Well, here we are: almost two years after release. Let's not delay any further, shall we?
After this cute little loading screen, which I like:
You're brought to the title screen above, with no vocal song or intro - just one of the characters saying the name of the game. That was a shade disappointing, as its predecessor, Retour, had one, and Maren, the Angelique game that's been on my mind the most lately, had this banger:
In any case, after this glimpse of the title screen, I filed the game away and went to go do something else. That's right: my first session with the game was just looking at the title screen. I'd wanted to see the attract mode and quit just to dip in my toe. It's a new Angelique game, you understand. I have to prepare myself mentally. Can't just dive into these things.
But I went back and started up the game proper, I was greeted by another distinctive artistic choice for the intro:
It's manga line art. Black-and-white manga line art. I was sent a bonus comic containing this intro in paper format (with a classic triple-stripe cover) with my purchase of the game, from a private Amazon seller (which was kind of them). I didn't know this was its significance.
(Also, I captured practically this whole intro, so I might as well post it. Forgive the image onslaught.)
At the meeting: "And so then she just put the contract in the shredder!!..." "They reported it!?"
The plot, in case you didn't read the above: Ange is a 25-year-old workaday businesswoman who's having problems at her office job. After a particularly frustrating day, she wanders into a nearby pub: "The Queen and the Nine Gods." A nearby stranger overhears, or pretends to overhear, her kvetching and offers her a contract for a new job: candidate for Queen of the Universe. Tipsy, she gleefully signs, half in jest.
(Offhand thought: it must suck in this game if you lose the Queen's Exam and have to go back to an office job, right? It's not even like Limoges and Smallney, where you see she has her friends waiting for her.)
Yue, our Guardian of Light for this go-around, makes his appearance on his pegasus, whereupon the manga art - briefly; there isn't much more of it - explodes in color. The manga art intro is distinctive, but after the barebones attract screen, it comes off as, frankly...well, cheap. It seems that Luminarise was a financial success given the attention Koei's given it since its release, but it really seems here like Koei's trying to make an Ange game on the cheap. (Spoiler: it won't be the last. Budget cuts have hit the Sanctuary.)
Incidentally, just to reiterate: we've supposed to be in Earth's universe in Luminarise. Apparently, they've retroactively decided we weren't with the first Angelique, though Luva was quoting Sun Tzu and whatnot. Ange is supposed to be Japanese. No word on why she still has Technicolor anime protagonist hair or is named "Ange."
"I was a child when I read that picture book. But I can't remember - how did it all end, now?..."
*Translator Note: AHAHAHAHAHA
One of the gimmicks from promo material was that because the heroine was from Earth, she was already familiar, in a meta way, with the traditional, familiar Angelique world as a fictional media property. Here, though, she specifies that she knows Angelique as a fairy tale from a picture book she read as a kid, not as a video game (or manga or anime or what have you). Yeah, there was an Angelique picture book (Bokutachi no Purezento, I think?, which I don't believe was a retelling), but that new Ange isn't familiar with Angelique as a video game juggernaut suggests Koei hedged their initial premise again, like when they toned down the day-drunk stuff.
Anyhow, just to go over the premise here, in case you wandered in out of curiosity or some other motivation: in the Angelique world, a universe (there are multiple) is typically ruled by a Queen, who just kind of watches over and protects the thing, and kept in balance by nine god-like men called Guardians, each of whom administrates one of the foundational powers in the universe, regulating its abundance and flow and whatnot. The Queen and Guardians are not static, immortal figures like the Greek gods; rather, they're mortal individuals plucked from the universe's populace in whom a given power has found temporary residence. Eventually - typically after several years of the individual's life - the power leaves them, and the Queen or Guardian is cycled out for the power's new mortal host. There's always a Queen; there are always nine Guardians - but the exact identities of these individuals are consistently changing.
In an Angelique game, you're typically one of two candidates for Queen of the Universe, your suitability for the position determined by how well you "cultivate" a continent on one of the universe's planets: guide its civilizational development ActRaiser-style, except instead of descending periodically to Marahna to cross swords with snake gods, you're schmoozing nine hot dudes and infusing your continent with their powers in a hopefully-productive balance. (OK, Angelique suffers in that comparison. Perhaps the snake-god sword-duel oversight can be corrected in Luminarise 2.) You can also choose to romance and commit to a relationship with one of the nine Guardians. This will usually result in you being booted from consideration for the throne, despite favoritism being a clear part of the exam. (I talk more about this contradictory dynamic here.)
