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Lunar is an RPG with a very rich history. Not only has it appeared on many videogame systems, but it has been remade many times and has become for Game Arts what the original Ys is for Falcom. For those with little knowledge of the game or the series, a little history lesson is in order.
Lunar: The Silver Star was developed by Game Arts and was released on the Sega CD in 1992 in Japan. Working Designs then localized the game for America in late 1993. A remake of the game then appeared on the Sega Saturn in Japan in 1996 and featured new graphics, new music, animated cut-scenes, as well as redesigned dungeons and villages. The new game, titled Lunar: Silver Star Story was then ported to the PlayStation in 1998 and released in America in 1999 by Working Designs under the name of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete.
Lunar once again received a facelift in 2001 when it appeared on the GameBoy Advance as Lunar Legend. The remake was based on the PlayStation version of the game but the graphics, music and design were changed to fit the portable system's screen and processing power. This time the localization was done by UbiSoft instead of Working Designs, so the game had a very different tone to it.
This brings us to 2010 with the release of Lunar on the PSP under the title of Lunar: Silver Star Harmony and localized by XSEED. This essentially makes it the 3rd remake of Lunar. How does this one fare? Is it the ultimate version of Lunar? Will fans of the previous iterations be disappointed? Will newcomers to the series be able to enjoy this new version of the classic? I will attempt to answer all these questions in this review.
First of all, I've decided to do something a little different for this review. Instead of boring newcomers to the series with constant comparisons to the previous Lunar versions and boring Lunar veterans with descriptions of gameplay and plot summary they already know about, I've decided to split the text into two completely different reviews. The first one will address players who have already played Lunar before (most likely on the PlayStation) and the second one will be for people who have never played it. This will help keep the separate reviews focused since people can read what they really want to know depending on their experience with Lunar without being bogged down by unnecessary fluff that doesn't concern them.
Review # 1 (for Lunar veterans)
Since this section is aimed at people who have played Lunar before (I'll assume people have played the PlayStation version), I'll get right to the comparisons.
The first thing you'll notice about this PSP version are the visuals. The graphics have received a complete overhaul and are much more detailed and colorful. Gone are the days of super deformed characters with big heads and fat bodies. This time, all the characters are sized correctly. The backgrounds all feature high resolution art and you are treated to full-screen character portraits when major characters talk instead of the tiny portrait next to the text like in the PS1 version.
While the in-game graphics are completely redone and much improved over the PS1, the anime cut-scenes have not changed at all and are the same we've come to know and love. This isn't a problem since they looked great in 1999 and they still look great now.
On the audio side, the core music is the same as the PS1 version, but it has been remixed and rearranged. While the PS1 music was good in terms of composition, it suffered from poor instrumentation since it was midi music using the PS1 sound chip. For the PSP version, composer Noriyuki Iwadare has given his compositions the proper treatment and the music now often uses real instruments such as flutes and violins giving the music a much nicer sound overall. It's not quite on the same level as the Lunatic Festa arranged albums, but it's close.
Another very important factor for fans of the original is the voice acting. A lot of Lunar fans have grown very attached to the voices that appeared in the Working Designs version. When it became known that XSEED was using an entirely new cast of voice actors, many Lunar fans were concerned. I'm glad to report that there was no reason to be concerned as the voice acting in this new version is perfectly adequate. It's not the best voice acting I've ever heard, but it's certainly not any worse than the original. I was even expecting to miss John Truit's rendition of Ghaleon, but I ended up liking the new voice for him. The only returning cast from the original is Jennifer Stigile who returned to sing the 2 vocal songs in the game. It was nice to hear her familiar singing voice even though it was a little strange to hear the songs with completely new lyrics, since we're so used to the original.
One of the big reasons why Lunar was so loved by fans when it came out on the PS1 was the localization by Working Designs. The dialogue was always interesting and more often than not it was pretty humorous. Obviously, any remake of Lunar will automatically be compared with Working Designs' work. As such, Lunar fans were pretty anxious to see how XSEED would handle this aspect of the localization. Thankfully, XSEED decided to use the Working Designs script as a base and as such a lot of the dialogue is the same as the PS1 version. However, XSEED decided to make changes here and there, such as removing any pop culture references from the 90s or generally improving some of the foibles of the original localization. As such, we end up with a script that feels somewhat fresh while remaining very familiar at the same time, which is quite an accomplishment.
