The stories series returned in a flash this past September with Stories of origin, the 17th main title and a title that breathed new life into the long-running action-RPG franchise. That’s a good one stories game, packed with an anime opening and fast-paced gameplay and all the good stuff that fans love. The recent mobile release Tales of Luminaria tries to do much the same thing, only compressed into an on-the-go experience for Android and iOS that you can play with one hand. It kinda works, or at least it would if it wasn’t largely ruined by the decision to play it vertically only.
This piece originally ran on Kotaku Australia on November 11, 2021. It has been re-timed as a weekend reading.
It’s a strange choice, but one that distinguishes it Tales of Luminaria from other mobile action RPGs on the market. Still, the decision puts limitations on the game’s design, especially the camera and combat.
There isn’t one central protagonist here, but you start the game as Leo Fourcade, a hot anime sword boy with red hair and a tribal pattern tattoo on his right forearm. Leo is just one of 21 playable characters, which you unlock as you complete each episode. There is an impressive variety of class archetypes here, ranging from archers and battle mages to marksmen and sword bearers. Some characters share weapon types, yet their moves and playstyles are completely unique. And each has its own episode that lasts about an hour, meaning there’s plenty of content to squeeze out of Tales of Luminaria†
But what could have been fun? stories play is largely hampered by his insistence on playing vertically only. Yes, whether you’re using an iPad or iPhone, you can’t change the orientation, even if you’ve unlocked it in your device’s UI. It’s different, of course, but forcing you to play in portrait mode creates frustrations out of your control in combat and general movement, which isn’t as accurate due to the touchscreen controls.
The mandatory vertical position also affects the camera, which is totally useless. It’s not so much behind your character, it just swings across the screen, jumping between looking over one shoulder and looking over the other without your input. And if it doesn’t enjoy its freedom, it’s probably because it’s stuck in the wall or between characters. You can’t even swipe to move the camera. You can only see through the narrow window of your phone’s screen, so good luck dodging enemy attacks if you can’t even see them.
Combat, with its imprecise touch controls, doesn’t fare much better. There are four main buttons on the screen: attack, up to two regular “artes” (special moves that are charged when you attack enemies), and one mystic arte. You dodge by swiping your finger across the screen and pay by tapping a quick-time-event prompt that appears. It is quite easy to pick up and play. However, because you do this on a touchscreen, assignments are not always registered when you want them to. You could tap attack to do a three hit combo, then stop so you can swipe to dodge before tapping an arte, but your character might not get the message you intend to send. The way you tap your screen makes you much more likely to take damage or roll towards the enemy rather than away from the enemy. There’s also no dedicated block button, so your only defense is counter or dodge.
Despite all this, Tales of Luminaria has bright spots that really shine. It not only looks like a stories game; it also sounds like it, with a roaring orchestral soundtrack and very anime voice acting for each character. Interactions between the playable heroes also echoed the familiar tone of the series. Heartfelt moments and friendly banter abound as your company of three journeys through the world of the game. And it tells an intriguing story about shape-shifting students and cults overthrowing the government. It’s a bit truncated, being mobile and stuff, but it’s very much a stories experience.
If this sounds like you, or if you’re willing to deal with the shaky camera and imprecise controls due to the always-vertical position, then you can download Tales of Luminaria now on Android or iOS devices. It’s an often frustrating experience that still has something familiar stories series charm, and that’s fine. But if you’re looking for a deeper stories game, one with more precise controls and this cute cat then I can’t help but recommend to pick up Stories of origin instead of. It’s the real deal.