"What about our difficulty setting? Doesn't look like we can change it midway through..."
(Oh, and there are difficulty levels now. There's even a *hard* setting, where you get one fewer heart of stamina than your rival! A pretty big step from Neo Angelique, whose idea of a mid-game tumult was a boss battle that took *two* rounds to defeat.)
Ange is whisked to the Floating City, where the exam takes place, and Yue makes a formal introduction. I didn't like Yue from the early promo material; he seemed too self-impressed and had a weird design (fivehead). He went up in my sights with his vocal song, an enthusiastic, supportive ode to loving yourself, and with his endearing fanboy worship of Julious on the First Step audio drama—he dearly wanted to do his best and follow in his hero's footsteps, trying to put up a grand, inspiring front and sometimes succeeding.
Here, he's - initially - back to being a pompous ass.
Well, they might not be so aware, Yue. Yue is the Guardian of Light, the power that represents yang proactivity, positivity, personal pride, and the drive to accomplish. In previous Angelique games, the Guardians of Light and Darkness (the yin to Light's yang, representing peace and passivity) were dubbed "the right and left wings of the Queen," with the former typically taking a leadership position due to the nature of his power. In Luminarise, the Guardian of Light is formally enshrined as the sole leader and given a title to that effect: the "Primus." Obviously, this has gone to Yue's head.
(Also, I just noticed in browsing these screenshots: Yue has pinned to his chest the Divine Bird crest that Julious gave him in the 1st Step drama. Typically, audio dramas in Angelique are self-contained and not referenced in the games; apparently, 1st Step was not meant solely as a cute bit of torch-passing promo material and instead is part of total franchise integration. Also, just like the Retour incarnation of his hero, Yue now has a hugely-unbalancing accessory pinned to his costume.)
Ange doesn't quite get any of this. Traditionally, Angelique heroines are reasonably sharp in the games but stupid in the anime, manga, etc. adaptations. I guess we're going right to stupid.
Guardian of Wind Vergil, who apparently is the smart one (and evidently has pink eyes? That's new), says that Yue's grandiose but metaphor-laden approach to explaining the situation isn't going to cut it and starts laying things out more plainly. Unfortunately, blunt isn't going to work with this Ange, either, and she faints again.
While our heroine is unconscious, we get a late title credits sequence, of sorts. A good deal of it was swiped from the initial trailer (the montage of locales against a zoom-in on Ange's kinda-dopey face); the rest is just zooms over CGs from the dates, presumably, accompanied by a line per character. Again, this gives a real cost-cutting feel.
After a period of unconsciousness where she's informed by a voice calling to her from beyond that she has been chosen, Ange is then awakened in her apartment by her rival, Reina, who is a kinder, gentler Rosalia, right down to the elite parentage and purple hair.
(Note: "Reina" means "queen" in Spanish. Is this a kind fate for someone destined to be the actual Queen's Aide? To be named after the job you - *ooh*, so close - almost got but didn't?)
I do like this Ange's bitchface. (You don't really have the right to impugn this woman's mental fitness, though, Ange; she's recounting parts of the same fairy tale you yourself remember.)
Reina goes on to share that, like Ange, she's a 25-year-old executive - they even worked in the same city. Reina's evidently had a bit more success than Ange in the business world, though; her next venture, she says, was a 10 billion-yen "global project" - "though I guess that's on the back burner for now."
Ange then notices something awry:
PURSE SNATCHERS. This means nothing good! I've played The Devil in Me! Is this exam being run by Grantham DuMet?
Reina affirms that her own bag is missing. Now: in the Angelique universe, time flows differently on certain planets than on the universe's "main" planet and the location where the characters live and the action is taking place. Earth, it will later be established, is on the outskirts of the universe. I have to wonder if decades haven't passed back home since Ange & Reina came to the land of the gods and the phone theft isn't an attempt to disguise that fact.
(In other disturbing news, Angelique notices that her wardrobe has also gotten "a significant boost" since she passed out, meaning someone undressed her, which is disturbing. This is like that Retour manga where Oscar was considering doing untoward things to his military trainer. The clothing in Ange's headshot sprite hasn't changed, but it is different from what she was wearing in the opening manga. Maybe she just didn't initially notice, though I doubt Yue swapped out her clothes while they were riding the pegasus.)
Reina's amicable but vows to do her best in the upcoming Queen Examination despite her personal feelings. The game emphasizes her determination by swapping the background to a manga starburst. Perhaps they mean it to be an artistic choice, of a piece with the manga opening, but...again, it looks really cheap.
