Lunar: The Silver Star Story Complete for the Sony Playstation is a re-make of the classic Lunar: The Silver Star originally developed on the Sega CD system. It represents, according to the developers, their complete vision of the game. It also represents the first traditional RPG and big name title for publisher Working Designs on the Playstation.
Lunar is unique in that it combines a perfect mix of two different companies from different countries to create a greater whole. GameArts' dedicated game design and Working Designs inspired scripting have combined to create a truly fun and enjoyable RPG with a ton of heart and dedication to the details.
"A Wonderfully Woven Tale"
Lunar, at its most basic, is your standard youthful hero fulfilling his dreams of glory storyline. Beyond that simplicity though is a depth of character and theme that is unparalleled. The plot, while cliché, contains numerous twists that will leave you guessing, and a very strong underlying theme of love. The theme of love in the game runs through numerous facets of the emotion, from its most pure to its most disturbing obsessions. It is the human element and the relationships in the game that make the story more than what it appears to be on the surface.
What really pushes the story beyond the norm is the character development. While the hero is a wee bit stiff, the rest of the cast more than makes up for his lack of expression. All of the supporting characters and the main villain are delightfully rounded in their personalities. They all do their best to find a way around their stereotypical assignments to become very human. It is very easy to connect with them because they have dimension and they are consistent in their characters without losing sight of what's happening around them.
A lot of the credit needs to go to Working Designs for their incredible dialogue. If only they could teach the other companies their secrets (although their only real secret appears to be caring about the games they bring over here). The dialogue is humorous, touching, spelled properly, grammatically correct and very consistent throughout. An even greater treat is the NPC dialogue, which was consistently humorous and interesting to read. I spent WAY too much time just talking to townspeople and squeezing every line I could out of them. I'm not too fond of the pop culture references, but some of them led to my biggest guffaws while playing the game. Every new town was a joy to explore, and returning to old towns after major events led to a brand new batch of one liners, perversion and enjoyable conversation.
This is the first traditional RPG I've played with a Working Designs translation (my first WD game being Alundra, which has sparse dialogue), and I'm very pleased. I'm very picky about translations, specifically about grammar and spelling. I had nothing to complain about with Lunar, and the translation itself greatly enhanced the game. It may sound like I have my lips firmly planted on Working Design's buttocks (not a pretty picture…sorry about that), but I was genuinely shocked at just how much better their translation was in comparison to some major RPG companies with many more resources at their disposal. My hope is that Lunar makes enough of an impact to raise the bar for everybody else.
Lunar sticks strongly to its 2D roots, maybe a bit too strongly in some cases. It is not as dated as you may have been led to believe as only the sprite characters and some backgrounds have not caught up with the times. Still, GameArts made some massive improvements over the original, and most of it is up to 2nd or 3rd generation 32-bit standards for 2D.
The backgrounds are where most of the major improvements were made, and some screens are simply stunning in their quality. It's obvious that key backgrounds like Dyne's grave were focused on for the re-make with some nice animation, just plain excellent artwork and great detail. The battle backgrounds share this same level of detail. The towns have personality but are pretty standard for the most part with flat coloring and straightforward design. Dungeons are pretty much color swapped with the occasional flash of brilliance in some of the dragon caves such as the lava effects in one dungeon. The overworld graphics are simple and colorful but nothing too special.
The real throwback as far as the graphics go are the spite based characters. They are very, very small with little detail and weak animation in battle. They are somewhat super-deformed, but it's hard to tell since they're so small. They are also inconsistent at times with the character designs in the manual and the anime sequences. Specifically, where the hell did that cape come from? You'll know what I'm talking about when you get there. The effects in battle are pretty weak for physical attacks, but some of the big spells like Flameria and the dragon magic are very nice. The enemies are somewhat more impressive, with some of the bosses really looking incredible with a lot of different animations.
The art direction and character designs by Toshiyuki Kubooka are excellent. They are held back somewhat by the in-game graphics, but really shine in the animated sequences and dialogue portraits. Speaking of the animated sequences, they are awesome. There is only a slight lapse in visual quality in some sequences to complain about, but that is barely noticeable. The animation is smooth and the dubbing matches up fairly well with the on screen action. GameArts quietly stuck in some CG to allow for some sweeping camera shots in a few of the sequences and it all fits together well. The anime is definitely equal to some of the best movies out there, and there is a ton of it in the game. And with a certain item, you can view every sequence in the game whenever you want to once they are unlocked.