The biggest change with Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, in my opinion, comes from the dungeon and village designs as well as the difficulty. Everything feels a lot smaller in this new version. Villages are much smaller than before and dungeons are significantly smaller. Now, this can either be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective. Some people will say that the game has been dumbed down with dungeons that are easier and less confusing to navigate, while others will say that the dungeons have been streamlined and eliminate a lot of useless walking caused by navigating through forks that often lead nowhere. Whether you like the new dungeons or not are entirely a matter of personal taste.
The same can be said about the difficulty. This version is much easier than the PS1 version. I played the PS1 version again a couple of years ago and was surprised by how difficult the battles were. It was difficult not to die in the White Dragon Cave at the beginning of the game. You really needed to do some heavy grinding early on in order to get through that first dungeon. It's definitely not the case this time as the White Dragon Cave is a walk in the park and can be over in 5 minutes. Once again, whether you think it's a good or bad thing is entirely dependent on what you like in an RPG. While some will be disappointed by the lack of challenge, others will be happy that it allows you to move through the story at a faster pace without being bogged down by long dungeons and lots of grinding. The dungeons do get longer as you progress through the game, but are obviously never as long as those in the PS1 version.
The one negative area that everyone will agree on, though, is the excessive amount of loading in the game. Every time you change screen in a village, enter a house, enter a room in a house, etc, you're treated to a short amount of loading that is dependent on which version of the game you own (the UMD or PSN version). Obviously the loading with the UMD is longer than the PSN version. It's not a make or break situation, but it is noticeable and could annoy some people. The battles are also a little on the slow side. The enemy attacks are slow, the death animations are slow, the time it takes for the battle to end after you've killed the last enemy is slow, and so on. It makes everything a little sluggish. There definitely could have been some optimizations done to try and make the battles go faster.
On the storyline side, not much has really changed except for a prologue at the beginning of the game which shows Dyne, Ghaleon, Mel and Lemia fighting an enemy to free Althena. It's a nice little touch as it helps to fill out some of the backstory of the 4 heroes. There's also a few extra little scenes here and there throughout the game, but nothing major.
So, in the end, if you've played Lunar before on the PlayStation 1, is it worth getting this version? Personally, I think so, but I also happen to be a huge Lunar fan, therefore I might be biased here. If you've played the game before and thought it was only average or just simply good, then maybe it's not worth playing again. However, if you have really fond memories of Lunar and want to experience it again, this version is perfect, as it has enough changes on the visual and audio front to make it interesting to play again while keeping everything else we loved about the original intact. The fact that it's on a portable system is also a great thing since you can now play Lunar anywhere you want! As far as remakes go, Game Arts hit the nail on the head with Lunar: Silver Star Harmony.
Review #2 (for people who are new to Lunar)
In Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, you play as Alex, a young boy who aspires to be an adventurer like his idol Dyne, the famous dragonmaster whose job was to protect the goddess Althena. When the opportunity arises to visit the white dragon cave near his hometown of Burg, Alex sees his chance to finally embark on his very first adventure. Along with his childhood friends Ramus and Luna, as well as his talking pet Nall, Alex has an encounter in the cave that sets him on his very own trek along the path of his hero.
The plot in Lunar may not be revolutionary, but it is very well executed. It works very well because of the memorable characters. There is a fair share of plot twists throughout the adventure; unfortunately, none are too surprising because of all the hints given along the way. These allow you to figure things out before the twists are ever revealed ,but overall, the storyline of Lunar is very good.
What really sets Lunar apart from most RPGs is the great cast of characters. You'll no doubt fall in love with these characters as you play through the game and one of the reasons for this is how effective Game Arts is at setting an interesting dynamic in your group. In most Japanese RPGs, you only get to know your characters in more detail at certain points during the game, usually when they are involved in a cut-scene or a storyline portion of the game. The rest of the time, your playable characters play a secondary role and they just follow you around while you're visiting towns and villages, roaming dungeons and fighting battles. The difference in Lunar is how involved every character in your group is when doing simple tasks such as talking to villagers. Instead of villagers simply saying their line when you talk to them like most RPGs, Lunar sports a lot of character interactions throughout these simple conversations. Members of your party often respond or interact with the villagers, which may lead to humorous dialogue, arguments between members of your group, and other interesting tidbits. What this does is gives you insight into the characters, since they are constantly commenting on what the villagers are saying. This gives the characters more personality, since they are more than just a random, voiceless character who joins you on your quest.
