Luminous Arc 2

After some small success with the original Luminous Arc, Imageepoch quickly started work on a second entry in the new series, replacing the established world and cast of the previous game with a new world, new witches and new evils. I happened to find out about the game through reviews, and having enjoyed the first one as much as I did, I just had to get the sequel. It's one of the few games in my collection I bought at full price as soon as I possibly could. First time I tried playing it, I hated it. Revisiting the game years later, and my opinion of the game has improved. Well, not by much. While I eventually saw the wonderful redefining of the mechanics and various systems, there was such a massive problem hovering over the game that it dragged the entire thing down with it.

Mechanically, this is a huge step up. It's far more difficult to abuse grinding for experience, with healing magic no longer given set experience point give-outs, giving the game far more challenge. Stats are heavily normalized for all units, and bosses really do feel like bosses, more than just weak damage sponges wasting your time. They can do incredible damage, and some are of lower health than most. The encounters are also changed out for access to a guild, which gives out a few new mission types, like reaching a certain point or defeating a certain enemy. It gives some new life to the game, despite a decrease in battlegrounds. The roster of characters is also fine tuned significantly, with far less useless characters and a lesser focus on witches, who might as well just replace every other character in the previous game. Best yet, status changes can have radical effects in the game, as your cast is no longer insanely accurate and there's a noticeable increase in damage with attack or magic boosts.

The one big and new feature is the runic engine. Main character Roland has a device on him that allows him to absorb some of the power from allied witches in battle, which not only changes his element, but gives him access to some of their spells and a major stat boost in one area. Dia increases accuracy, Althea powers up attack, Fatima boosts magic, Pop gears up defense, Luna gives a jump to resistance to magic, and Sadie speeds Roland up a good bit. This sounds like a pointless gimmick, but added range in Roland's skill set, along with the status boost, can completely turn the tide of a battle quickly. The system effectively changes Roland into whatever unit type you need for a given battle. Roland also needs to be in these modes in order to use his drive attacks, which have also changed massively. Unlike the area effect supers of the first game, flash drive attacks now target a single enemy (for the most part) and can chain into extra damage by using extra flash points. This makes flash points far more valuable, as a saved one can win a match at just the right time.

It's not all good, however. Many boss characters are recycled constantly as the game goes on, with several fought at least five times, and that might be an understatement in a few cases. The difficulty curve is also much harsher; if you don't find out about the guild early on (the game barely mentions its existence), you will have an incredibly frustrating experience. Items are also set to two a piece for each character, which is more inconvenient and annoying than a way to create a challenge. Despite all this, the decision to make the entirety of the game controllable with buttons and not the touch pad greatly helps. There's no more annoying selection bugs, resulting in much smoother, flowing battles.

The presentation is also much nicer. Kaito Shibano's character portraits still look as colorful and lively as ever, although two designs present leave a bit lacking. Althea's wear is drab, while starting villain Fatima just looks ridiculous. Her outfit is a bizarre one-piece that looks like hands holding her breasts inside her outfit. It's just stupid and distracting, which is a shame. The rest of her design is classic Luminous Arc, from her big hat to her sharp hair and ears. Despite these two, everyone else looks great, and a major villain even comes included with a clever bit of visual foreshadowing that I didn't notice until a big reveal late in the game's story. The score is forgettable, however, much like the original, but the pieces fit the mood better. The voice acting, unsurprisingly, is also very strong.

Where the game fails so horribly that it becomes worse than the rocky first game is the story. This is easily the single worst plot I have ever witnessed in any videogame, and keep in mind I've played a massive chunk of Final Fantasy VIII (my third disk had a scratch), FFX and most every game in the Tekken series. The game is trying to top the first installment through a series of twists instead of one big one that could be seen coming miles away, but it accomplishes some legitimate surprises by making almost every single character present in the game a complete idiot. This is a plot that moves entirely by the idiocy of every major player, from the first major villain's incredibly idiotic plan to a series of betrayals from one group towards the final chapters. Certain characters only exist for the longest time to create unnecessary conflict, like the nature witch Pop and her irrational and poorly built up reverence for magic law, while others become complete fools through the manipulations of another villain that still manages to sell them as unthinking beings. The entirety of this game could have been avoided if one character, fifteen years before the events here, just talked with someone about his incredibly crazy, homicidal, country destroying plan. There is one truly impressive twist later on that tries to cover over all the odd behavior of the cast, but it only makes everyone seem dumber somehow. It's incredible how inept the writers were here.

It's made all the worse by the main cast. Roland, the lead hero, has an arc based entirely around becoming more awesome while gaining no actual personality. He's about as interesting as a freshly painted wall that's currently drying. Althea is a gender-bent Naruto in her goals and mantra, with nothing much else beyond it. Fatima is an obnoxious follower who can't make up her own mind, but that may be for the best because terrible, terrible things happen when she tries thinking for herself. She's also followed around by a cat demon who's voice is like nails on a chalkboard. He's comedic relief, but not funny. He serves absolutely no purpose in the game. At all. Pop is the obnoxious loli character of the game, serving only to annoy and complain about everything, and I just realized half of the witch cast is insufferable or forgettable. That's not a good sign, and it gets worse. Only five characters ever really managed to stand out for me in the playable cast; Dia, Sadie, Karen, Rasche and Luna. They're all closer to the wacky, quirky characters from the original game, while Rasche and Karen serves as the only thinking people in the entire plot. Their arcs are small but infinitely more human than everyone else in the game.

Most everyone else is forgettable (as are most the supporting characters), except for one massive exception; KAPH. The comedic pervert character for the game, absolutely nothing about Kaph is redeemable in any way. Nikolai at least had positive qualities, useful skills and a genuine connection to the cast. Kaph just appears one chapter and starts following the group around as a stalker. He annoys everyone, not to mention pulls a lot of sexual harassment, and it's meant to be funny. He made me more angry than anything, so mission failed there. To just push him into full on creep factor, the guy is openly attracted to the loli character, AND manages to be creepy around her younger brother by trying to teach him to be a man. His existence kills all dramatic tension, and he serves no role in the plot at all. He exists solely to be a bane on the entire game. I despise his existence. The real kicker is that he's one of the characters you have to level up properly to stand a real chance against the final boss, which I didn't do, which is why I never finished the game completely and just looked up the ending (which is nothing spectacular, unsurprisingly). And I didn't even get to the harem stuff with the main character, holy hell.

Where the first Luminous Arc was a charmingly simple JRPG tale, the sequel is the worst qualities of filler arcs and harem light novels combined into one big, mind numbing package. Simple concepts are given overly complicated names (such as "beast fiends" or "shadow frost"), the personality lacking self insert main character is a girl magnet, the few good characters are shoved to the side, and the plot feels like it was written as the writers went, with little attention to how it would mesh with past events and scenes. Add in many unlikable characters (and I didn't even get to rant about Steiner!) and a mess of exposition dumps, and Luminous Arc 2 is just a massive disappointment. The changes to mechanics are welcome, and the game looks and plays slick, but that can't save it from truly one of the worst written stories ever crafted.


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