Although the Sega CD lived an abbreviated and unsuccessful life, it left an indelible mark on gaming for one key reason: the Lunar series. Lunar: Eternal Blue is the amazing sequel to the wonderful Lunar: The Silver Star, and maintains its place today as arguably one of the three best traditional RPGs ever made.
Lunar: Eternal Blue takes place on the Silver Star, a once uninhabitable wasteland now populated by the descendants of people brought over from the Blue Star by the goddess Althena. According to legend, Althena comes to the Silver Star in human form when danger threatens the world, and it is rumored that she has returned.
Lunar: Eternal Blueís storyline stars Hiro, a young adventurer who lives with his grandfather Gwyn and his talking flying cat companion Ruby. One day, after exploring some ruins near his house, Hiro and Ruby encounter Leo, one of Althenaís most trusted servants, who warns them that a destroyer is coming to the Silver Star. This destroyer is rumored to be pure evil and to possess nearly immeasurable power, and an epic battle between the destroyer and Althenaís forces of good seems to be an inevitability.
Back home at Gwynís house, Hiro, Ruby, and Gwyn witness a strange beam of light descend upon the nearby Blue Spire, another mysterious ancient structure. Fearing that this beam signals the arrival of the evil destroyer, the trio travels to the Blue Spire to try to see whatís going on.
Once at the Blue Spire, Hiro, Ruby, and Gwyn discover that the beam of light delivered a beautiful young girl named Lucia to the Blue Spire. In disbelief that she could be the fabled destroyer of worlds, the trio decides to exit the tower with her. On their way out, they encounter the true destroyer, Zophar, who puts a curse on Lucia and taunts the trio before making his exit.
Safely back at home, Hiro and Ruby are at a loss as to how to help Lucia and stop Zophar. Gwyn then remembers that a powerful healer named Ronfar is rumored to reside in the distant town of Larpa. According to Gwyn, Ronfar may be the only healer powerful enough to remove Luciaís curse. Determined to help the beautiful young woman, Hiro and Ruby take Gwynís raft to Larpa to try to find Ronfar.
Hiroís adventure only begins from Larpa, and takes many exciting twists and turns along the way. Lunar: Eternal Blue is blessed with one of the most brilliant, well-developed, and consistent storylines that has ever been seen in a video game. The plot is epic in its scope, but always manages to stay focused on the characters, with many great emotional moments throughout its length. The main characters are extremely well-developed and exhibit very distinct personalities, and even the supporting characters are portrayed as individuals rather than as decoration for the rest of the game.
Working Designs also does a mostly commendable job on the translation of Lunar: Eternal Blue. Grammatical errors are nearly nonexistent. The dialogue flow is good, though it isnít quite as smooth as that of some of WDís more recent works. Personality is injected into most of the dialogue, and some of the humor (Rubyís witticisms, in particular) had me rolling on the floor.
As brilliant as the storyline is, there are some things that bother me a bit about it. Unlike its prequel, Lunar: The Silver Star, which never seemed contrived, Lunar: Eternal Blue is sometimes guilty of being a little bit too blatant with its tear-jerking. Also, up until almost the end of the game, I had a lot of trouble sympathizing with Lucia, as I saw little about her personality that appealed to me. This detached me from the game (and its otherwise brilliant story) somewhat.
Working Designsí translation also has one major problem with it: the overabundance of pop-culture jokes in the dialogue. My esteemed colleague Feena once said, "O.J. Simpson jokes in real life are temporary. O.J. Simpson jokes in a Working Designs game are forever." In no game is this more true than in Lunar: Eternal Blue. Townspeople are overtly colloquial in their dialogue, and make references to Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart, and several other public figures that I really donít need to be reminded of when Iím trying to immerse myself in the Silver Star.
As far as gameplay goes, Lunar: Eternal Blue is very similar to its predecessor, Lunar: The Silver Star. Other than the semi-tactical battle system (where your choice of actions for a character also has a hand in his or her placement on the battle screen), everything is pretty much tried-and-true traditional RPG mechanics, just executed much better than the overwhelming majority of RPGs out there. Battles are turn-based. Encounters are random. Weapons, items, and spells can be used in combat. Defeating enemies yields experience points, and your characters level up after collecting a certain amount of them.
There are a few uncommon features in the gameplay, however. As mentioned before, in battles, your charactersí actions affect their placement on the battlefield. Because enemies have varying attack ranges, this aspect of gameplay gives Lunar: Eternal Blue a lot more strategy in battles than you find in typical turn-based RPGs.
Along with regular experience points, your characters earn magic experience points after defeating enemies. These magic experience points can be used at the playerís discretion to level up certain magic types for each playable character. In addition, saving your game costs magic experience points (a Working Designs added feature). Unlike the majority of RPGs out there, you can save your game just about anywhere outside of a battle in Lunar: Eternal Blue.
The quality of Lunar: Eternal Blueís gameplay is what sets it apart from the overwhelming majority of RPGs out there. The execution is very smooth, and the difficulty balance is just about perfect. Your characters cannot be infinitely customized, so they are unique, both in personality and in gameplay. Puzzles are present in the dungeons, but fortunately are neither ubiquitous nor inanely difficult. I actually found the puzzles to be quite clever in their simplicity.
Lunar: Eternal Blue is also strong in the control department. Although you can only move your onscreen characters in 4 directions, the control is very responsive. Thereís no dash button, but your characters move at a brisk pace through the dungeons and towns. The menu organization is somewhat unconventional compared to the majority of RPGs out there, but it turns out to be very efficient once you get used to it.
There are a couple of annoying quirks in Lunar: Eternal Blueís control. In most RPGs, when you run into a wall, you stop. In Lunar: Eternal Blue, when you run into a wall, you run along the wall instead of stopping. This feature is very annoying, because it needlessly increases the difficulty in examining items in the background. In addition, control precision feels diminished when you only can move in 4 directions and have to contend with this particular quirk.
It also would have been nice if your party moved through the world map at the same speed at which it cruises through the area maps. As it is, however, Hiro and company move through the world map somewhat sluggishly.
Lunar: Eternal Blueís visual presentation is also excellent, especially for its time. The area maps are nicely drawn, and although they arenít as colorful as games of today, they still look great. The world map, though drawn on a much smaller scale than the area maps, still holds a respectable amount of detail. The battles are similarly excellent, with great detail in characters and enemies alike. Spell effects, though not impressive, are serviceable.
The anime cut scenes in Lunar: Eternal Blue are among the best that 16-bit games have to offer. Like the visuals in the rest of the game, the cut scenes display some beautiful art from the talented character designer. Although the cut scenes donít animate well at all compared to those of todayís games, they were the best of their time in terms of animation.
As nice as the graphics look, they donít quite hold up to those of the elite 2D games of the present. The limited color palette of the Sega Genesis is mostly to blame for this, but, at the same time, the colors used in Lunar: Eternal Blue could have been a tad brighter.
Lunar: Eternal Blue is very strong in its sound department, but not in all aspects of it. The sound effects are a real mixed bag. Some of them are pretty good, such as the Poe Sword attack and the sound of bosses dying. However, the sound of a failed escape attempt is one of the most annoying sound effects Iíve ever heard in a video game, and the sound effect that occurs every time you enter battle follows closely behind.
Like the sound effects, the voice acting in Lunar: Eternal Blue is inconsistent in its quality. Some of the voices, such as Ghaleon and Zophar, are among the best that Iíve ever heard in a US-released game. Voices such as Ruby, Ronfar, and Jean are unspectacular but also above average for US games. However, there are some really poorly done acting jobs in Lunar: Eternal Blue. The voice for Lucia annoys by managing to be both stiff and whiny at the same time, and the goddess Althenaís slow over-enunciation and over-emoting sounds so ridiculously bad that I almost thought that her performance was supposed to be a joke.
Perhaps the best representative of the inconsistent voice acting quality in Lunar: Eternal Blue is Hiroís voice. The protagonistís spoken dialogue ranges wildly throughout the length of the game from natural and expressive to stiff, forced, and excruciatingly slow.
Although Lunar: Eternal Blue has shortcomings in other aspects of its sound department, its amazing soundtrack manages to make up for them. Along with Chrono Trigger, Lunar: Eternal Blue possesses what I consider to be the best soundtrack ever to grace a traditional RPG. Noriyuki Iwadareís epic score boasts both stylistic variety as well as some of the most compelling melodies ever composed for a game. "Promenade" is a cheerful, catchy number that does an excellent job of gradually adding a harmony to its effervescent central melody. The frantically symphonic "Battle No. 2" is perhaps my favorite battle theme in any game. And "Lucia vs. Zophar- The Last Battle" is a piece that is both threatening and triumphant, fitting its setting perfectly, and ranking as one of the best final boss themes ever.
So, does the soundtrack have any weaknesses? Yes, but they are relatively minor. The soundtrack is streamed, so the sound quality is much better than that of almost any other Sega Genesis game. However, the streaming quality isnít very good, and the music quality still sounds somewhat tinny. Also, Lunar: Eternal Blue is long game, and the score could have used some more pieces. As it is, many of the individual tracks are repeated a lot.
Along with Lunar: Silver Star Story and Chrono Trigger, Lunar: Eternal Blue rounds out the trio of what I consider to be the best traditional RPGs of all time. This game is the sole reason I bought a Sega CD, and to this day, I have absolutely no regrets. If you ever have a chance to play through this gem, donít pass it up.
Questions? Comments? Email me.