Thursday, July 24, 2014

Luminous Arc 2, review

The second game I picked up for $9 USD along with Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2, was Luminous Arc 2. It's frustrating, because I like Japanese RPGs along the lines of Final Fantasy and .Hack, but those types of games just aren't showing up used here in Kagoshima for the Gameboy. Instead, all I can find cheap are the kinds I don't like - Dragon Quest and strategic role-playing games.

The Luminous Arc series are SRPs, and they all follow the same pattern. LA2 came out in 2008, from Imageepoch. You know right away, when the creator credits take a full minute to play out before you can get to the start screen, that you need to be patient with this game. The story is similar to that in LA1 - medieval-style society mistrusts witches, and has a religious organization set up to eradicate them. You play Roland, one of the younger knights in the organization. You, and the rest of your party, which is made up mostly of "good" witches, set out to stop the Master from leading the "bad" witches to world conquest (naturally, Master is revealed to be Roland's real father. He dies about mid-story and is replaced by a bigger, badder meanie.) Story-wise, it's pretty generic. The character interactions are good, as is the background art, anime clips, and music. The character designs are similar to that of the original game, but the still-frame artwork is very good, such as when you use a specific skill that causes one of the women to give you backup while wearing a white wedding dress.

(Traveling across the world map.)

It's the gameplay that suffers so badly. To me, the main flaw of SRPs is that they're mind-deadeningly repetitive. You get the same battlefields, the same enemies and the same set-ups all the time. "Move a character to point A, make an attack, get attacked back, move the next character to point B, make an attack, get attacked back, etc." And, if the designers decided to "starve" you prior to a big boss battle, your chances of winning through skill are very low. What I mean by "starving" is that you're given very few opportunities to level up by repeatedly fighting side battles (churning). LA1 wasn't as bad in this respect; you could always go back to any battle area and keep fighting until the amount of experience you'd get dropped too low to justify it. In LA2, all high-level battles are available ONCE. There are a couple sidequest fights that you can repeat, but they're so low-level as to be worthless.

(Battle screen.)

On the other hand, I did find kind of a work-around... In battles against weak enemies (where there's only 4 or 5 enemy at a time), you get 1 exp point for the attack, and maybe 10 exp if you kill the enemy (you need 100 exp. to go up one level). But casting support magic on yourself (healing, boosting speed, defense or attack, etc.) always gives 10 exp. And there are a few accessories that add a 15% or 30% bonus to exp. So, if you go into a really easy battle with one party member equipped with exp boosters, eliminate all but one of the enemy, and then just keep casting status buffs on yourself until you run out of magic points, that character will go up in level every few minutes. You can even equip accessories that restore 10% of your mp every turn. But, as I said, it's mind-deadeningly repetitive.

(Rina, from the opening credits anime clip.)

LA2 has 30 chapters, and eventually, I'd gotten to #15. It's a 2-part battle, which I also hate because you can't save the game between battles. If you lose in the second half, you have to replay the first half all over again to get to the second. The main story boss makes his first appearance here, and just wiped my party out with mass area-effect attacks. Normally, this would mean that the party is too low-level and that I should find some place to do some churning for a while. But, as mentioned above, that's not an obvious option in LA2 because you're being starved. The intention is that you have to keep repeating both battles until you find some approach that lets you kill the boss while leaving one party member still standing. What a massive waste of time. I eventually did manage to get past this point, and even finished the game 3 times in order to unlock some of the gallery artwork. The game is designed so you have to run through it at least 4, if not 6 times, to get ALL of the stills and clips...

Another complaint I have about LA2 is that it's very dialog-heavy. Going through the story takes forever. At least with LA1 the gameplay was less frustrating and a bit faster. The fastest I've heard of someone finishing the game is within 6 hours, but that's only if you fast-forward  over the regular conversations, and skip the intermission dialogs (which are required if you're going to unlock the associated character art). Figure closer to 12 hours per play-through just to get a few more images in the Clear Game gallery... So, no, I wouldn't really recommend LA2 to most gamers. It's fine if you like SRPs to start with, but not otherwise.

(Selecting the party prior to the battle. You eventually get 18 characters to pick from, including a few from LA1.)

I guess it says something that the U.S. Atlus website is also flawed. The "trivia section" has never been implemented, the link to the forums is broken, and to get the wallpapers you have to assemble them as jigsaw puzzles to "earn" them first. The jigsaw puzzle idea is cute, but I'd rather just download all 8 files in one big .zip and be done with it right away. Sigh.

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