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The original Luminous Arc, which was brought from Japan to North America by Atlus in late 2007, was a mildly entertaining, fairly simplistic tactical roleplaying game that featured, among other things, anime-style characters, an intermission system in which bonds between the major characters can be strengthened, and head-to-head wireless play. Unlike many other games in its genre, Luminous Arc incorporated liberal use of humor in its script, with mixed results. On the whole, the imageepoch-developed title was a mediocre effort with plenty of room for improvement. In November 2008, a little over a year after that game's release, Atlus and imageepoch released Luminous Arc 2, which fortunately manages to build upon the first title's foundations while also providing a fuller, more enjoyable gameplay experience overall.
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Luminous Arc 2 opens in Carnava, a kingdom which finds itself caught in the middle of a conflict between the Shadow Frost Witch and the witches of the Rev Magic Academy. The good news for Carnava is that the best scientists in the land have been working on a special weapon, called the Runic Engine, which can help protect them and turn the tide in the conflict against the Shadow Frost Witch. The bad news is that circumstances have placed the artifact's power has fallen into the hands of a trainee knight named Roland, the game's protagonist, and it is now up to him to use it to gain the power of a Runic Knight and help restore peace to the planet.
It might sound somewhat intriguing, but unfortunately, the game's plot is in fact its weakest element. Once again, as in the original, the script makes frequent attempts at humor, and once again the results are mixed. Some lines are genuinely funny, but other scenes and characters (such as the Rosetta Rosso, a group of bandits who are irritatingly reminiscent of Team Rocket from the Pokémon cartoons) fall utterly flat. It's rather cliché and uninspired on the whole, and apparently the developers are well aware of that fact, seeing as how they decided to give gamers the opportunity to skip past story text at will.
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On the other hand, Luminous Arc 2 features some incredibly solid tactical RPG action. Like most games of this genre, the emphasis is on turn-based battles where you move your characters around the battlefield like chess pieces, engage enemies, use standard attacks and powerful special moves to take them down, level up, and repeat across 30 different in-game chapters. All of the in-game action is handled on the bottom touch screen, while the top screen contains the currently active character's stats, condition, and so forth. Furthermore, Roland can temporarily power up and gain elemental abilities from the witches in his party using something called the Engagement System to borrow some of their magical energy.
On the whole, it plays remarkably similar to most other similar strategy games, but it does feature some interesting little touches that make it stand out. For starters, the multiplayer versus mode from the original game is included in Luminous Arc 2 as well. Also, every time you choose a target, the hit-percentage and estimated damage appear in big, bold font right on top of the intended target, which I really appreciated as an SRPG veteran. Also, unlike many other tactics games, this one gives you a chance to undertake side missions through a guild to gain valuable experience and other welcome rewards. Not everything is perfect, though. For one thing, it is rather annoying that equipment can only be changed when you're in a shop. Finally, according to the developers, this game was supposed to be more challenging than its predecessor. It sure doesn't feel that way.
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Like the first Luminous Arc game, this sequel features anime-style character designs, voice acting of varying quality and a musical score from composer Yasunori Mitsuda, who has worked on several prior RPGs including such epics as Chrono Trigger, Xenogears and Shadow Hearts. It also boasts an excellent animated sequence, complete with a beautiful opening theme with Japanese-language vocals. Things are solid in-game too, especially in combat, where the battlefields are nicely varied and visually pleasing and the character sprites are large and easy to identify. It may not be the flashiest game in the world, and the character voices can be grating at times, but it does make great use of the DS hardware. Plus, the game earns bonus points by actually identifying track titles on the bottom screen while they play during story advancement sequences.
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So despite a rather generic plot and some spotty voice work and writing quality, Luminous Arc 2 winds up being a solid, enjoyable tactical RPG that should please most fans of the genre. With 30 chapters and plenty of sidequests available as guild missions, there's plenty of meat here to keep you busy for a good 20-25 hours at the very least. If you're looking for a serious challenge, you won't find it here, but if you're turned off by the high difficulty levels of Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics, then this is definitely the right strategy RPG for you. Ultimately, Luminous Arc 2 is a light, fluffy alternative to typical tactics games, and one that has a lot of appeal.