Luminous Arc (DS) review
"The more ‘professional’ reviewers out there have all led their reviews by saying something along the lines of “It’s no Final Fantasy Tactics” and I fully agree with them. Luminous Arc isn’t a dull, monotonous trek through a featureless and overly-convoluted series of caves: it’s an explosive rocket bungee through a gallery of neon-lit wonderment."
Luminous Arc is a SRPG that's happy to not break new barriers in its genre. It's a game content to throw out the same skill-sets and the same clichéd cast members (the timid healer, the bone-headedly noble lead, the unsociable love interest who warms up to the lead 50% into the game, the bone-headedly noble lead's squeaky-voiced younger sibling -- I could use up my word quota just ploughing through them) employed in a dozen similar games. The big plot twist is the same used in at least 65% of JRPGs and what little character development there is comes force fed to gamers via post-battle dialogue that looks all the world like this:
Evil Knight: This reminds me of the time I killed my honour-loving captain for no obtainable reason via back-stabbing! I'm inherently evil, by the way.
Flirty Swordsman: Honour-loving?! Why, that super-vague description sounds exactly like my previously-unmentioned father who was slain in battle under mysterious circumstances. You must be the one who killed him!
Evil Knight: Yes, that logic seems solid. And it sounds like something I would do, what with being the epitome of evil and all. Later on, I will attempt to slaughter orphans, by the by, just to drive this point home.
Timid Healer: *GASP* Curse your black heart!
Flirty Swordsman: Even though I've spent the entire game fighting your forces and intended to continue to do so anyway, I now have belated reasons to continue the fight and avenge my father who, as I alluded to earlier, loved honour.
Evil Knight: By a weird twist of fate, I also carry his sword around with me everywhere I go, even though it is useless to me as I can not remove it from the scabbard.
Overly Noble Lead: I wonder if that will fall into our possession at some point and become an equipable item?
Evil Knight: Look at me! I'm kicking puppies!
Emotionless Ninja: My intel suggests that he is evil.
The voice acting used in plot-important cut scenes is questionable (as any game would be when it makes one of the most powerful foes you’ll face all game, like, have a totally valley-girl twang who, oh my gosh, thinks everyone is, like, so a cutie) the touch-screen led movement of characters awkward at best within overcrowded areas and the equipment screen is poorly constructed and confusing enough to easily lead you into equipping less powerful weapons and armour than you own.
I’ve still found myself happily ploughing far more hours into the game than I strictly needed to fulfil my reviewing obligations. Hell, this review is late because of it!
I could have easily beat the game days earlier, but instead, I found myself re-touring old battlegrounds in the hopes of unlocking a few hidden boss fights and advancing the clever Star Ocean 2-inspired private chats with your characters. I wanted to improve my relationship with the clichéd flirty swordsman, so I took upon extra battles so we could gossip about the lead’s growing crush on the unsociable love interest and exchange notes on what foods we prefer. Each chat which ended in the character being pleased with the outcome slowly filled a little heart, showing his or her affection towards the lead. I don't know why, but that I didn't have a full heart's worth of affection for him nagged at my very core. Filling it rewarded me with a special cut-scene of the two working out and discussing how the girls they had their eyes on would find it weird to discover the pair towelling off their glistening, half-naked bodies together in the middle of a forest.
And as I played long enough to drain my DS’s battery completely for the third day running, I found myself in a very odd place. My finely-tuned reviewer’s brain (aka: the part that bitches more than the others) was full of cons that would bury most games, but I was actually having fun. The insolence!
It was only after careful soul-searching I realised that it was exactly because Luminous Arc refused to take itself seriously that it was so much fun. Yes, it dealt with betrayal, death and genocide but did so in an almost comic book way. The lead villain just called you a sweetie, for Christ’s sake, and the obligatory buff henchman spends more time boasting about his HUGE MANLY BICEPS than he does eating babies. The more ‘professional’ reviewers out there have all led their reviews by saying something along the lines of “It’s no Final Fantasy Tactics” and I fully agree with them. Luminous Arc isn’t a dull, monotonous trek through a featureless and overly-convoluted series of caves: it’s an explosive rocket bungee through an assortment of neon-lit galleries.
Battles follow the philosophy flawlessly: until you recruit a full compliment of warriors the game may as well have ‘Training Stage” flashing on and off in the background. Alph and his collection of clichés are an elite military group known by the super-threatening name of The Garden Children, raised by the Luminous Church to combat witches. Falling into fights throws up the tried-and-tested isometric grid, as SRPGs are wont to do, along with a difficulty curve so tight at places it all but bends back on itself.
When buxom witches in half-undone bodices that scream FANSERVICE or three-headed hell-hounds kick chunks out of your fighters, the generously-smattered healing skills half the cast possess give you a slight feeling of invulnerability. What gives you a full sense of near-immortality is that flagging HP and MP counts are fully recharged each time a character goes up a level. And with slain foes offering up to 84exp per kill, you’re doing something bloody wrong if you're not hitting a few fresh levels each fight. Even basic healing spells grant the caster 30% of a level-up so even when there’s no wounds to be magically knitted, it’s always worth throwing one down anyway. Get those auxiliary character’s levels up and take advantage of the cheap resurrection spells just as quickly as you can!
You’ll need it when the stage bosses stop being slightly pumped-up standard beasties and start being man-made thunder-gods or black-magic-wielding titans. Even though you can treat your forces like disposable soldiers thrown out into the fray and resurrected just as quick as they fall, it’s not hard to be overwhelmed by enemy forces and find yourself in real trouble. It’s at times like these you’ll start employing Flash Drive skills, special abilities that power up slowly over the battle allowing chosen warriors to execute genre-specific special moves – like FFVII’s limit break system only accessible. Coupling these special attacks with skills like the archer’s ability to add a stun enchantment to his arrows or Alph’s ability to use firearms and the odds are reshuffled in the face of more powerful foes.
It’s hard not to smile as Luminous Arc takes light-hearted shots at itself over and over again, nor is it hard not to appreciate the cast's very real sense of comradely closeness. Like the battle they panda to the obligitory cute-but-dumb mascot's want to be a super-hero team while rescuing a cart full of infants from a corrupted evangelical inventor, or when plot twists get hurled at you with a smug grin as if to say “how did you not see that coming?” only to lull you into being genuinely surprised when events actually cause a second of sobriety in between the florescent, happy-go-lucky simplicity.
If asked if Luminous Arc brings anything new to the genre, I would have to answer negatively. If asked again if I’ve enjoyed playing a game quite as much as I’ve enjoyed playing this one, I suspect the answer would remain very much the same.
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