I never played Luminous Arc. Granted, I'm no SRPG virgin, but the series is new to me. I can only say that I've been told that this game follows the story of its predecessor; I cannot confirm this for myself. I can say that the Epoc-developed, Atlus-published, title is a competent - albeit not the most creative - entry in the genre.
The witches of The Rev Magic Association have taken to fighting each other. Their leader, the Brilliant Witch Luna, is trying to reign in Fatima, the Shadow Frost Witch, before she unseals a dangerous power. As if that weren't enough conflict, beasts called fiends are plaguing the land. In this chaos, the Kingdom of Carnava is conducting clandestine research in order to create a Rune Knight: a legendary magic-using knight who they hope can end the fighting and expel the fiends.
It's a competent story that’s capable of delivering a few twists, but it won't win any awards. Roland (our hero, the Rune Knight) and his band don't tread much new ground. There's just an air of triteness about it all; the storyline of "the son of a hero, still just a recruit, gains mythical powers and is sent on a quest to save the kingdom" has already been done to death. There is a cast of distinct characters that provide the occasional interesting interaction, but it isn't enough with dialog driven by still animations (think Fire Emblem). A major saving grace is that much of the dialog is voice-acted. This is a nice touch that helps the sometimes dry story become a bit more engaging.
The interesting thing is how linear the game really is. If you've played a SRPG before you won't find too much to surprise you here. The basic mechanics are no different from the Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics franchises. You choose from an eclectic cast of characters, send them into grid-combat, and each character takes turns carrying out their moves on the battlefield. Almost every battle comes down to either "kill all the enemies" or "kill the boss."
Fortunately, there's a bit more to it than that. There are classes, such as witches, fighters, and projectile users. There is also the standard elemental rock paper scissors aspect to each battle. There is a bit of strategy involved in knowing how to use your characters; understanding how to set up your characters in the field, knowing how to move them about, and knowing when to advance and when to withdraw them can make all the difference. Then again, so can using quests to get your level high enough that the game is no longer a challenge.
Luminous Arc 2's twist on the genre is the "Engagement System." Rune Knights can only use the elemental magic of witches to whom they've become "engaged." As witches join Roland's band they become "engaged" by offering to let him put on their magic ring. This opens up a whole new field of elemental magic to the newly-minted Rune Knight. In battle, this system lets Roland pick the elemental of any witch currently deployed, assume their element, and use their elemental magic. It's a neat trick, but it really isn't all that special.
The controls are almost a non-issue here. You can move your cursor around both the world-map (between battles) and the battle map with the D-Pad, interacting by using the face buttons. You can also use the stylus. Either method works fine, but games like this are methodical so you'll never really have need to put the control scheme through vigorous usage.
As mentioned earlier, the story and game are very linear. You move from story-point to story-point via a world map, and at any time you can go to any site you've unlocked. The problem is that there usually isn't anything to do anywhere except where your objective is located. Once you reach the site of the next objective a dialog segment begins, and then the battle starts. That's pretty standard for the genre. It's also a bit monotonous, given that some battles can drag on a while.
The only thing the game presents to break up the tedium are segments in which Roland talks to one of his friends (these segments are called breaks), and strange black and white side-stories that feature a talking drop of goo. You're asked to pick what he will say in response to what you've just been told. At the end the conversation is "evaluated" and you get a rating ("Average End," "Good End," "Best End”). Good and best endings will improve Roland's relationship with the person he's talking to. They're kind of funny, but mostly just strange and confusing.
There is also a Wi-Fi mode that adds some extra life to an already-lengthy game. You can battle opponents over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, which is a cool feature but with a niche title like this one it probably won’t get used much by most players.
Luminous Arc 2 is decent, but it doesn't really stand out among its peers. It does nothing sufficiently different to make the whole experience seem unique; on the flip-side, it does nothing so poorly as to count as points against it. The gameplay is what it is: solid, but predictable
The graphics feature some nice hand-drawn still images of characters and backgrounds used during dialog segments. Characters models shake laterally to indicate being struck, which is still used by other games in the genre but seems a bit dated nowadays. The over-world is sparsely detailed, and the battle-maps and character sprites seem a bit low-resolution, but they are colorful and not unpleasant to look at. The game does start out with a superbly-animated sequence that shows many of the game's characters moving about the world. It's a shame that after that, the game itself is a bit of a graphical letdown. This segment is set to a J-Pop song that is technically quite good for the DS. The game also has a musical score that is quite good, with a clear sound that’s better than the muddied sound of many DS titles.
The clear sound is important due to the large amount of recorded dialog in this game. It's a nice touch to see so much voice acting in a DS game, and it does help during some of the drier or more generic story bits. There are similar recorded lines used by your team during battles. They do repeat rather frequently, so they can become a bit irritating.
SRPG fans will have some fun playing Luminous Arc 2, but if you’re not a fan of the genre it's not a game you’ll be playing over and over. For those of you looking to test the SRPG waters, it’s likely a better bet to try Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced A2 or wait for Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon.