The Lunar series is one of the greatest video game series of all time, along with the Final Fantasy series, the Langrisser series, and the Shining Force series. When Lunar: The Silver Star was released for the Sega CD, its combination of beautiful graphics, brilliant music, poignant storyline, and deep character development was unprecedented (Final Fantasy 2, which was the best US RPG before Lunar, had most of these elements but lacked the deep character development). Lunar: TSS was subsequently released twice on the Sega Saturn as Lunar: Silver Star Story. The first release of Lunar: SSS featured all-around enhancements over Lunar: TSS, except that the anime cut scenes were only ½ screen. The second release of Lunar: SSS for the Saturn required the MPEG cartridge but featured full-screen anime cut scenes. Now, Lunar: SSS has finally made its way over to the PSX, which marks the first time that a Lunar game has appeared on a non-Sega system.
Unlike most other 32-bit remakes of older games such Tactics Ogre, which contained little to no enhancements over the original version, everything in Lunar: SSS is completely redone. In this review, I will do my best to compare Lunar: SSS on the PSX to Lunar: TSS. However, it has been years since I last played Lunar: TSS, so there is a lot that I have completely forgotten about it. Also, I unfortunately will not be able to compare the PSX version of Lunar: SSS to either Saturn version of Lunar: SSS, since I have never played either of the Saturn versions.
The graphics in Lunar: SSS are simply beautiful. Everything in the game is hand-drawn in 2-D, and the graphics in all areas of the game blow away the graphics in Lunar: TSS with many more colors and more detail thanks to higher resolution. Like Lunar: TSS, the graphics are divided into 3 main area types (excluding anime cut scenes): the world map, the area maps (i.e. dungeons, towns, etc.), and the battle screens.
The world map is the least graphically impressive part of Lunar: SSS, though it still looks better than its Lunar: TSS counterpart. The backgrounds of the world map in Lunar: SSS are well-drawn and colored, but your characters are small, superdeformed, and lacking in detail. In Lunar: TSS, your characters were about the same size on the world map as they were in the area maps. In Lunar: SSS, the size disparity of the characters in the world map and the area maps is much more reminiscent of that of Square's Chrono Trigger for the SNES.
The area maps look much better than the world map, and contain some of the most beautifully drawn 2-D backgrounds I have ever seen. The resolution is high, the many colors give a lot of texture to the backgrounds, and the color choice is vibrant. For example, the fountain behind Burg (where Luna joins) is an image that has stayed in my memory long since I have left that area of the game. The characters in the area maps are also much better drawn than their Lunar: TSS counterparts, though they retain their superdeformed look from Lunar: TSS. One interesting but ultimately inconsequential area map difference between Lunar: TSS and Lunar: SSS is that in Lunar: TSS, you can see all of the characters in your party all of the time, but in Lunar: SSS, only Alex is shown when you are in a dungeon (you can still see all of the characters in your party at all other times).
The battle scenes are also extremely well done. The quality of art for the backgrounds is very similar to that of the area maps, and your characters look exactly the same in the battle scenes as they do in the area maps. The enemies are pretty much the same as in Lunar: TSS, but they look much better, as they are beautifully drawn in more color and greater detail as well. The spell effects in the battle scenes look nice, but certainly won't be mistaken for some of the show stoppers in Final Fantasy 7 or Shining Force 3.
The most graphically impressive parts of Lunar: SSS are undoubtedly the anime cut scenes. Unlike Lunar: TSS, where the majority of the cut scenes in the game were anime stills with character's mouths moving, all of the anime cut scenes in Lunar: SSS are fully animated with minimal hints of graininess. In addition, the cut scenes are better drawn than those in Lunar: TSS to begin with, utilizing the higher resolution and increased colors of the PSX. I was so riveted to these cut scenes that I barely noticed that they are ¾ screen instead of full screen.
