Luminous Arc 2 - Staff Review  

Grids and Witches 2
by Zach Welhouse

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ No-frills battle system works well.
+ Humorous extras.
- Underdeveloped characters.
- Unoriginal story.
- Limited character customization.
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    Roland, a knight-in-training in the magical queendom of Carnava, came into the world at the wrong time. The land had been at peace for the past 4,000 years, protected from all major conflicts by the Queen's Knights and the Magic Academy until he showed up. Now, Beast Fiends are appearing where there should not be Beast Fiends, and the Shadow Frost Witch has rebelled against the rest of the goody-goody witches. As the Queen's Knights get drawn into their magical ally's conflict, Roland stumbles into powers where he did not have powers before. With his newfound strength, Roland and friends must travel the land, meet strange and busty witches, and kiss most of them.

    Luminous Arc 2 is, without a doubt, the number one witch-kissing game on the Nintendo DS. It improves considerably on the shortcomings of the first Luminous Arc, but even the enjoyable translation fails to catapult it into excellenece. Without going too far into plot details pertaining to witch-kissing, Roland enhances his power by "engaging" with the witches he meets. After the initial kiss, he can channel a witch's power for several turns every battle. After the screen pans over an image of the engaged witch wearing a wedding dress, Roland gains access to new attacks, abilities, and a substantial stat boost. Fantasy hero that he is, Roland can engage with several witches per battle, but only one at time. Each witch can only engage once per combat, turning the timing into an additional level of tactical decision-making.

    Despite the off-kilter concept, Luminous Arc 2 is never quite as offbeat or as zany as it promises to be. The main story is a simple quest, occasionally marked with twists old enough to be considered formulae. Cut-scenes featuring Kopin, the game's onion-headed elemental mascot, provide a pleasantly random edge, but aren't enough to carry claims of originality on their own even with enhanced touch screen interaction.

There are non-witches too! There are non-witches too!

    Beyond mid-battle engagements, lapis stones provide a further level of customization. Each character can equip three of these chunks of magically enhanced rock to modify their combat statistics. Generally lapis stones offer numerical benefits such as a +10% boost to MP or resistance to certain elements. More rare are the ones that provide special powers like the ability to walk on water or regenerate HP every round. The effects are useful, but not character-changing; they're more a tool for fine-tuning each character than transforming a scrawny witch into a front-line brawler.

    Drive points provide the other wrinkle to the bare bones combat system, as every action that a character takes produces them. Each block of one hundred points can be spent to boost the effectiveness of an action -- healing, combative, or stat-boosting -- or trigger a flash drive. Flash drives are character-specific special attacks that distinguish themselves from run-of-the-mill moves by dealing great wads of damage. Unlike standard special attacks, they also have the benefit of not affecting allies if they're caught within the area of effect.

    Combat is as generic as one can find in a tactical RPG; this has perks as well as flaws. For one, the system is eminently simple to pick up. Height and character facing provide tangible bonuses, but mastering them isn't necessary to just connect with the enemy. Hit percentages are accurate, and each strike does as much damage as predicted, plus a little extra. Combined with the intuitive control and menu scheme, Luminous Arc 2 is easy to become immersed within purely by virtue of lacking mechanical hiccups. Stylus control is present and acceptable, if a touch finicky to use for sole control. Saving and loading are keyed to the shoulder buttons, and quick-save works like a dream.

Everything tastes better with a spoonful of Kopin. Everything tastes better with a spoonful of Kopin.

    Battles are neither too easy nor dependent on grinding to complete. All non-story battles are regulated to guild missions, which are for the most part not required. The final boss provides the only moment of potential unfairness, which is perhaps fitting. The rest of the battles have their tight moments and surprising (but logical) reinforcement patterns, but shouldn't require constant repetition and memorization of the AI to complete. The Wi-Fi head-to-head mode also benefits from the balanced combat system. Two item slots per character and several optional level limits ensure that each battle is based on tactics and knowing the system. General attack animations are uncomplicated, quickly resolving fights with minimal fuss. What fancy graphics the game does have aren't tied up in scenes that the player must watch a countless number of times, each rendition becoming less and less spectacular until becoming a permanent retinal tattoo.

    Character design is bright and pleasant, but static. The characters are either bold and cheerful or adventure anime imposing. Regardless, there isn't much depth to these characters despite the number of chances to converse with them. Before most plot battles, characters will volunteer for duty based upon how much the fight means to them. Selecting a volunteer allows the player to engage in an intermission scene after the fight, much like in Luminous Arc. Responding to the scenes correctly unlocks bonus scenes later in the game. These conversations can be humorous, but never quite get around to broadening the scope of a character.

    All character interaction takes place in the form of talking upper bodies in front of a lush backdrop. When characters interact with each other on this stage, their bodies are mashed together while sound effects and screen masks relate whether they are fighting, zapping spells, or kissing. Other actions are explained as they occur, like in a radio drama. The overall effect is like watching a puppet show or a small child smashing toy robots together. The stronger portions of these scenes have spoken, English dialog as well. A couple of voices are annoyingly shrill or flat, but the rest deliver solid (and in the case of certain witches) cute performances. It's the dubbed anime watcher's dilemma of whether to mute a scene because of one character or to soldier through for some spot-on lines. The music isn't bad, but it quickly becomes overplayed. This is especially noticeable for the song that plays behind the vast majority of the battles, but other songs become overly familiar as well.

    While the story doesn't offer anything new, the humorous flourishes in the script are able to partially atone. Even though the characters themselves are grounded in familiar, uncomplicated archetypes, each one is sprinkled with silly, often self-referential lines. These are generally in the vein of the Lunar series' popular culture references, or the way that the localization team for the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games slipped unexpected fragments of internet-speak into their dialog.

    In the end, Luminous Arc 2 has a strong mechanical backing and some silly moments, but its story fails to deliver. It doesn't suffer from nearly as many flaws as the original, however, so it's several steps in the right direction. Those looking to Luminous Arc 2 won't find anything particularly deep or original, but tactical RPG novices and old hands alike will have a pleasant way to pass several hours.

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