Alph, his brother Theo and their friends are wards of the Luminous Church, trained to protect the light and condemn the dark. The Church’s greatest foes are the Witches, but when Alph discovers that their new maid, Lucia, is a Witch, he is forced to re-evaluate his opinions of them. With the fate of the entire world hanging in the balance, Alph must choose carefully between the doctrine he has always been taught and the true motives of the Witches.
A hidden gem amidst the vast market of SRPGs and DS games, Luminous Arc may not be the most challenging of games, but it nonetheless makes for an enjoyable and well presented experience from start to finish. Players take on the role of aspiring knight Alph, a young man who goes from fighting minor monsters to commanding a team of witches and warriors on a quest to save the world. It’s all very straightforward, but thanks to some attractive character designs and a pervading aura of simple charm, Luminous Arc manages to be than just one more nameless face in the crowd.
The Luminous Church versus the evil Witches
A fusion of SRPG and visual novel, Luminous Arc takes place over twenty-five or so chapters, each consisting of framing dialogues and a few battles. It’s largely a safe and on-the-rails experience which keeps you where it wants you- but whilst the game rarely presents any real challenge to the seasoned gamer, it’s still a lot of fun.
Battles take place on the familiar SRPG grid, with characters taking turns according to their speed. The battle system largely remains on solid, well trodden ground- there’s the usual range of magic and melee attacks, with terrain, position relative to the enemy and elemental attributes all contributing to the effectiveness of your warriors. Each action that you take naturally earns EXP, and since it only takes 100EXP to level up, it’s rarely necessary to grinding. Characters are also healed to maximum HP/MP each time they level up, which means you never really need to worry about playing cautiously and conserving your resources.
Since standard attacks are adequate but rarely devastating enough to make a dent in a boss’ HP, the game compensates with a system of Drive Points, which are accumulated as characters dish out damage to the enemy or heal each other. Given enough Drive Points, characters can either perform overpowered attacks known as Flash Drives, or really let loose with Synergy Attacks, in which two or more allies combine their power to really drive the point home to the enemy. Most of these abilities are learnt as part of the storyline, and whilst they are certainly massive damage dealers, it does take long enough to charge them that you can’t just breeze through the game on special attacks alone.
That being said, aside from a handful of tough battles, Luminous Arc is never that difficult- there are even features of the game, such as the ability to enhance weapons with different crystals, that can be completely ignored. In fact, the main source of difficulty in the game arises from its imperfect interface- although not a substantial problem, the fixed camera angle and lack of ability to simultaneously use the stylus and d-pad (you have to toggle between them) means that, in crowded situations, it can be difficult to pick out the correct target for your attacks. And since the game lets you target allies as well as enemies when planning an attack, this flaw can easily become very frustrating.
After each battle, Alph is given the chance to talk to another party member in an ‘Intermission’ scene- a short interaction in which you can improve his standing with his allies. As with visual novels, selecting the correct response to a character’s question is the key to getting them to like you, and if you can charm them sufficiently, they will even give you gifts. The game is also interspersed with scenes depicting the life and woes of the mascot character ‘Kopin’- these are mildly amusing but add little to the game overall.
Alph: As the main character, Alph is the typical all-rounder with decent but not outstanding strength and speed. His basic weapon is, predictably enough, a sword, but he can also use a gun for ranged special attacks. Due to his average nature, Alph lags behind early in the game, but you’ll be forced to bring him up to scratch when confronted with a one-on-one battle against Arc Knight Heath. Naturally, since he’s compulsory in every battle, Alph eventually becomes a solid contributor to the team’s offence.
Theo: Arc’s younger brother, Theo is an archer with an average but useful ranged attack. As the game progresses, he also learns some short range Flash Drives, although with the amount of short-range attackers already available, this may seem a little surplus to requirements. He’s a decent party member to have early on, but you may wish to drop him in the later stages of the game.
Leon: The typical overpowered swordsman and son of ‘The Lion King’ (no, not the Disney one), Leon is excellent at short-range attacks, but brings little else to the party. He’s a useful choice if you want muscle on your side, but is pretty much interchangeable with Kai, Heath or Mavi in the later stages of the game.
