Mechanically, Luminous Arc 2 is a solid example of a tactical RPG. Height and character facing are important, but not to the degree that it's impossible to win a battle without striking the enemies from behind. When you're told that the monster has a 54% chance of hitting you, the blow connects half the time, more or less. Stylus control makes navigating battles and menus easier rather than getting in the way. Battles are neither too easy nor dependent on grinding; when I die it's because my strategy was flawed or because I didn't make allowances for surprise reinforcements. There's a convenient quick-save! These are all factors that can break a tactical RPG, and Luminous Arc 2 knocks them aside and laughs in their faces. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to excite myself with this title.
"It's hard to get excited about solid mechanics, but they're the type of thing that I've come to appreciate -- especially during extended play sessions."
My primary concern is with the story. Although the pieces are in place for some excellent politicking or zany subversion of the genre, neither impulse is realized nearly twenty hours in. Instead, we get a familiar combination of the hero's journey to save the realm and the traditional harem anime. Although neither set of tropes is inherently bad, they're hardly ground-shaking either. The witches who Roland, the hero, must engage with to realize his true potential are pleasant enough, but stock characters, nevertheless. Although there are shining, hilarious moments in the dialogue, it's spoken by flat, familiar faces. This dearth of personality is problematic in a game boasting character-building intermission scenes. It's entirely possible that I haven't progressed far enough in these between battle characterization segments to uncover all of the secrets, but I have progressed rather deep into the game.
The sole exception to my concern with characterization is with Kaph, ostensibly the comic relief. Despite being a letch and identified "Witch Otaku," he's never quite the useless fop that the other characters make him out to be. Not only are his skills with his guitar-camera-gun unmatched, he's a legitimate artistic prodigy. While Kaph may simper and leer, his insights propel him beyond the mere weekend nerd. Unfortunately, much of the game's humor revolves around hitting Kaph.
The broadly defined characters extend their personalities into their well-defined combat roles. Each character progresses along a set path, gaining new abilities at specific levels. There are no "filler" characters or monsters, each combat character relating to the story as a whole. The rigid character roles make pre-battle selection an important part of strategy: will one healer be enough, or will you need to take the next stage defensively in order to progress? Item slots are limited, adding another layer of strategy to party composition.
The primary juncture for personalizing characters are lapis stones. Each character can equip three of these chunks of magically enhanced rock to modify their combat statistics. Generally lapis stones offer numerical benefits like a +10% boost to MP or resistance to certain elements. More rare are the ones that provide special powers like the ability to walk on water or regenerate HP every round. The effects are useful, but not character-changing; they're more a tool for fine-tuning each character than transforming a scrawny witch into a front-line brawler.
From about halfway through the game, Luminous Arc 2 is a middle of the road experience. It's hard to get excited about solid mechanics, but they're the type of thing that I've come to appreciate -- especially during extended play sessions. For a more complete examination of the gameplay and the answer to whether there’s a surprise turnaround in the otherwise familiar plot, watch for RPGamer's full review in the weeks to come.