I've found that reality reliably lets me down when it comes to results.
We then hear a whinny from offscreen. I thought it was Yue's pegasus, but it's just the butler - the guy with the contract from the intro.
I don't like Cyrus. For one, he was played up heavily in the promo materials as a "wacky" character who did cah-ray-zy random stuff, and I don't like "forced-wacky" characters who stage Antics to grab attention. I like characters who are genuinely interesting of their own accord. (I'm fine with antics when they come from, say, Charlie, with his exuberance and outsized zest for life, or Giovanni, with his flair for the dramatic and con artistry. Antics are organic products of those characters. Here, we're starting with Antics and nothing else.)
For another, he's perpetually making the exact same expression my dentist did when she condescendingly "informed" me I needed two crowns (which was, as I subsequently learned upon obtaining a second opinion, a complete lie).
Yeah, my dentist did, too.
Contrary to what Shuri said, the liar, they do care about zodiac and blood type in this game. Also, while it indeed differs from year to year, Scorpio more typically ends on November 21st, MY BIRTHDAY, THANK YOU.
Anyhow, our birdcalling enthusiast and probable Will of the Universe up there previously mentioned that he'd like to ask six questions. There's also an actual personality component to Angelique's ceremonial opening compatibility fest, with most of the questions being taken from this feature. I think I screwed up in my answers at a few points here. I considered restarting, but eh. Play it as it lies.
The first question is about whether you have a quick temper or are more patient. The thing is that I think I'm actually slow to anger, that I try to be understanding and give the benenfit of the doubt - which I consider a problem, actually; there are numerous points in my past where I would've been better off had I been less tolerant of others' bullshit - but I stay angry longer and more intensely, and I am less afraid to show anger, than the average person. I seem to have interpreted this more as "Do you have a temper?" (as opposed to "How quick is your temper?") and took the testier answer, even though it may not reflect my actual behavior as per the question's exact wording.
Friends are the DNA of society. There are the basic building blocks of life. If you have a couple of good ones, treasure them like gold. There's nothing better. Ever look at that MCI ad they have, "Friends and Family"? Who do they mention first? Your friends help you carry the big weight in life. That big burden we've all got called, "What the hell am I doing?"
You heard Jerry Seinfeld up there, even if you don't know or remember what MCI is. Friendship is the foundation of one's social life. Friends are more numerous and, in general, more reliable than lovers. But: if you have that one special someone, that's more meaningful to you in particular, far rarer to find, more specific to you, right? We're talking about One True Love stuff that has very limited application in real life, but this is Angelique. Come on. Friendship is the more pragmatic choice, but we did not come to this franchise for pragmatism, and I did not come to be pragmatic here.
Another screw-up all around, and I'm not just talking about the screenshot. The question here was: Do you prefer eating sweet or spicy foods? I picked "sweet" because I eat more sweet things on a daily basis, and when I want a treat, I go for something sweet. I wish I didn't, though. Sweet food can tend to be insipid and monotonous, and spicy encompasses a wider range of more complex flavors in more "foundational" dishes, for lack of a better word. I do also tend to add a good deal of spice to much of my food - not to the point of discomfort, but enough to provide a good bit of complexity and heat. This is the old issue of the complex, challenging stuff you should consume and the vapid stuff you do consume, though, and I have to admit my favorite things are sweet and my favorite main dishes aren't really particularly spicy. In one sense, I'd prefer it if I ate more spicy foods, but despite myself, I do prefer eating sweet foods.
While we're on the subject: hot sauces are the Hot Topic of middle age, a commercially-convenient way to be "edgy." The genuinely transgressive take is that food is meant to be food, not solely a vehicle for battery acid.
Money's more practical, but again, this is Angelique. Also, you can get money a number of ways, but that special person's one-of-a-kind.
Chose the first. You can't trust the second! (Even though I've had my fill of the first, quite frankly. I reflexively voiced a desire to be the stronger party and considered this a gimme, but perhaps I should have thought the question through.)
Finally, Cyrus asks what kind of reinforcement better helps you improve your performance. The hell is this question? Who would choose the second option? Is Kiefer a love interest in this game?
After the questions, we're off to see the Guardians, and:
...I forgot to collapse the mini-menu before taking this screenshot.
(The loss is minimal, though. We'll be seeing more of Xeno shortly, and the less we see of Felix, the better for all of us.)