"Songs of Power"
The musical arrangements in the game by Noriyuke Iwadare are very high quality in terms of composition. The quality of the PCM music though, is somewhat weak. Iwadare obviously put a lot of effort into the instrumentation of the pieces and music is a very important part of the game, but it is hampered by the sound quality. Fortunately, the soundtrack CD has somewhat better sound and you can really appreciate the quality of the compositions. It is a very subtle quality in that many of the pieces seem to be going in an obvious direction when Iwadare suddenly veers off into something quite special. It isn't the greatest soundtrack I've ever heard for a game, but it is one of the better ones out there. It has its own flavor and a consistent feel, which sets it apart from the crowd. The only other setback to the score is that some of the dungeon themes are repeated far too often.
The voice acting for the most part is very good. All the voices fit the characters they represent to a tee. Some of the actors really get into their parts, and one of them has the best evil laugh I've ever heard. Some of the lines come off as forced, partially because of bad acting but mainly because of attempts to keep the dialogue in synch with the screen. Overall, I'd say it is as good as an above average anime dub with some fantastic performances by a few of the actors. Compared to the voice acting in most other games though, it is Academy Award caliber…but that's not saying much.
"Familiarity Breeds Familiarity"
The game play uses a simple menu driven system with attack, magic, item and defense. You've played it a million times, but Lunar is very well executed and balanced all-around. The difficulty level and all aspects of battle are in a near-perfect equilibrium. Neither magic nor physical attacks are a dominant aspect, as each member of the team is important to keep alive for major battles.
Defending is equally effective against physical and magic attacks, and finally serves a purpose in an RPG. Defending can actually buy you an extra round or two for a character in order to conserve items or healing spells for later. This is the first RPG where I've actually used defense regularly once I discovered its effectiveness, quite by accident during a minor battle.
Lunar's game play has one unique piece to it in its use of range. Unfortunately, it serves very little purpose. Each character has a range limit, which determines how far they can travel across the screen to reach an opponent. If the enemy is too far away you can be left wide open. This doesn't happen too often though, as you only have to move to your opponent to do a basic physical attack. Magic and physical magic attacks are not affected by range and you can hit anyone from anywhere. The one consistent use for it I found was in using physical attacks to move enemies into position for area spells to have greater effect. Critical physical attacks will force an enemy backwards and you can move them into a tighter bunch so a spell will hit more of them. Range doesn't detract from the game play either, so it isn't really a flaw. It's just there.
The dungeons in the game are somewhat on the simple side. They are very easy to navigate with no real puzzle solving, only enemies to kill or avoid. This is unfortunate since the dungeons make up the majority of the game play and could have been a lot better. Some players may appreciate this as dungeon crawling is an acquired taste, but I was weaned on Phantasy Star and Might and Magic so I appreciate a challenging dungeon crawl more than most.
One very nice change over the original game is that random encounters have been removed. Enemies can be seen on screen and avoided if you're sneaky enough. As you go up in levels, weaker enemies will then run from you. This allows the player to adjust his own difficulty level, while there are enough unavoidable enemies that you can't fall way behind and be unable to finish the game. This is a system I wish more RPG's would pick up on.
The game allows for analog control, which is a welcome addition as far as I'm concerned. No more sore thumbs if you have an analog controller, and the digital pad is still accessible with the analog on so you can use it for the menus. Do not, I repeat, do NOT try to use the analog for the menus. You will simply get very angry with your controller. The rumble feature is well thought out and uses the two vibrations to create unique effects for each spell.
There is about 25 hours worth of game play available on average, and there are quite a few secrets to find. Bromides have to be the greatest hidden items in the history of RPG's, but that's just my twisted opinion.
"Fly Me to the Moon"
Lunar: The Silver Star Story Complete is an excellent game (with a very long title). I had just a ton of fun playing it, smiling throughout the whole experience. I can see now why it has such a strong following. I'd also like to take a second to talk about the packaging. For me, it was worth the extra ten bucks. The full color manual with some very nice artwork, the CD art, the collector's box, the soundtrack and the making of CD all combine to create the ultimate RPG collector's package. The only thing that could make it better is if the manual were 8" x 10" to show off the wonderful artwork. Again, I hope this raises the bar for everyone else and we can at least get some color manuals with our games. Then again, I'm probably the only one that actually reads the manual before I play a game.
Anyway, Lunar is a welcome addition to any RPG Fan's collection. Give it a try. It'll put a smile on your face.