Luminous Arc

  • Developer: Image Epoch
  • Publisher: Rising Star Games

People are prone to calling Japanese turn-based strategy RPG titles like this an obscure niche. Perhaps we should be re-evaluating that statement because it seems to me like there's a new one popping up every other month. Honestly, you turn your back for a second and another one shuffles onto the scene with a loud mouth and a bundle of Action Points to beg for our love. They'll be toppling first-person shooters before we know it.

Currently, Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics are the pick of the crop, but for the uninitiated they can be a relatively daunting experience, particularly with the former and developer Nippon Ichi's kitchen sink approach to battles. Luminous Arc is a lot simpler, whittling away a lot of the genre's indulgences for something a little more straightforward: fights are easy to comprehend, the level up fanfare sounds without fail every time you earn just 100 XP, customisation is limited to buying the newest weapons and armour, and the non-random encounters that make up the game's story are plotted along a thoroughly linear path. Battle-wise, you can attack and move, or move and attack with nothing in between, and no character is every lost for good.

A rotate map feature would have been handy, particularly when characters bunch together.

In fact, it's a bit of a relief to play something like this that doesn't need you to endlessly grind your characters up to a suitable fighting level for the next chapter, or to juggle the complexities of a job system, even if the end result is a game that's a little shallow on the strategy side.

But while the battles themselves are relatively short and non-taxing, they're sandwiched in between a lengthy plot told via interminable dialogue bandied back and forth between the facing stills of two interchangeable characters. The amount of voice acting on offer is an impressive touch, but the story's your usual fantasy manga clichés, full of prepubescent boys with weighty burdens, big-breasted girls in skimpy attire, and cute mascot blobs.

For anyone overwhelmed by Nippon Ichi's efforts to stick OTT turn-based battle anywhere they please, Luminous Arc does have its benefits. Although some may find it lacking, its undemanding level of play and overall polish may endear it precisely to those who want to dip a toe in the water before swimming with the big boys. If you can stomach the story, and the isometric viewpoint giving you occasional trouble when trying to select your desired unit with the stylus, it stands as a decent bite-size alternative. Anyone else, though, would be better off waiting for the DS's next turn to see if it spits out something more meaty.


Honeycomb Beat

  • Developer: Hudson Soft
  • Publisher: Rising Star Games

You know, back in the pre-millennial Gameboy days this might well have turned out differently. Back then, we'd have expected nothing less than a bright and breezy puzzler to entertain us as we lounged about in our Fruit of the Loom jumpers, knocking out solutions to a tune of bouncy J-Pop while smiley animals in front of sparkling backgrounds egged us on with positive words of encouragement. It's a different world now. Puzzle games are growing up. Now it's all stark minimalism and techno beats and lifestyle games, with cheery bumblebees nowhere to be found. How depressing. Not like in my day. Grumble grumble.

If you can't get this one, you might as well give up now.

Putting looks to one side, the hook to this particular puzzle game is to flip over hexagons (i.e. honeycombs) on the grid by tapping them with the stylus in order to make them all one colour. It's not that easy, because turning over one also flips its neighbours. The trick, in that case, is to tap the right ones in the right order. Do so within a limited number of moves (i.e. beats), and you'll earn your merit.

The 200 challenges on offer range from the obvious to the obscure, further complicating matters with direction-changing arrows and hexagons that only flip properly after a certain number of taps. Beyond this there's a rather unexciting endless mode in which lines need to be cleared before they creep to the top of the screen, and that's your lot.

There's stuff here to keep you occupied for a short while and it does enthral to a certain extent, yet the DS isn't exactly starved of puzzle games, and this one in particular doesn't do enough to draw you in completely. All things considered, Honeycomb Beat just isn't as addictive or substantial as it needs to be to make it a classic.


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