree) to boost your relationship with them. Persona devotees will recognize and appreciate this distinct Atlus touch.

There is incentive to pickup Luminous Arc 2 soon: buyers of new copies will get a soundtrack CD, something that has become somewhat of an Atlus staple. Nevertheless, Luminous Arc 2 stands out enough in its own right as a charming tactical title that it should provide gamers with plenty of hours of satisfying, strategy-centric role playing.

The sprites aren’t super detailed – they could probably be done on a GBA – but the anime-styled art is well done. 4.0 Control
Tactically, everything works as it should. The controls are pretty simple and it’s easy to issue commands to your squad. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
While not Yasunori Mitsuda’s best work– that honor goes to Chrono Trigger – the tracks have a very positive vibe and you’ll find yourself reaching for a set of headphones. The voice over work ranges from “that’s pretty good” to “ugh, I wish that character would can it.” 3.5

Play Value
Strategy RPG fans won’t be disappointed. There’s plenty of grid-based play to fill the hours, and while the story itself isn’t anything special, the character relationships are crafted well enough to keep you pushing on.

3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • 30 chapters, 30+ hours of gameplay: The newest chapter of the Luminous Arc story features new and returning characters, gorgeous visuals, multiple endings, and even more challenging strategy gameplay.
  • Brand new content and enhancements: Sporting a more refined interface, rebalanced strategy features, responsive touch controls, and many more improvements, Luminous Arc 2 provides a gaming experience that builds upon the success of the original in every way.
  • Engagement system: Connect with your Witch allies by “engaging” to boost Roland’s stats and give him access to powerful combat skills.
  • Take the battle online: Pit your strategic mettle over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection against strategy fans all across North America.

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