Before I get started, I can't believe that no one commented on the Crab Battle
reference in my last blog. I'm honestly not sure whether I should be disappointed or not.
A sketch of Althea. Luminous Arc 2 is just so cool, the witches burn themselves.
Do you know those Little Debbie's snack cakes? Those delicious, terrible impersonations of baked goods that you always want, even though you know damned well that the ingredients list only contains items that start with "Partially Hydrogenated" (I want to know: how hydrogenated is it?
), nuclear-powered preservatives, and Lake Red No. 3. I really wonder where they make things that contain Lake Red dye, because obviously there are no lakes there.
Anyway, there's no intellectual defense for liking them, you just do. You could be eating so many things that would be better than an iced snack cake, and yet there you are. Luminous Arc 2 is much like a Little Debbie's snack cake (see, I was going somewhere with this), in that it contains many of the cliche JRPG staples that have been so maligned on Destructoid as of late, yet despite it's tired (and in all likelihood, partially hydrogenated) content, it's quite a fun little game. I spent 30 hours playing Luminous Arc 2; I could have spent that time playing so many better games. I did not care.
Witches, Witches, Turmoil and...forgot how this goes
The most important thing genre fans should know about Luminous Arc 2 is that it represents the opposite side of the spectrum from Final Fantasy Advance 2. In FFTA2, you tolerated a truly boring and charmless story for the sake of the fantastic gameplay. In Luminous Arc 2, the gameplay is nothing special, but the story is quite enjoyable. Calling it a polar opposite wouldn't be quite right, mainly because LA2's gameplay is nowhere near as bad as FFTA2's story. But you get the idea.
Just in case it seems like I'm overselling the story, let me make this clear: It is not terribly original. Furthermore, the main feature of the game, how Roland can "Engage" with witches and share their powers is a tiny bit creepy, and makes LA2 a bunkmate with the Ar Tonelico series in the "If you actually cared, this sexual metaphor might creep you the hell out" category. However, it does have two things that are relatively rare: Clever dialogue, and a well-plotted story.
Plotting is something that's difficult to nail down, but I call the story well-plotted because I never felt that sense of sheer boredom that you get in many JRPGs, particularly when you're in the middle of the story and you know you have a good 30 levels left before things start to really get interesting. In this game, the characters very often think they're going into the final battle before a routine boss fight, because they don't know that they're in a JRPG and they need to waste twenty more hours leveling up in order to meet their final opponent. As a result, everyone is always fully engaged in whatever they're doing (without taking things TOO seriously), and they sincerely do not know what's going to happen next, and it doesn't take much for you to share their curiosity. It's amazing how rare it is to see a game written this way.
There are long talking-head sequences which normally would be a minus, but the story and characterization kept my interest regardless. The numerous cutscenes will probably start to try your patience if you start a New Game+, however (notice how I'm talking about this game in the past tense?)
Gameplay: These Witches Won't Move Themselves
Again we see the opposite of the Final Fantasy Tactics series; instead of micromanaging a large army of infinitely customizable units, most of the time you're managing a small number of powerful, pre-set units. You eventually collect many party members, but many of them are novelty characters whom you can use or ignore as you like. The game primarily intends for you to use Roland, a so-called Rune Knight who can undergo some kind of magic bonding process with a witch to become powerful, and the numerous witches he bonds with. In fact, once the witches learn their area-of-effect spells, the opposition may as well pack up and go home-- they're that effective. I imagine that you're supposed to mix it up with some physical attackers as well, but I tended to stack my team with lots of witches and nuke everything to oblivion. Good times.
As you may have already surmised, the gameplay has nothing like the complexity of FFTA2 or other recent SRPGs-- your customization options are very limited (apparently only Fire Witches can cast Fire), and most of the character abilities are things you've seen a dozen times. Still, there's something to be said for gameplay that gives you a few important decisions rather than a ton of minor, tedious ones. Engagement only works for so long, thus it can be quite strategic: Should you Engage Roland with Althea, and increase his attack stat so he can clean up the map? Or should you go for a defensive Engagement, and wait to Engage with Althea until Roland is in range of the boss? Of course, if her low HP causes her to die before that point (and witches do go down with some frequency), then you missed an early opportunity to get ahead.
If you have any experience with the genre you will probably find most battles a cakewalk, however there are occasional tough battles and the final sequence is tough-- I beat it on my first try, but it was very touch and go. Despite skewing on the easy side, there is some challenge to be had, especially if you don't overlevel your party by doing all the optional missions.
The game is also a bit of a dating sim-- there are optional conversations, and using certain characters in battle will result in extra scenes with them. In addition to adding another element to the gameplay, what I like about these optional scenes is that they create incentive to use some of the characters whom you otherwise ignore.
Luminous Arc 2 is the first DS game to come with a soundtrack, however be warned: Most of the songs that I actually liked in the game are not on the soundtrack. Hopefully you will enjoy it more than I did.
This game might not be worth buying at full price, but if you like an actual story with your SRPGs, this is probably something you should play. Unfortunately, I'm craving Little Debbie's Snack Cakes now-- Nutty Bars in particular-- so I guess that could be a kind of buyer-beware situation. It's probably just me though.