On the surface, Luminous Arc 2 is standard Japanese strategy-role-playing fare: Astonishingly earnest young swordsman Roland somehow finds himself surrounded by a bevy of witch babes of varying buxomosity and ends up double- and triple-crossed in some convoluted plot to destroy the world — if you asked me to recount exactly how it all happens, I couldn’t quite tell ya. But that’s OK, because thanks to some clever (albeit sometimes way over-the-top) writing and solid-enough strategy, the game manages to both surprisingly entertain and shed the shackles of its predecessor, a dull Final Fantasy Tactics knockoff.
To be sure, the FFT influences are still present, but they’re far less overt — Luminous Arc 2 is definitely more of its own game this time around, thanks in part to bumped-up difficulty and a smoother interface. Most battles revolve around confrontations with big, bad foes who’d be impossible to take down in a 1-on-1 duel; instead, you slowly build up attack power in order to unleash your deadly “Flash Drive” on the unsuspecting boss. Unfortunately, the experience system still falls into the standard FFT trap, almost unacceptably so — you gain about eight times more XP for felling a foe as you do for a nonlethal blow. After the excellently egalitarian PS3 tactical gem Valkyria Chronicles, that tired strategy-RPG convention’s feeling less and less acceptable.
Click the image above to check out all the Luminous Arc 2 screens.
What also isn’t acceptable: not enough improvements to the multiplayer portion. Like in the first game, you can challenge foes via a local connection or Wi-Fi, but you don’t have any control over the computer-selected map, and you still can’t implement any sort of a handicapping system. So unless you can find an opponent with a comparable level, expect a one-sided thrashing. I actually had a decent time competing online against an Atlus-supplied opponent, but considering that multiplayer strategy-RPGs are few and far between — even on portable systems — this feels like an opening developer Image Epoch could really exploit. So it’s a bit disappointing to see the original’s multiplayer imported nearly wholesale here.
Still, the battle improvements, presentation polish, and overall cheeky vibe keep the single-player option well worth playing. Oh, and don’t think combat’s free from overt cheesecake, either: Roland can “Engage” his various witch companions to gain their elemental powers for a short while — triggering a come-hither-ish illustration of a curvaceous cutie in a revealing wedding gown. I actually wouldn’t dismiss this as misogynistic Tomonobu Itagaki-style exploitation, though — Luminous Arc 2 almost seems to double as a bizarre social commentary on its intended target audience. Among the evidence: The game forces a lascivious “witch otaku” into your party who’s constantly trying to snap candid photos of the winsome wenches, features a witch with a bikini top complete with “hands” that look like they’re copping a feel, and tops it all off with surreal “Life of Kopin” intermission segments that revolve around radish-headed critters ruminating on life. To me, it’s quite clear that developer Image Epoch and Atlus’ tongues are planted firmly in cheek.