Oh, also: Ohh, dear. They're using a copypaste collage of the individual character promo art to show everyone assembled. They didn't even pop to have special splash art drawn. Don't get me wrong: as we'll see, the character art we have is good. But this game is coming off as a very cutting-corners endeavor so far. (That said, it *does* seem to have been successful enough for a sequel; will that get more yen put into it next time?)
Yue is reading the Queen's lines from the original Angelique. This is actually a pretty good joke.
The other character is Noah, Guardian of Darkness, the yin to Light's yang, by the way. He was present, along with Vergil, upon Ange's arrival at the Floating City, but he didn't have much to say, so he didn't make the screenshot cut. Noah is allegedly 22 but looks and acts like he's 12 or so, and his weirdly bulky winter-coat costume combined with his apparent age remind me of the "I can't put my arms down" bits from A Christmas Story.
Also, I remembered to take a shot of Yue without the interface.
Xeno - the Guardian of Steel, which represents technological innovation - steps forward to greet and reassure the candidates. He reliably comes off as the most personable of the Guardians in the promo material. He's a sweetheart.
Xeno apologizes for the candidates being summoned so quickly, citing "reasons." The ladies are given a chance to ask a question, and Ange asks for elaboration on those "reasons." Reina will take the opportunity to note that both the Queen and her Aide are missing; the throne of God(dess) literally sits empty. (This quetion is a player choice, by the way; you can also ask about the missing Guardian - it's the recently-installed Kanata, of Water, element of gentleness and healing - or refuse to ask a question at all.)
Neither question will be answered, but Lorenzo, the ladies' man Guardian of Earth (as he says, knowledge - and, in this game, abs and unsubtle come-ons) will admire your astuteness and curiosity.
Ange's reaction to Cyrus stepping in with more info on test basics she should know from her "fairy tale," like continent cultivation, suggests that Lorenzo may have been premature in this observation.
(Also, Lorenzo's eyes are purple. Vergil's were *pink.* Xeno's were amber yellow. What's in the water?)
Anyhow, Cyrus leads Ange and Reina away, and the Guardians saunter off to discuss events.
No one respects Yue's authority. Lorenzo was probably just running interference for Yue instead of enraptured by our adept selection of dialogue options. In other news, for all the assertions that "he's not Clavis" in the promo material, Noah's sure acting like discount, snowsuited Clavis.
We then abruptly cut to Vergil asking another Guardian we haven't seen, Shuri, what he thought of the candidates. I mentioned Vergil's element is Wind, which typically embodies change and youthfulness. (It stands in opposition to Earth, which in addition to knowledge, represents constancy, stability, and the wisdom of age.) Shuri's is Fire, strength and militancy.
Shuri, like Angelique, gives excellent bitchface.
Meanwhile, Vergil's priorities lie with how cute he finds the candidates, particularly Ange:
Now: I'm going to be going after Shuri in my playthrough, for reasons upon which I will elaborate in a subsequent installment, as this is already very long. (One of the reasons, though, is that he perpetually makes it plain that he's thoroughly done with everyone's shit.) In the meantime, here's a question: What is this place? It's dim and stony like a fortress, but it has geometric mood lighting and movie theater seats. It's probably either Vergil or Shuri's manor, but it doesn't seem to fit either of them.
Meanwhile, the biggest pain in the ass of this batch of Guardians, Felix, yells at Xeno for visiting "him" (the missing Guardian, Kanata) again. Xeno explains that he feels sorry for Kanata, with him being installed as a Guardian without time to prepare and for him being in such a difficult and lonely position. (Guardians are typically given time to acclimate to their jobs and be mentored by their predecessor; if their predecessor is rapidly losing their grip on their power, however, they can be ripped from their homes and Shanghaied to the Sanctuary on an emergency basis so the fabric of the universe doesn't fall apart.) Felix scolds Xeno for caring and insists his overtures won't do any good. God, I hate Felix. I thought a little better of him after his Twitter Q&A, but his song from the album and this incident have swung the pendulum right back. He's just a self-impressed prick with horrendous fashion sense.
(Felix's domain is "Dream," which, though you wouldn't guess it from looking at him, encompasses beauty. Well, sometimes. Depending on the individual Guardian and universe, it can run the gamut from aesthetics to self-improvement. Achieving one's ideals and ideal self, let's say. All departments which Felix does not seem to represent in the slightest.)
