Lunar: Dragon Song
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Developer: Japan Art Media/GameArts
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Format: Cartridge
Release: US September 2005
Japan 8/25/05
Official Site: English Site

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Mark Tjan
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Mark P. Tjan

Over a decade of utter silence has passed, save for the clamor of a fanbase which, at last, had begun to give up hope. But then a light shone forth; a new chapter was written in the book left so long untouched. From the digital craftsmen at GameArts arose Lunar: Dragon Song, and a new saga of Lunar illuminated the horizon.

Hyperbole aside, Lunar: Dragon Song is the first new Lunar adventure in eleven years. While Lunar's first two titles, Silver Star Story and Eternal Blue originally on Sega CD, were remade for Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, and more recently SSS for the Game Boy Advance (under the name Lunar Legend), there was still the absence of a new game. Dragon Song ends the long wait in Japan this August. North American fans have nothing to fear regarding a domestic release. In collaboration with Japan Arts Media (JAM), which was on board with the remakes of EBC and SSSC as well as the more recent remakes of Phantasy Star I and II for the Sony PlayStation 2, UbiSoft will be bringing this title to North America in September.

The story begins one thousand years before the events of SSS, following young Jian Campbell as he dreams of adventure, away from the rural life of his fellow humans. Unlike in the times of Alex and Hiro of SSS and EB respectively, humans are not the dominant force of civilization. Beastmen control much of refined society and, despite a relatively peaceful coexistence with their human neighbors, have begun to look down on them with disdain.

It is, in fact, Jian's interaction with beastmen which leads him into trouble. As a courier for the shipping company Gad's Express, Jian finds himself sent to the city of Healriz, where he encounters the beastmen and is immediately at odds with them. It is no surprise that, in short order, Jian finds himself in dire straights with the city's residents, setting him down a path which ultimately culminates into a long sought-after adventure, wherein a would-be hero meets his destiny.

Trouble, as it were, is brewing in the world. The influence of the Goddess Althena has begun to wane. A protector of the land from the very start, with both Dragons and Dragonmasters as her companions, she has been Lunar's hope. But there is black magic afoot, and rumors of a Vile Tribe that may be responsible for Althena's weakening, even her capture. It is into this larger story which Jian finds himself pulled.

Lunar has always had a multitude of themes, most of which are tied to courage and the need to protect others In order to find strength. The publishers at JAM have promised that these themes will be prevalent in Dragon Song, as told through Jian's struggles, trials, and tribulations. His troubles will take him from his home continent of Caldor to the continent of Rick and Althena's sanctuary, to Ghulian where the coliseum awaits with its combatants, and then beyond to the Frontier where the Vile Tribe waits. Like Alex and Hiro, who will succeed him in times to come, Jian won't face this ordeal alone. Alongside him comes his younger companion and childhood friend, Lucia Collins (no apparent connection to EB's Lucia), a compassionate girl talented in healing. She and Jian are both employees of Gad's Express, a profession which will factor heavily into gameplay as their adventures take them from one end of Lunar to the other. Players will be able to take on a wide variety of deliveries available in any town's local branch, with mission difficulty based on a four-star rating. But this intrepid duo won't be alone, whether delivering packages or saving the Goddess. Other allies players will meet include the level-headed but misfortunate beastwoman Gabryel Ryan (nicknamed Gab), who though fair-minded in comparison to her brethren regarding humans, is relentlessly plagued by a streak of bad luck. There's also the sturdy but arrogant Rufus Claw, a leader of beastmen who holds the opposite opinion of humans that Gab does. There is also the slender, but crafty, archer Flora Banks who has a rather familiar but hostile relationship with the Vile Tribe. These are just a few of the characters players will meet on their journey.

In a departure from tradition, the characters of Dragon Song will not be super-deformed, with large heads and tiny bodies. Proportionate sprites are a feature of Dragon Song, reminiscent of Konami's Suikoden and Capcom's Breath of Fire. Gone is the simplistic overhead view of previous games as well, replaced by an isometric world for Jian to explore. But not all has changed. Toshiyuki Kubooka retains his hand as Lunar's signature artist, rendering Jian and company in a style familiar to long time fans, and likely pleasing to new ones. Kubooka, who figures prominently throughout the industry as an artist and director of animation, has worked on many popular series from Saint Seiya (Warriors of the Zodiac) to Giant Robo and Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket. Fans of Giant Robo will no doubt see many a resemblance between Jian and GR's protagonist, Kusama Daisaku.

Like the isometric adjustment of the overworld, the battles have changed as well, featuring an over-the-shoulder view of combat and static positions for characters in place of the roaming sprites of old. The game includes voice recognition for commands such as escaping while the dual screen makes dynamic ground and aerial battles a viable option not possible with a single pane. Battles come in two particular varieties, one being 'Normal' and the other being 'Virtue.' Normal mode yields no experience, but characters will receive items upon completion, and enemies will regenerate after a short time.

Virtue gives players a unique challenge. They can run around defeating all the monsters on the field within a certain time limit for big rewards once the area is cleared. Spoils include converting enemies into allies, obtaining Battle Cards to reinforce party members, and of course, lots of items and stat bonuses. Virtue takes more time than Normal mode, but is far more rewarding. Additionally, there are two kinds of chests available to players. One is the regular chests which can be opened regardless of mode. The other is blue chests, with more desirable items, that can only be opened after players clear the screen in Virtue Mode.

Perhaps because of screen constraints, the party which players command in battle has been sliced down from five combatants (as available in previous Lunars) to three. The interface has also been pared back, featuring attack, special, and item, but lacking the other three commands of previous Lunar titles.

Battle Cards are where multiplayer comes into its own. Using the Nintendo DS' wireless connection, players can compete with each other in a battle arena called the Coliseum using cards obtained in their travels. The Coliseum opens as soon as players acquire their first card. In a simple but direct arrangement, players compete using their cards and five scratch cards, which are revealed using the DS' stencil. As each area is revealed, it invokes a different effect that acts upon the opponent's power, depending on an attack symbol it's linked to. Once 70% of a scratch card is revealed, the first player to reach quota can perform an attack. Of course, if players begin chipping at a scratch card, they have to complete the job before moving onto the next one. Once a player has successfully emptied the "P" meter on their opponent's card with successive attacks, a victor is declared and the card is awarded to them.

Of course, cards can also be exchanged using the wireless connection, without having to fight. It gives Dragon Song a new dimension, sure to make battles more interesting. Battle Cards reinforce Jian and his companions during regular combat, both in Normal and Virtue modes, and players will want to construct decks appropriate to their gaming situations.

It has been a long eleven-year wait. Those who were fans of the originals have grown up quite a ways, enduring utter silence from GameArts when it came to a new Lunar entry. Though satiated for a time with remakes, the last days of Summer and first shades of Autumn this year will see a decade of hunger appeased when Dragon Song releases.


© 2005 Ubi Soft, GameArts.
All Rights Reserved.

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