Luminous Arc (DS) review
"As an institution that stands for goodness and light, the Luminous Church is quick to punish anyone and everyone. In the very first scene, an exalted Cardinal, second in Luminous command, seeks to imprison two monks innocently expressing doubts about the Church leadership. It will shut down trade and travel throughout civilization for its own purposes, imposing on the insignificant commoners. And above all, it hunts down and condemns Witches, the ultimate enemies of God. (Thus the capital ‘W..."
As an institution that stands for goodness and light, the Luminous Church is quick to punish anyone and everyone. In the very first scene, an exalted Cardinal, second in Luminous command, seeks to imprison two monks innocently expressing doubts about the Church leadership. It will shut down trade and travel throughout civilization for its own purposes, imposing on the insignificant commoners. And above all, it hunts down and condemns Witches, the ultimate enemies of God. (Thus the capital ‘W.’)
That’s where the Garden Children come in. All orphaned at a young age, they’ve been raised and trained by the Church to serve as an elite Witch execution squad. The rag-tag band includes an inexperienced archer, a lazy swordsman, a stoic ninja, and a devout cleric; but the main character of Luminous Arc is Alph, and enthusiastic and loyal rifleman. When the group is finally deployed for their lifelong mission and encounter Witches face to face, they’re in store for some heavy-handed lessons on the dangers of blind faith. At every turn, the Garden Children find betrayal and shaken belief. This tactical RPG carries a severe message against excesses of power, judgement, and greed, even when executed in the name of religious goodwill.
To offset the dark and depressing tones, the character designs exude a light and airy anime style. The Witches especially wear outrageous costumes; full of pastel colors, ridiculous hats, plunging necklines, and exposed leg. They’re cute, or ‘sexy,’ enough to drive one of the heroes wild with lust. The way he throws himself at every mage is the pinnacle of Luminous Arc‘s humor, and his devoted exclamations are accentuated by a ridiculous sorta-British accent. Only certain passages of the story are voiced, but the game contains some other questionable localization decisions. One of your comrades blubbers about with a rustic Canadian cadence, ya. Another spews silly phrases lifted from an old-western cowboy. And one the most powerful enemies, an Angel, chirps like a totally spoiled valley girl (like, totally). Such devices are rarely funny.
Combat is light as well, from a tactical standpoint. The battlefield is divided into a square grid and viewed in a pseudo 3-D, isomorphic perspective. Elevation is the most important characteristic of the terrain, as gaining the upper hand allows for greater attack and defense, but the ground is blocky as a result. In time, the size of the Garden Children’s force swells to fifteen, but only eight can participate in any one battle. Still, they’re never greatly outnumbered the evil priests and generic monsters. Even without that many total units, the areas feel small; the good guys start on one side, the bad guys on the other, and they meet in the middle after a couple of rotations. Whoever survives wins, period. The one positive aspect of fighting is that units are timed individually for the next move. Since counterattacks don’t exist, it keeps one party from decimating the other right away.
The leveling system, though, really destroys the challenge of combat. Any time a character increases rank, their life and magic resources are fully restored. It only takes one-hundred EXP, and those points are given so freely, particularly in the use of support magic, that this can happen every three to five turns. As a result, powerful spells and attacks can be utilized at will, without fear of eventually sitting defenseless on the field.
Despite the accelerated leveling, the pacing can still lag, even when you use only a core group of fighters. Revisiting minor skirmishes to bulk up isn’t optional, it’s insufferably required. But the remedial combat is useful for another purpose. After every fight, Alph can have a conversation with one of his teammates. Choosing good answers will improve the relationship, provide stat bonuses, and show deeper insight into the supporting cast. The number of these chats is limited, so achieving the best results -- and unlocking special scenes -- can be a demanding task.
The actual boost provided by increased friendship is slight but noticeable, and most important, it’s free. Another way to enhance performance is through combining weapons with magical stones. However, it’s tedious, expensive, and not necessary at all to clear the single-player campaign. But it may provide an edge in a multiplayer match. Using the DS’s Wi-Fi connection, you can battle anyone in the world; it’ll even make the effort to find a partner with a party of similar skill. Only five maps are available, though, and the feature can’t be used at all until you recruit a full party of eight members. That’s about ten hours into the game.
The thirty-hour adventure has enough value without that extra bonus. The negative tact the game takes on religion --and even just the name of God -- is the most interesting part of the story. Seeing how far the writers take the abuse makes up for some of the weird localization decisions. Tactical combat lies on the simple side, just because the game shovels unnecessary advantages on the player. Overall, Luminous Arc is a solid but unspectacular publication for Atlus, but a promising debut for newbie developer imageepoch.
Community review by woodhouse (September 04, 2007)
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