The last Guardian is a dancer named Milan, who represents Green - nature, in other words. Milan is established as a cohort of Felix and as fond of pranking others to draw attention to himself, points which do not speak well of him. My main point of interest in him is whether he is a reincarnated Giovanni from Maren no Rokukishi or if the devs just copied his dancer disguise.
Meanwhile meanwhile, Cyrus is laying down the 411 on the exam and the Floating City and the makeup of the cosmos. Normally, the Queen and the Guardians and the whole holy retinue live in the Sanctuary, a sacred place here on the universe's central planet. However, for the duration of Queen's Exam, everyone's moved shop to the Floating City, a continent that hovers (invisibly, so as not to upset the normies) above the planet where the exam will be taking place.
"Birth," as they unfortunately call it, is located on the edge of the universe, far out in the uncharted backwaters of the universe's unfashionable end.
I swear to God, woman; there are exactly four elements in his PowerPoint. How did you survive your office meetings.
Anyhow, the group goes off to the Royal Research Institute, which generates the data the candidates will be using to cultivate their continent and which is probably the last place Ange belongs.
And Ange actually agrees with me; she asks to be sent home, lest she be fired.
Cyrus instead smirks like my dentist and reminds her that she signed a contract. He mentions, unconvincingly, that despite her planet's isolated location and insignificance, she might be able to visit once in a while. That would seem to torpedo the time dilation theory, but who knows if that fucker's telling the truth.
In the meantime, one of the Institute's employees drops by to explain his workplace.
Yeah, we do! That's Randy!
No, it means that Ange knows this guy - he's an old college classmate, she believes, named Taira.
Randy Tyler, however, professes to have no memory of this, moving swiftly to an explanation of the planet on which the exam will take place.
Yeah, it ain't so special based on this production budget! MAN, THIS MAP LOOKS CHEAP!!! You'd find higher production values in a mobile ad.
Also, I see we have the Ys III volcanic zone in the front there.
When can we send Bowser to attack everybody? Or would it be Dark Fact?
Reina names her continent "Espoir," French for "hope." Ange just chooses the classic:
While explaining about visiting continents and instantaneous extradimensional travel and whatnot, Cyrus namedrops the Divine Bird and Sacred Beast universes, where previous Angelique games took place. They're laying on the connections thick, despite the status of the old characters remaining unclear, and despite spin-off Angeliques in new settings (Neo Angelique, Maren) typically not concerning themselves with the established cast. Will anything come of this? Is there an actual mystery here, or is this just bridge-building from one franchise era to another?
The Candidates are also shown to Ange's continent for a moment.
After that, the day draws to a close, and the ladies are shown to their rooms.
It's time for the requisite Angelique "uwu I'm just an ordinary girl why was I chosen?" bit:
It doesn't yield any bold insights in this game, either. At lease not here.
After Cyrus leaves for the night, Reina pops in for a visit. She feels anxious about leaving her job, responsibilities, and loved ones for this unreal situation.
This prompts Ange to look back on her own life: seeing others get married, losing out on contracts, living under the threat of restructuring and an uncertain economy. A succession of disappointments. I have problems with Ange's intelligence here, but I do have to say that this sequence turns the otome trope of a "normal, everyday girl" as a protagonist on its head. For a teenager, that means you've yet to be tried and exhibit your true, assuredly-high worth; being a run-of-the-mill person as an adult means that your life has probably not gone the way you planned.
The recollections hit Ange hard. She feels like she's just gone with the flow in her life, doing what's been expected of her, yet hasn't been rewarded for her efforts. She's worked so hard, and nothing has come of it. She doesn't know what to do with her life now. Man, this really is a heroine for the Reiwa era.
Reina then, suddenly, asks Ange a question: Do you want to go back?
I chose "no." It seemed right at this point, despite Ange's previous cold feet; it's an answer borne out of despair, not hopefulness. Ange doesn't voice that to Reina, though.
Instead of pressing, Reina switches gears to mention a mysterious letter she found in her room.
Oh, wait; wrong letter. Here we go:
Reina wonders what it means. It means you're in a dating game. Buckle up.
This is a smart way to recast the relationship between the Queen Candidates, actually, instead of the Mean Girl rival stuff for which the franchise initially half-heartedly went. The stakes are high, they're far from home, and they can't trust the people around them. Of course having someone from a similar background would give them comfort.
Reina are you hitting on me
I think that's a good place to call it for now.
UNOBSTRUCTED GLAMOUR SHOTS OF CHARACTERS AND LOCATIONS WITH NOWHERE ELSE TO GO: