Luminous Arc - Staff Review  

The Arc is Sinking
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Luminous Arc
20-30 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Mix together a measure of mediocre gameplay, a handful of horrid dialogue, and a dash of dated story. That was Image Epoch's recipe when developing Luminous Arc, a Nintendo DS tactical RPG published in North America by Atlus. When this title was first announced in late 2006, it boasted fully voiced characters, music by Yasunori Mitsuda, and a story about the struggle between a religion and an ancient evil. The early reports were a little over-exaggerated. By the time Luminous Arc was released in North America, it was quite different from what was expected.

   The story of Luminous Arc focuses on the return of witches and a prophecy that they will restart an ancient conflict with the church. What seems at first like an engrossing plot with religious overtones quickly turns out to be an asinine shell of a story. The main protagonist, Alph, has been brainwashed into hating all witches. At the start of the game he, along with his younger brother Theo and other young adventurers known as the Garden Children, is recruited to purge the world of this vile menace. Hardly an hour into the game, Alph is attacked by monsters only to be saved by a witch. After being rescued, he seeks to condemn the very witch who helped him, but is quickly talked out of it and instead agrees to keep the witch's identity a secret as she travels with the party. Character development is rather shallow throughout most of the game, with only a few showing any growth. Overall, the plot is completely predictable, despite a smattering of twists and surprises.

   The quality of localization poses a puzzle of its own. It is difficult to tell if they have done the best they could to directly translate an absurd story, or if the original telling was so dry and uneventful that they had to transform it into a joke to make it palatable. The game features a villainous brute who over-exaggerates his own battle prowess by referring to the greatness of his "manly biceps." Another character has a disturbing obsession with witches: he lecherously flirts with any he encounters, regardless of the danger. Along with those two outrageous characters, another villain speaks in valley girl dialect. Kudos to Atlus if they were just patching up a train wreck, but sadly it was not enough to repair the trite and transparent plot.

Puns Nice puns.

   As far as combat goes, Luminous Arc brings nothing new to the tactical RPG genre. When going into battle, the player must form a combat group from his pool of available characters. There are a variety of classes: healer, swordfighter, archer, and a small scattering of others. With only a few exceptions, character classes are fixed throughout the game. During combat, characters gain experience for taking actions: buffing, debuffing, attacking, or healing. Upon reaching 100 experience points, the character will rise in level, opening new spells and abilities, and restoring all HP and MP. At certain milestones, flash drives become accessible. Each action taken in combat increases the character's flash drive meter. The meter can be filled to a total of three charges with each flash drive technique consuming a different number of charges depending on the strength of the ability chosen. Certain characters also gain a special team attack called a Synergy. This ability requires the two involved characters to have three full charges available and to be within a specific range of each other. Though powerful, this requires way too much effort to effectively pull off. Because battles are not extremely difficult, time is better spent using other attacks.

   Luminous Arc is hindered most by its user interface. The combat screen is cramped. When a group of characters is in the same area, it is difficult to tell who is being targeted. Usually in a tactical RPG, when a group is clumped together it is possible to rotate or tilt the map to get a better view, but Luminous Arc has no such feature. Thankfully, the game does feature a turn order viewing option that numbers the characters in the order they will take action, but most of the time it is also too cramped to view easily. Equipping items works well enough, but only because there is not much variety to the available equipment. Accessories are available to supplement the standard equipment, but most of the good accessories are only available through the game's item creation system known as imbuing. This method of upgrading equipment is both expensive and convoluted, requiring items known as Vitae to be found, appraised, and then combined with other items to create new equipment. To confuse things even more, this can only be done on one location on the map, so in the end it is not worth the effort as the game can be beaten handily without imbuing a single item.


   Aesthetically, Luminous Arc is forgettable. The game offers few FMV sequences. The majority of the game is spent staring at tiny, cramped combat maps or at the slightly more detailed character portraits. The game's art is easily its high point. Colorful characters such as Vanessa, the well-endowed Witch of Immolation, are impressively well-designed. However, it is just not enough to overcome the drab, lifeless battle maps and the low quality sprites found on them. The music is a major disappointment due in part to the fact that Yasunori Mitsuda did not compose the soundtrack. His involvement was primarily as a producer; he composed only one track. The voice acting is horrific, not necessarily because of the actors, but because of the over-the-top lines they were given. Compounding this even further, the voices cut in and out sporadically with half of an event scene being voiced and the other half not.

   Luminous Arc does try to tie in a couple of extra features to break the monotony. First, after each battle Alph gets to select an ally from that battle to have a conversation with. At the end of the discussion, Alph has three options for a reply. Each of these will modify the character's affection level with Alph, gaining the party new items and eventually opening up a special cutscene if a high enough level is reached. Also, between story battles a cute, little, onion-shaped character named Kopin interjects with brief story scenes to lighten the mood. Sadly, these are pointless and add nothing to the game. Finally, Luminous Arc features online combat in which players can exchange friend codes and battle each other, or fight together against random opponents. This, too, is broken due to the fact that this functionality doesn't become available until halfway through the game. Moreover, there are not many people searching for random opponents to battle against. While it is nice to see a game take advantage of Wi-Fi for multiplayer functionality, Luminous Arc just doesn't pull it off effectively.

   Luminous Arc is an extremely easy tactical RPG. Enemy AI is unintelligent, most of the time charging headlong into the player's group instead of waiting for the player to attack. Enemies can easily overpower a unit left out in the open, but with just a few simple precautions, there should be few, if any, casualties. Retrying a mission is simple: the game features an in-battle save option that is not deleted after loading. It is also possible to level characters easily thanks to plentiful random battles scattered across the world map. Due to the lack of difficulty, excessive leveling is not required.

   Most tactical RPG veterans should be able to complete this title in around twenty hours, though the post-game bonus dungeon does offer a few more hours of content. The extra battles contain no new story developments and are pointless to play after completing the main quest, except for the sake of completeness. For RPGamers looking for a quick tactical RPG fix, Luminous Arc is playable despite its shortcomings, but with the game's dull plot, horrible interface, and lack of originality, it is far from a masterpiece.

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