Cecille: The obligatory healer of the group, Cecille is definitely useful, but her low movement range means that she often gets left behind when the party goes on the offensive. Later in the game, she learns offensive magic as well as stronger healing spells, making her far more useful. Unsurprisingly, her physical abilities never amount to much.
Saki: As a ninja, it comes as no surprise that Saki is the fastest character, with an appropriately high movement stat and a variety of melee and ranged attacks. Whilst this makes her invaluable for getting the drop on the enemy, it also means that she can get stranded amongst hostile units without backup. Nonetheless, she is an extremely useful team member, although her elemental attacks quickly become ineffectual.
Kai: A wandering samurai, Kai adds some much appreciated muscle to the team with his overpowered close-range attacks. He does major damage in the front lines, but you could equally go with beefing up Leon or Heath to take his place.
Heath: An Arc Knight, Heath is a powerhouse at the start of the game, but after leaving early on, he only returns near the end. By this point, although he is a perfectly acceptable addition to the party, you’ll probably have already decided on your favourite team, leaving him to languish on the back benches.
Lucia: The Dawn Witch, Lucia has some useful magical abilities, but somehow she never manages to be as strong as the hard-hitters on the team. She’s useful to bring along for her Flash Drives and Synergy attacks, however, and she’s also important to the storyline.
Vivi: The laid-back and eternally sleepy Vivi has one major advantage in battle- her flying carpet can traverse any and all terrain with ease. Unfortunately, even when she brings the fight to the enemy, she isn’t that strong, so whilst her magical lamp has some useful sniping abilities, she’s more of a supporting member than a first choice for the battlefield.
Mavi: she may be the Nature Witch, but Mavi’s magical skill is nothing to write home about. Instead, she is far more at home in close combat, where her fists can deal out some serious damage. Unfortunately, putting her on the front lines does mean she tends to take more damage than she can handle. Nonetheless, she makes for a worthy team member.
Vanessa: The Witch of Immolation (apparently ‘Fire Witch’ was too plain a title), Vanessa fights against you for much of the game, but eventually joins up in the later chapters. Since she’s kickass in both physical and magical attacks, she makes for a welcome addition to the team when she finally comes over to your side.
Pollon: Sometimes you come across a character who just leaves you wondering why the creators bothered to include them at all- and Pollon is a perfect example of this. Some sort of anthropomorphic white seal creature with dreams of becoming a knight, Pollon is yet another short-range attacker with minimal impact on the plot and no real reason to be included as a playable character. I used him a little when he first joined up, but with the likes of Leon, Mavi, Kai and Heath to choose from, it’s unclear why you would ever bother with him.
Mel: The Torrent Witch, Mel is a master of water magic, but her weak lily pad attacks and restricted movement range makes her a less than desirable choice for the team.
Claire: The Thunder Witch, Claire is an average an unremarkable warrior who is useful for Synergy and making up the numbers, but isn’t particularly outstanding otherwise.
Although the bare bones of Luminous Arc’s story is the basic tale of plucky heroes versus an ancient evil, the game has the tendency to shoehorn in pointless backstory for its many characters. This leads to a few too many “By the way, I’m deeply bitter about the fact that my previously-unmentioned home village was destroyed, but now let’s get on with the quest.” There’s also a feeling of being divorced from the action, as important scenes often occur without any kind of distinguishing CG artwork.
The game does at least have the sense not to take itself too seriously however, with plenty of lighthearted banter making up for its other weaknesses.
One regard in which Luminous Arc really does stand out from the crowd is in its character designs, which have been given a surprisingly amount of detail for a DS title. Battle sprites are cute and overall the game has am aesthetically pleasing look and feel. The music is solid if not outstanding, with a smattering of average quality voice-acted scenes.
Although it’s not a contender for the top ranks, Luminous Arc is an enjoyable little SRPG that deserves to be given a little more attention. It may not be the most challenging or ground-breaking title ever, but despite its flaws, it’s a whole lot of fun.