Tales of Luminaria Review – A Vertical Slice of Potential

    Title: Tales of Luminaria
    Developer: Colopl
    Release Date: November 4, 2021
    Reviewed On: Android
    Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
    Genre: Gacha RPG

Tales of Luminaria came as a bit of a surprise to many people, myself included. It was announced just over a year after the worldwide release of the previous Tales mobile game, Crestoria, which had taken several years to release alone, and was coming hot on the heels of Tales of Arise, the first new “mothership” title in five years. What’s more, this would be unlike every other Tales mobile game in that it would only feature new characters, telling an original story, with a full English dub, and it would be a real-time action game…in portrait orientation. And only a few months later, it’s already here, which is easily the shortest period between announcement and global release in franchise history.

However, saying “it’s already here” is a bit misleading, as the game’s current state is only a tiny fraction of what has been promised to be an epic, sweeping story from the perspective of twenty-one different characters. At launch, Luminaria contains seven “episodes” – a term taken so literally that there’s an opening and ending song for each one – so only a third of the cast is playable thus far. I’ll be judging this game based on what it was on launch day, but developers have already stated that they are working on fixing several issues I’m bringing up here.

The story begins with Leo, a young man with Strong Protagonist Energy. Offscreen, he’s just rescued a man in need from some monsters, and the encounter with those beasts is the combat tutorial. Fighting is necessarily simple but can feel clunky.

There are four touch screen buttons, one for attack, and up to three that charge up for a larger strike or buffs based on the character and their equipped weapons. The attack button is also tied to movement, as it’s where the virtual analog stick is centered, meaning you can’t attack and move at the same time. A gradual slide from the button will make the on-screen character run, but a faster slide will have them perform a dodge maneuver in whichever direction you flick.

Dodges grant invincibility frames, but I frequently felt like I was spending more time dodging than attacking, as the game likes to throw tons of enemies that will all target with several telegraphed attacks. Often, I didn’t feel like the telegraphs were long enough for me to stop attacking and dodge out of the way, meaning that I was taking a frustrating amount of unnecessary punishment, particularly for the beginning of an action game.

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Thankfully, it does seem that there was consideration given to how each character would have to control. Celia, the first ranged attacker, can’t do much at close range, but her levels are built around sniping her enemies and, well-timed arrows will pierce additional enemies.

The characters that participate in more extensive, Musou-style battles typically have more expansive areas of effect. Still, combat feels a little brain-dead since you’ll largely just be mashing a single button without the intricate combos that Tales titles are known for, but it mostly functions.

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Unfortunately, here’s where I have to start hoping that more thought is put into this title as it evolves. One of the most significant selling points of Tales of Luminaria was its full English dub, starring a vast stable of very well-known voice actors. However, I found the dub to be of pretty mediocre quality, as even the most talented VAs (especially Aaron Dismuke as Leo) turn in standard, first-take performances.

The only exception I’ve found thus far is J Michael Tatum as August. At no point did I feel like any two characters in a scene were conversing in a room together, and what’s worse is you can’t switch to the Japanese voice track to avoid this. Regardless of whether you’re playing the Japanese or Global version of the title, they both have entirely separate voice tracks that can’t be switched around. So if you want to be able to read the game’s text and you don’t speak English, you’re stuck with this dub.

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The cutscenes are also somewhat questionable. The pre-rendered ones with more action animation look fine, but any cutscene where two or more characters are simply talking looks robotic, as though any animation would have been too expensive. The fact that there will always be a brief black loading screen before them to take you further out of the experience only accentuates this.

I’m also not a particular fan of any of the characters shown thus far, outside of anti-villain August. Too much of the extensive cast feel more like bog-standard series of tropes rather than actual people, and the series’ trademark ability to introduce nuance to character archetypes simply isn’t here yet. In its current state, Tales of Luminaria is serving you a basic shounen anime tale, with the potential to go somewhere interesting.

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Tales of Luminaria would have benefited from a beta period where the development team could have heard and addressed concerns before launch, but they seem to be listening. The bigger issue is that you only get one first impression, and while the scope of this project for its platform is notably impressive, it’s just not much to write home about right now. Tales of Luminaria will be getting weekly episode updates, which is sorely needed because of the lack of launch content. Ultimately, it needs more polish and genuine care to shine as best as it can.

Score:
6.5/10
Review copy purchased by outlet or reviewer

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