As a complete newbie to the Lunar series I wasn't sure what to expect going in. I knew it was a popular series among the RPGFan readership and staff alike but beyond that my knowledge was essentially non-existent. So after much gentle pestering by Michael Sollosi to join a recording of Retro Encounter, I eventually agreed to play the series and give my first impressions.
It's safe to say I was trepidatious of what was in store for me, what with a cumbersome inventory system and somewhat no-frills turn based battle system. However, the game's unquestionable charm eventually won me over completely by the end, and I can now safely say I understand what all the hype was about. You know a game is special when it makes you feel nostalgic even though you just beat it for the first time a week ago.
Now, what will the sequel have in store for me?
My return to the world of Lunar has been strange and rather bittersweet. The Silver Star was the killer app of the Sega CD back in '93. Featuring limited voice acting, even more limited animation, and the character designs of Gainax's Toshiyuki Kubooka, Lunar felt revolutionary and unlike anything else that came before it. Although the Sega CD version was quite incomplete, it's the version for which I held the strongest memories due to how enraptured I was by its world and characters.
I'd largely missed out on the Silver Star Story overhaul. When it was new, I was a teenager with limited funds and didn't see the point in spending my fleeting money on a game I'd already beaten multiple times. I'd had my journey with Alex and Co., and although my memories never faded, I also never had much of a desire to save Lunar from the Magic Emperor again.
However, that all changed when I learned we were doing a Lunar Month for Retro Encounter, and my passion for the game reignited. I picked up a digital copy of the PSP's Silver Star Harmony, and... it's really not the Lunar I remembered it being. Sure, the characters and script were on point, but Gung-Ho's acquisition of Game Arts could not be more obvious; a breezy and beautiful game was turned into a garish nightmare of mobile game-esque sprites and endlessly respawning monsters. A cornerstone of my childhood had become a very tedious affair that I had to power through.
That said, my feelings for Lunar have not changed, and seeing each member of its vibrant cast again never failed to make me smile, even if the charm was wrapped up in a big scratchy blanket of mechanical frustration. Lunar is an incredibly wholesome and uplifting adventure; it's just a shame Gung-Ho felt obliged to fix what wasn't broken.
In what seems to be a recurring situation for me in Retro Encounter, Lunar 1 is a game I haven't played in over a decade, but resulted in a mostly-positive nostalgia trip (see "RPG, Super Mario" and "Bound, Earth"). Lunar 1 is every bit as charming, romantic, and earnest as I remember, and if Rob Fenner's comments about the PSP version are to be believed, I made the right choice by firing up my copy of the PS1 remake.
Lunar's plot sets up with a world tour of sorts, then the stakes increase abruptly with a dramatic twist as the player sees the world order established in the first third of the game crumble like a soft sandcastle. The "real" journey doesn't begin until the main characters go on a smaller journey first, so that rescue mission resonates more. That's smart story design. I also enjoyed how the six main characters of Lunar neatly fit into three romantic pairs, with each of them a different kind of relationship.
I would hesitate to recommend Lunar to an RPG fan with little tolerance for oldschool grinds or visuals, because those two components have aged the weakest to me. But if there exists a video game fan who likes oldschool RPGs, hasn't played Lunar, and has enough dispensable income to afford a PS1 copy of the game, then Silver Star Story Complete comes highly recommended.