Luminous Arc DS Review

From a reviewer’s point of view, even a bad game is preferable to a merely average one. A bad game might be so shockingly wrong-footed as to actually make interesting- or at least satisfying- reviewing. It might be highly ambitious but poorly executed, warping the genre to which it belongs so fundamentally that some scintillating insight becomes visible through the cracks. It might simply provide the reviewer with a precious opportunity to unleash the wrath of God on something deserving after a hard day at the office or up the chimney or down the bar or wherever the hell it is he isn’t paid enough to work, damn it. But an average game, a game which takes no risks and therefore has few distinguishing features, positive or negative, a game which, for all its utter lack of vision, does little that is actually wrong– these are games to be dreaded.

And so it is with high dudgeon that I present Luminous Arc for the DS, a game so mind-numbingly passable I can think of very little to say about it. It’s the latest in a monstrous number of strategy-RPGs to make the leap from armchair gaming to handheld as 2007 draws to a close. It has enough in the way of spiky anime hairdos to puncture a battleship. It has square grid maps, a turn-based battle flow which allots speedy ninja types more turns than tanks, magic, skills, items, a rock-paper-scissors elemental system and a few familiar status effects. It ties everything together adequately with some 2D isometric graphics (presumably aimed at the retro-heads among us) and full touchscreen support. It has a superficial also-ran multiplayer mode. In short, it does absolutely everything required to evade the rubber stamp of rejection whilst doing absolutely nothing to earn the lollypop of ‘recommended purchase’. This game, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason there’s a point on the scale between 5 and 7.

Luminous Arc escapes its own dead-centre mediocrity on exactly two counts. Firstly a lot of the lengthy still cut-scenes are voiced, which would be rather impressive given the meagre DS cartridge capacity if the script and voice-acting weren’t faceclawingly horrendous Saturday morning cartoon bull-droppings. My first ten minutes with the game were immeasurably tougher for it. How I’ve suffered for you, dear readers. Sources close to me report that I emitted plaintive whimpering noises as I was plunged, headphones and all, into the tale of Alph, the Garden Children and the Witches.

But drill past this luxuriant vein of negative potential and Luminous Arc settles well into the role of boring you silly with its sheer, monotonous competence. There is no character customisation to speak of, so it’s pretty much all about winning battles in line with the predictable story arc, which charts the escapades of yet another rag-tag bunch of teenagers as they attempt to Save the World. Far be it for me to spoil any of the ‘twists’, but let’s just say there’s no righteous crusade without a dark, dingy underbelly, and no fresh-faced young orphan without an enigmatic, magical heritage.

The second count in the game’s favour is a question of target demographic. Without the hindrance of an esoteric party development system or the sort of high-falutin’, biorhythmic terrain-modifyin’ nerdery associated with the genre heavyweights, Luminous Arc could be viewed as a pitch to the (studious) kiddies, and can be hesitantly recommended to those looking to abandon what scraps of social aptitude they possess by making their first venture into SRPG-land. If you fall into this latter category, the game is worth considering- providing you can’t get your hands on the GBA’s Final Fantasy Tactics Advance or the recent PSP extravaganza Jeanne D’Arc.

There seems to be little rhyme or reason to the emergence of this, famously niche genre on our sceptred isle. For every Nippon Ichi title to hit the shelves there’s another wonderwork which mysteriously evades detection (not least the original Final Fantasy Tactics) and a half-dozen insipid off-cuts which appear in its stead. I suppose we should be grateful for anything at all, given the great British public’s predilection for chunky men kicking balls or shooting things or, er, hosting quiz shows. Luminous Arc makes tolerable filler material on the SRPG-deprived DS, but any self-respecting anorak will make a beeline for the riches now available on the Sony slab.