It's also important to note how much emphasis is put on talking to NPCs in this game. You can certainly go through the game without spending a lot of time talking to these people, but, in my opinion, you'd be missing out on one of the greatest aspects of Lunar. As I already mentioned, most RPGs treat the speaking with villagers part as an obligation and don't put much effort into it. The dialogue is boring, the villagers say nothing interesting, and they often say the same thing throughout the whole game. Lunar prides itself on this aspect. Not only do you get the benefit of character interaction during these conversations, but almost every NPC in the game has multiple things to say. Talk to a villager and he says something, talk to him again, and he says something different or expands on what he said in his first dialogue. Get a new member in your party and if you talk to this villager again, he might say something different, which will elicit a reaction or comment from this new member. Finish an important quest in the village and if you talk to him again, there's a chance he might comment on that. The amount of text and dialogue in this game is staggering and, thankfully, it is well written, interesting, and often pretty humorous. Of course, if you don't enjoy this aspect of RPGs, then this is all useless to you, but it is an important aspect of the game for me, and it really helps in setting the mood and getting you immersed in the game's world.
The overall structure and battle system in Lunar are both very traditional. You won't find any mini games here, there aren't really any sidequests to do, and there are no job systems, item creation systems, convoluted leveling systems or anything like that. It is traditional Japanese RPG at its purest. Characters level up with experience points and each character has their own type of weapon and armor they can equip or spell that they learn. The enemies in the game are all visible while exploring the various areas so you can try to avoid them, but most of the time they are too fast for you, therefore you end up in battle.
The battle system is a classic turn-based traditional system. You chose your actions at the beginning of the turn and then watch them happen. One thing about the Lunar battle system that is a little different is that range actually matters in the battles. If you chose to attack the enemy and the enemy is too far on the screen, your character might not be able to reach him. Obviously, what determines if you can reach the enemy or not is your RANGE attribute. This gives the battles a bit more strategy as you have to take range into account when choosing your actions. If you don't feel like choosing actions manually, the battle system also features an AI option that lets the computer manage this for you. Some people will find that the battle system is a bit dated, but it does the job and fans of classic RPGs will feel right at home.
Visually, the game is a treat. Characters and enemies are detailed and the various areas of the game look gorgeous. In battle, the backgrounds have a ton of detail and the animation is very good. The character portraits that appear when members of your party are talking are some of the best you can find and fill the entire height of the screen. The game also has a ton of cutscenes that can rival the best Japanese Anime.
The theme of music is a very important aspect of Lunar as you'll discover while playing through the game. The inhabitants of the world often mention how great of a singer the goddess Althena is and everywhere you go, people want to hear your friend Luna sing. As such, it's no surprise that the music in Lunar is one of its strongest points. The music of Lunar will no doubt stay in your head long after you've finished playing the game. In my opinion, the Lunar soundtrack ranks as one of the best RPG soundtracks. Lunar also features voice acting in the anime cutscenes as well as in a few other dialogue sequences. Overall, the voice acting is more than adequate and seems to fit perfectly with the game. It won't win any awards, but it is certainly not bad by any means.
One negative area about the game though is the excessive amount of loading. Every time you change screen in a village, enter a house, enter a room in a house, etc, you are treated to a short amount of loading that is dependent on which version of the game you own (the UMD or PSN version). Obviously the loading with the UMD is longer than the PSN version. It's not a make or break situation, but it is noticeable and could annoy some people. The battles are also a little on the slow side. The enemy attacks are slow, the death animations are slow, the time it takes for the battle to end after you've killed the last enemy is slow, and so on. It makes everything a little sluggish. There definitely could have been some optimizations done to try and make the battles go faster. The game is also rather easy, as you won't really be tested in regular battles or even in boss battles. You also won't need to do a ton of grinding to keep up. Just going through the various areas and fighting the monsters on the way is enough to make sure you'll be breezing through the game.
If you've never played Lunar before and you own a PSP, this is your chance to play a classic. Unless you absolutely despise old-school traditional Japanese RPGs and were turned off by everything I said in this review, then you owe it to yourself to give Lunar a try. With its combination of a good storyline, a memorable cast of characters, gorgeous graphics, and beautiful music, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is sure to quench your JRPG thirst.