Luminous Arc 2 review
The Second Arc Arrives


The original Luminoius Arc proved to be a real treat for me on the DS. It was one of many trying to hit the SRPG area that the system loves so much and it did it with enough charm and success to make it a very worthwhile purchase. So naturally when Luminous Arc 2 rolled around I wanted to see if it could continue the success started by its predecessor.

The vibrant anime-esque artwork style from the first game carries over well here. This does led to some some deja vu with the designs (for example, the main male protagonists from each game are strikingly similar to one another). Other than that we get treated to some fantastic design work with character styles and outfits, from the more traditional armour of the knights to the fanciful garments of witches.

The conversation set pieces still take the form of static half-body sprites on backgrounds, with minimal animations to convey basic actions. It lets a player appreciate the art but it's not quite as involved as I would like and shows no real improvement.

On the battlefield we have 2D sprites on an isometric field. The designs are still distinctive enough to make recognising and appreciating each character an easy task. Everything is animated smoothly too as units move, jump and attack around the place. I must admit though that some of the grander attacks tend to lack the flair one would expect. Rev-Ray is an impressive light show for a FD move, but Luna's own FD pales visually in comparison, being a very simple water slash.

It's worth noting that the graphics problems of the last game have been addressed. It's not so hard this time around to figure out precise positioning of units despite the lack of an ability to move the camera and slowdown doesn't seem to exist.

Music wise the only real track of any note would be the opening, which is indeed very nice to listen to. Alas, it's hard to say much of the rest of the OST. It certainly isn't offensive by any means, but it's hard to see where or how it enhances the experience either.

I can't even act nonchalant about the voice acting though. Having it in a handheld game is impressive even if it's only used for certain cutscenes, but for the most part it's emotionless and dreadful. Even if the first game's acting wasn't outstanding it definitely seemed to offer more passion than what I can only assume is reading lines off a script without any sense of context.

This might help contribute to the rather slow start of the story. Vagueness is another as it takes a few missions before you have much of a clue as to what is even going on other than some general animosity towards witches, fiends attacking and some peace keeping methods by witches. Thankfully things open up as you play and a greater understanding and appreciation of the underlying plot develops.

This is helped by a nice cast of likeable if not terribly complex characters. It's very easy to understand the motivations for those involved and identify with the likes of the ditzy bit hardworking leader Dia or the highly impressionable little Pip.

The game is a SRPG where you're given a number of units and taker it in turns to defeat all the enemies on the map. Typically victory and defeat hinges on defeating the enemy leader or losing all your party members, although sometimes there is minor variation like having to safeguard a specific unit on the map. For the most part the goal is straightforward.

Units take turns based on a specific stat which can affect how often their turn comes around. For party members this largely only affects the order of actions, whereas in some cases enemies might act twice before certain party members if the gap in this stat is high enough. This creates a different set of tactics compared to where each side moves their entire force per turn. To help with things the next set of characters to move is already onscreen, with a much longer list available from the game menu, making it easier to plan out your actions.

In addition to moving each character can perform a variety of actions. The basic attack is here, which lets you launch a cost free attack based on the weapon you have on you (like a sword will only hit adjacent targets but a bow will hit from range). Ability lets you tap into more powerful techniques such as a stronger sword slash or a ranged elemental spell, but this is at the cost of some MP, preventing you from mindlessly spamming them. Each ability set is based on the character and follows a linear levelup learning system. This means that early on variety doesn't exist but as you progress you pick up more skills like AoE healing and stat boosters. However, there is one tweak from the original game that has a problem. Essentially, MP does not regenerate during battle unless you use an item (not even if you gain a level as it did before). This causes something of a split in the result. On the one hand, healing items from shops are no longer useless decorations since you can no longer just spam heal spells all day, but it's a system that can leave some characters useless in the early levels of the game where your MP gauges are pretty small and few restorative items are available.

FD is a new variation of the old FP system, or ultimate attacks gauge if you're not familiar with LA1. This gauge can be used to unleash powerful Flash Drive attacks that hit very hard at the cost of using up 1 FD point. These can help turn the tide of battle well. An addition to this game is that those FD points can also be used to buff the effects of abilities or items in battle, but this only really matters for people that lack Flash Drives as powering up moves tends to be far far less effective.

Engagement is the new feature for the game, where main hero Roland can become stronger by tapping into the power of a witch, giving him a buff and granting him new powers. As the game progresses Roland will be able to increase the number of witches he can use this with, boosting his versatility, and with the set turn limit of this power it can come as an interesting strategic move. However, it really just comes off as a gimmick. It's something that only affects Roland and has such little impact you have to wonder why it would get such fanfare when it barely differs from normal abilities.

The item system is split between equipment and consumables. The equipment covers basic stuff like weapon, armour and helm, which you typically buy from shops to upgrade which can make battles easier. It can be a fine balancing act determining when to splurge on that shiny weapon to buff your attack a bit or if you should hold off in the hope of an even shinier weapon popping up in the shop a few levels later. Lapis act like accessories in that, unlike other equipment, aren't designed specifically for certain characters but can be equipped by everyone and can provide a variety of buffs from basic stat ups to affecting the power of certain elements to bestowing abilities like being able to stand on water. It's a system that is easy to understand but offers a lot of depth.

The consumables system has changed drastically from the last game. Instead of everyone having access to every item, each character can now only carry and use two items at a time. It's possible to use items on adjacent units as well as the one using it but ultimately this does prevent spamming healing items during the course of a battle requiring a bit more thought in how you approach pre-battle setup.

The difficulty of the game is probably something that will catch out a lot of players, especially in the early stages. On the one hand, you'll find that the enemy army is distinctly less kamikaze inclined, with bosses and certain enemies staying put until certain conditions are met (such as moving within a set range or defeating certain enemies) so you don't have quite the same kind of huge mob to deal with. But then Luminous Arc 2 makes things harder when dealing with the new item limit and struggling to keep up with rapidly draining MP. You'll even find some enemies will quite happily pull out their own FD moves to OHKO your party members, so don't be surprised to be coming out of battles with numerous party members out for the count. Thankfully death is not permanent here but chances are you'll struggle to get through unscathed.

In addition, if the worse should happen and you lose a battle, you have two options. One is to immediately restart the battle but this forces you to go back in with the exact same setup, which is an issue if you want to try a different tactic. The other is to reload a save and sit through all the story sequences again. You can fast forward story scenes, but an outright option to actually skip them would have been nice or at least let us change party setups when restarting a mission.

Map design is more or less the same kind of what we encounter before. You'll find yourself fighting it out across towns, forests, rivers, caves, fortresses etc. These can offer their own challenges and options, like blocking off bridges in order to lay the hurt on enemy units with spells. The world map returns with some slight tweaks, like now you select a main region and then move around it with simple menu interaction.

I'm pleased to report that the touch screen control problems from the first game are gone. Accuracy has improved immensely and now I find using them to be far superior to trying to work with a button layout.

Luminous Arc 2 doesn't go out of its way to do anything too drastically new. Rather it takes the old game and refines it. What we have is an improved product that you should find fun if you liked the first game but something that isn't going to wow you with new experiences.

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