Control in Lunar games has always been precise, and Lunar: SSS proves to be no exception to the rule. Control of your characters is very responsive, and the menu interface is crisp, accurate, and easy to navigate. I don't remember the menu system of Lunar: TSS at all, but I remember Lunar: Eternal Blue very well, and the menu system in Lunar: SSS is very similar to that in Lunar: EB. There is no dash button, but your characters move at a fast enough clip so that you really don't need one.
Lunar: SSS does retain the one control quirk from the Lunar series that still annoys me, though. In most RPGs, when you run into a wall, you stop. In Lunar games, and Lunar: SSS is no exception to the rule, when you run into a wall you automatically run either up or down the wall (the direction seems to be completely random) until you stop pushing the control pad, thus leading to increased random enemy encounters. This quirk is not quite as annoying in Lunar: SSS as it is in past Lunar games because there are no random enemy encounters in Lunar: SSS (more on this later), but it still makes searching for items or looking at stuff in the background more time-consuming than it needs to be.
Sound is one of Lunar: SSS's biggest strengths. The sound effects themselves are good, but certainly nothing to write home about. I don't remember any of the sound effects in Lunar: TSS, but I'm pretty sure that Lunar: SSS has better sound effects because they sound better than anything I've heard on the Genesis.
The voice acting, in contrast to the sound effects, really does stand out. Like many games of late, Lunar: SSS features a first-rate seiyuu cast, and they really show off their talents well. There isn't a whole lot of dialogue in the game that is accompanied by voice acting, but almost all of the anime cut scenes feature it, and what's there is excellent.
The music is definitely the most memorable part of Lunar: SSS soundwise. It is absolutely brilliantly composed throughout. "Stand and Fight" and "Stand up to Destiny" are two frantically intense symphonic pieces that are without a doubt two of the ten best game music songs I have heard this year. "Meribia" is an insanely catchy and upbeat tune that captures the feeling of the bustling in the trade center of the Silver Star. "Burg" is a mellow and soothing piece that captures the tranquillity in Alex's home town. I don't remember the music from Lunar: TSS, so I don't know if any of the songs in Lunar: SSS are the same or even similar to those in Lunar: TSS. However, I do know that the music in Lunar: SSS is stylistically very similar to that of Lunar: EB, though none of the actual songs are the same (except for the ubiquitous Althena's theme melody). I don't know if Noriyuki Iwadare (the guy who did the soundtracks to Lunar: TSS and Lunar: EB) composed this wonderful score, but the music has his name written all over it, so it's either him or a very good imitator.
The Lunar series is perhaps best known for its brilliant storylines, and Lunar: SSS continues the trend of past Lunar games with an absolutely superb love story that is poignant throughout without ever getting campy. Since Lunar: SSS is essentially a remake of Lunar: TSS, the basic underlying storyline foundation is the same in the two games. However, Lunar: SSS contains some major plot twists (which I won't give away), so those who have already played through Lunar: TSS will continue to be entertained.
The gameplay in Lunar: SSS is nothing groundbreaking in general, but it merits a high score because it is executed so well. Everything here is pretty much tried-and-true RPG fare, but the battles utilize a semi-tactical system where your character's actions determine their placement on the battle screen. This is very similar to Gamearts' Grandia for the Saturn, except that the Lunar series did it first and therefore is a little less refined. This battle system adds strategy elements to an otherwise traditional RPG, which I enjoyed immensely.
One big difference in gameplay between Lunar: SSS and Lunar: TSS is the way you enter battles. In Lunar: TSS, all battles were random encounters, and they took place in both the area maps and the world map. In Lunar: SSS, there are no longer any battles on the world map, and you can see your enemies in the area map (and, therefore, try to run away from them) before they attack.
Overall, Lunar: SSS is one of the best games I have ever played. I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone who enjoys RPGs or a great storyline. A US version is coming sometime this fall from Working Designs, who does a great job translating games (other than the insertion of pop culture jokes), and who likely will add some nice extras to the package. This game will definitely be one not to miss.
Questions? Comments? Email me.