Luminous Arc - Reader Review  

Not Quite Over the Rainbow
by JuMeSyn

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15-25 Hours
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   The Catholic Church in centuries past disparaged quite a few targets for no better reason than to fire up public emotions and deflect any possible efforts to question the Church’s monolithic grip on information. Witches, for instance, got the short end of the stake quite a bit. Exactly how Witches managed to insinuate themselves into the Japanese consciousness, given that the Catholic Church has never been a major political force in the country, is not obvious. Regardless of how they got into the minds of certain Atlus developers, Witches are at the fore of Luminous Arc. This does not exhibit any dramatic effect upon the playing style of the game, which is more-or-less standard tactical-RPG combat, but it does give the title a certain atmosphere not usually seen.

   The environment of Witches being at odds with Church leadership is not in and of itself a new development in RPG storytelling, but it is the only claim to unique stature Luminous Arc’s tale can make. Essentially the player quickly takes control of Alph, Cecille, Theo, Leon, Saki, and Nikolai, the Garden Children trained by the Luminous Church for the express purpose of casting judgment upon Witches. Experienced RPGamers will scent something suspicious about this and will quickly be proven correct as it seems the Church is not the virtuous organization it appears and the Witches are not the evil hellions they appear to be. Presentation makes a difference here; there is quite a bit of voice acting in Luminous Arc and Atlus did a good job at making the actors interesting. Some are more monotone in their delivery than would be desired, but a few overact with such abandon as to succeed in making the material very entertaining. As per usual, Atlus has supplied a very good translation.

   Story is not the main consideration with regard to a tactical-RPG however. Combat must be considered, and Luminous Arc plays its combat on the safe side. Battles take place from an isometric perspective, with up to 8 of the player’s force entering the fray for each encounter. Characters can move before or after taking an action, the direction being faced makes a difference with regard to damage dealt and taken, experience is received from each action taken by a character. Upon receiving 100 experience points a character gains a level, and is completely healed (this element is an unusual one among tactical titles). Each character has a list of skills and/or magic that increases with certain level gains, or at a storyline-dictated moment. Each character also has a given class that will only change (for some) as dictated by the storyline. Gold is awarded as a flat amount post-battle.

Other popular Griffin names: Crashcar, Slamcastle, Piercewall, and Whackamole Other popular Griffin names: Crashcar, Slamcastle, Piercewall, and Whackamole

   Specifics unique to Luminous Arc, aside from the aforementioned complete healing upon a level gain, mostly consist of Flash Drives and Synergy. Flash Drives are learned as levels rise and can be used once enough FP are gained. FP accumulate during battle as actions are undertaken, though the gauge can be raised with items also. Stronger Flash Drives require more of the gauge to use. Synergy is a multi-character technique that requires all parties to it have full FP gauges and be in a small area. Theoretically these are incredibly powerful, but waiting for all the characters needed to execute the Synergy to maximize their FP gauges will result in the battle dragging on much longer than necessary. There is also the Intermission portion of the game, taking place after each battle. Alph will choose a character to converse with during these Intermissions and be asked a question; answering correctly will raise the character’s opinion of Alph and result in useful items being awarded.

   Interaction in Luminous Arc suffers from several annoying detractions. Non-storyline battles are sometimes required, sometimes not; there seems no rhyme or reason as to when the player can simply traverse the globe or when combat with easily-beaten foes cannot be avoided. Shopping is also an annoyance due to a duo of factors: the inability to see more than three characters onscreen simultaneously, necessitating rapid scrolling back and forth; and the inability to equip a newly-bought piece of equipment without retreating from the entire shopping menu to an equipping screen. The isometric view brings its own inherent annoyances: though a height difference can make attacking an enemy impossible, properly noting the height of the characters and their foes can be very difficult. There are moments when characters will be too close together or too close to a slope facing the wrong direction and steering them to the proper location will become an altogether arduous chore for the player. The game controls with the stylus by default, which I recommend changing quickly; I attempted to use the stylus but it stubbornly refused to recognize one square as being a valid location I could send a character onto. And one battle in particular near the end features slowdown, which is so prominent as to be an issue that the player must surmount.

   Midway through the game comes a point when weapons and armor can be imbued with characteristics of Vitae, elemental stones that will be happened upon by the player in battle spoils. Actually imbuing equipment is reasonably easy, provided the player has plenty of money to spare for appraising the Vitae (Vitae must be appraised to know their qualities, and repeated appraisal costs much money). Only loose equipment can be imbued however, and this is very irritating when weapons cannot be removed, only switched for other weapons. If no other weapons can be equipped onto a character, the character’s weapon cannot be imbued without a trip elsewhere to make a useless purchase.

Apparently biceps can be made of steel. Apparently biceps can be made of steel.

   Luminous Arc looks pretty good – for the GBA. Aside from its opening FMV and a few high-powered spells and Flash Drives, nothing here would have been impossible for the GBA to achieve. Aurally the voice acting is pretty good, with the less-skilled actors being compensated for by others who are quite entertaining to hear. And the music is quite good as well; Yasunori Mitsuda produced the score and wrote a fair amount of it, with the other contributions being worthwhile as well.

   Luminous Arc is quite linear, with no opportunities to stray off the story-driven path. It could probably be completed in 15 hours, though there is a New Game + option and an optional dungeon to inspire further play. The game makes use of wi-fi for multiplayer battles, should that be a lure to any. There are a few respectably challenging battles, but as the complete destruction of the player’s team is necessary to be defeated such will not happen too often.

   Luminous Arc has a number of good aesthetic features, but its actual combat does little to distinguish the game from other tactical titles. The small size of the battles also makes the game feel less epic than many tactical titles – with a maximum of 16 figures on the field battles tend to end quickly. These facets combined with the aggravating interaction issues knock Luminous Arc down from the heights tactical-RPGs are capable of reaching. What remains is a decent game that should only be investigated by dedicated tactical players.

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