Luminous Arc Hands-On

We spend some quality time with a near-finished English-language version of Atlus' turn-based fantasy role-playing game.

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Currently scheduled for release in North America in August, Luminous Arc is a turn-based strategy game in which you'll assume the role of a young rifleman named Alph. Like his brother Theo and some of the other characters that you'll be fighting alongside, Alph is a member of the Garden Children--a group trained from childhood to combat witches, monsters, and the like, should they ever return to the world. They have returned, of course, and so when you assume control of Alph at the start of the game, he's facing the prospect of real combat for the first time.

Before embarking on your adventure proper, you'll have an opportunity to play through no fewer than 19 brief tutorials, which do a great job of familiarizing you with just about every aspect of Luminous Arc's gameplay. If you've ever played Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis, or any of the Fire Emblem games, you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect, but you'll also find a handful of features that are unique to Luminous Arc. Fostering good relationships with the other members of your party through postbattle conversations is important, for example, since characters who get on well with Alph benefit from improved accuracy and dodge abilities when they stand next to him on the battlefield. As you progress through the game and experiment with different combinations of characters, you'll also find that some are able to team up to perform powerful "synergy" attacks, in addition to the solo flash drive attacks that are unique to each character.

High ground will generally afford your party an advantage over its enemies.
High ground will generally afford your party an advantage over its enemies.

Although the battles in Luminous Arc are turn based, the order and frequency of the characters' turns is determined by their move attribute, so it's not uncommon to see faster characters getting extra turns. Helpfully, you can view a list detailing the order of upcoming turns at any time, which makes planning party members' next moves much easier. Other things to consider when planning moves include advantages afforded to you by higher or different types of terrain, ensuring that your characters don't leave their backs exposed to the enemy whenever possible, and because it's possible to injure colleagues accidentally, making sure that they don't get in each other's way. Another feature that we've learned to pay close attention to is the fact that characters are restored to full HP (health points) and MP (magic points) every time they level up, which can happen as often as every three or four turns, depending on the strength of the enemies that they're engaged with. Knowing when one of your characters is about to gain a level is particularly useful when they're low on health, since it might actually be a better idea for you to have them attack an enemy than to retreat toward a healer character or use an item.

You can choose to play Luminous Arc with or without the stylus, and for the most part we've found that using the stylus and touch screen is preferable. The only exception to this is when, during battles, the character or enemy that you wish to target is mostly obscured by other characters or by environmental features. Unfortunately, it's not possible to rotate the isometric battlefields or to reposition the camera in any way, so when this happens, you really need a good eye and a steady hand. You'll be asked to confirm that you've targeted the right character before committing to attacking or taking any other action on it, but on more than one occasion, our wish to hurry things along resulted in an ally getting attacked or an enemy benefiting from one of our priest's healing spells.

In between battles, you'll have opportunities to talk with your colleagues and any other characters you meet, visit libraries and shops, and revisit locations that you've been to previously simply by touching them on the world map. To date, our exploration of the world map has been completely linear, with new locations appearing on the predetermined path every time you complete the previous one. There are no unseen "random battles" waiting for your party as they travel between different areas, but if you attempt to pass through an area where you fought a battle previously, your slain enemies will be back from the dead and lying in wait. Keep moving forward, and you'll be prompted to advance the story every time you visit a town.

Maintaining strong relationships with the other members of your party is important.
Maintaining strong relationships with the other members of your party is important.

Luminous Arc's storyline, which we're only around four hours into at this point, is told through conversations between key characters that, in many cases, take as long to get through as the battles that they're sandwiched between. Many of the conversations are voiced by actors, but perhaps because our version of Luminous Arc is unfinished, the audio often ends before the conversation does. In some cases, we've had lengthy discussions with characters that aren't voiced at all. The dialogue is written well, and the characters we've encountered thus far are interesting and varied enough that the story sequences have held our attention. Without wishing to give too much away about Luminous Arc's plot, the self-righteous Luminous church has recently appointed a 13-year-old grand cardinal and is quite literally engaged in a witch hunt. The witches in question are powerful women with the ability to summon monsters, but whether they're a threat to the world or simply to the church remains to be seen.

In addition to the story-driven single-player game, Luminous Arc will support competitive online play for two players. We look forward to bringing you more information on that and other aspects of the game as soon as it becomes available.

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