Luminous Arc is a decent game that’s better than public opinion of it would tend to imply. It is, however, plagued by a number of issues, the most prominent being that its combat is way too similar to Final Fantasy Tactics. There are a million games out there that “borrow” that kind of isometric, turn-based combat, and I simply can’t understand why; it’s a system plagued by menu after tiresome menu (many that amount to little more than “are you super super sure that you want to do that?”) that do little to add depth. This approach to gameplay is cumbersome and vastly inferior to the way Fire Emblem handles the Strategy RPG genre. Apart from that flaw, however, this is actually a pretty good game.
First, a warning of sorts: Luminous Arc is very Japanese, with all the good and bad that brings. You have the bookish healer (complete with glasses and sheepishness) and many other tired character archetypes, voice acting that ranges from good to “must… tear off… my friggin’ ears,” and a story where basically everyone in the entire world revolves around the main character because of how super awesome he is.
While all of that might work against most games, Luminous Arc embraces all of it so wholeheartedly that it actually keeps a lot of it from being a negative most of the time. The characters may be tired cliches, but the game never apologizes or shies away from this, opting instead to throw more and more at you until the absurdity of controlling so many character archetypes at once becomes so ridiculous that it’s entertaining. The story may lack depth and subtlety, but its forthrightness is so unapologetic that this could actually be seen as a plus to many; Luminous Arc is the game equivalent of that cool kid who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him, and you can’t help but respect that.
Combat is, as mentioned earlier, pretty much a clone of Final Fantasy Tactics. Same kind of isometric maps, same kind of awkward menus that make moving your characters around a chore. If you can get past how clunky and unoriginal the whole system feels, however, combat actually manages to be fairly entertaining. You have the typical jRPG HP and MP stats to deal with, as well as special attacks (Flash Drives) that become available as characters have their Flash Point (FP) gauges fill up over the course of combat. Normal skills that consume MP can cause collateral damage, but Flash Drives don’t cause any collateral damage. There are also more advanced attacks that come into play later in the game, including powerful attacks that involve multiple characters. The whole thing is balanced pretty well, all things considered, and has enough moving parts to deliver on the strategy front.
Grinding is more or less necessary, however, compared to (the superior) Fire Emblem, where you can always obtain enough experience on a map to immediately move on to the next. Part of this necessity comes from Luminous Arc’s weird difficulty spikes; around halfway or so into the game, you begin facing enemies who have Flash Drives of their own, and this can mean going from completely dominating one map to having an entire group of your characters mowed down in a single special attack. It can be really cheap sometimes, but a little bit of grinding is usually enough to get you through. Grinding is even less fun when you have to go through a ton of menus every time you want to move your character, though, and it’s during this grinding that you’ll be wishing that the game had a less cumbersome combat system.
Another flaw of combat, and this may be just me, is how the terrain affects movement. Far too often it seemed that it was slowing down my characters unnecessarily and making it impossible to use special moves on enemies who weren’t that much higher or lower than the attacking character. For example, Alph has all kinds of gun skills that can hit at long range, but if the enemy is too far above or below him, the game refuses to let you attack. This is stupid, especially when you’re thinking about guns and magic and how your characters have a clear line of sight most of the time. All this adds to the game is an unnecessary element of frustration.
It’s not long after starting a new game until you unlock the ability to talk to your characters after battles. “Intermissions,” they’re called. These are basically scenes where the character you choose to talk to will say something, and you can choose your response out of three possible responses. Choosing the “right” response that their personality can most appreciate means that they’ll come to like you, and this pays dividends in the form of combat bonuses and rare items. You only get so many chances to speak to a character (ten, if I remember correctly), after which they basically tell you to talk to someone else. If you’ve chosen well, however, many characters come with a final special scene, complete with voice acting. They’re not really that special, and yet I found myself gripped by this compulsive urge to see all of the intermissions by fighting a bunch of completely unnecessary battles. That’s really a reflection of my experience with this game as a whole—I liked it overall, but it’s difficult to explain why.
The graphics in combat are basically what you’d expect, being at that kind of late-era SNES level of sprite detail that DS games tend to hover around. The art in dialogue and special scenes, however, is anime-inspired. Very, very anime-inspired, though this fits the characters perfectly. As for the music, it alternates between okay-ish filler tracks and some that are more memorable. There’s one song in particular that’s used for way too many intermissions/scenes, eventually undermining itself by popping up too frequently for its own good, but they’re otherwise varied enough to keep from being grating. What’s strange is how the rarer songs seem to be the good ones:
Here’s what you should do: