For a long time, American gamers waited for Working Designs to release Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete, their translation of GameArts’ remixed Lunar 2: Eternal Blue. Most people put up with the delays because they had played Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, which was an undeniably updated and restructured rendition of the Sega CD original. New plot elements, all new anime, a new vocal song, and an updated combat system gave the impression that this was almost an entirely new game that you just needed to play. It also had neat extras such as a Making of Lunar video CD, a soundtrack CD, cloth map, and beautiful manual that really said, “Here, thanks for waiting”.
Unfortunately, while Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete is a fun game with some new enhancements and a mother load of extras crammed into an even larger box than L:SSSC’s, it was not worth the extravagant delays the American gaming public had to put up with. It just wasn’t different enough from the original.
Lunar 2: EBC takes place 1000 years after the incidents of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. Since then, the world has been at peace, and, recently, the Goddess Althena has returned in human form and set up shop in the holy city Pentagulia, where she controls the workings of her priestly order, the Althena’s Chosen, and the Four Heroes of Althena. Enter, into this world, a young lad named Hiro. Grandson of the famous archaeologist, Gwynn, Hiro and his flying red companion, Ruby, enjoy exploring the ruins of the world and discovering more about Lunar’s past, much to his grandfather’s annoyance.
One day, after “retrieving” a jewel from one of the ruins (and getting chased by some nasty monsters) he encounters one of the Four Heroes, White Knight Leo, who is trawling about in the huge Dragon Steamship Destiny, looking for the Destroyer who Althena has prophesied would arrive from the nearby Blue Spire. Not one to ignore adventure, Hiro, Ruby, and Gwynn go to investigate the Blue Spire before Leo gets there and are rewarded for their efforts by meeting Lucia, a young girl hailing from the Blue Star on a mission to see Althena. Hiro is enraptured by the girl and decides to help. From there an epic tale is born.
The key strengths of the Lunar series have always been its epic plots, which incorporate love, saving the world, and the power of humanity, and its great characters, and EBC is no different. When so many RPGs have been focusing more on graphics and wildly innovative new gameplay engines, it’s certainly refreshing to play an RPG with a solid story and characters.
The story was focused and coherent, and the slight changes that were made in the individual plot points were understandable and nothing radical (unlike Lunar: SSSC’s sweeping story redesign). Most were for the better and helped clarify previously ambiguous aspects. Yet, while nothing much new was added, some things were removed. So as not to ruin the story, I’ll just say that, as an example, an element integral to the relationship between two characters was removed, and I was, at the very least, annoyed by this. Fortunately, outside of that one deletion, the story holds up well against the test of time.
Characters in the game also play a huge role in making the story what it is. Aside from the main party members who endear themselves to you through their unmistakable personalities and emotional character portraits, the random villagers all have unique personalities as well. Almost every NPC in the game has different responses if you keep talking to them, and these change over the course of the game, so you could go back to the same person after a major event and get a whole new dialogue. Working Designs did a better job with the translation this time around than from the original Lunar 2, toning down the over-the-top humor (which I personally enjoyed, but it does kill the mood a little). Characters were great and fun to talk to.
The gameplay is another strength of the Lunar series and is usually overlooked by gamers. The battle system employs quite a good deal of strategy while being easy enough to learn quickly. All enemies are visible on the dungeon maps, so you know, more or less, what you’re getting into. Once battle starts, you find yourself on a field with your party on one side and the enemies on the other. You choose your commands, such as attack, magic, etc. and then carry them out. The strategy comes in when attacking. Each character has a range rating that tells how many steps that character can take on the battlefield in one turn. If your rating is too low or you’re too far away from the enemy, you won’t be able to reach it and attack. I love the idea, and it gives the traditional RPG battle system some oomph.
The only real differences from the original in terms of gameplay are the elimination of magic experience (yay!) and the introduction of Crests. Crests are emblems that you get from stores/enemies/treasure chests that you can equip, two to a character, to give them extra abilities. In addition, some crests can be combined to produce extra special abilities, such as access to high magic spells or increased stats. I wasn’t expecting the Crest system, but I found it to be enjoyable and a welcome addition to a very solid gameplay system.
Other than those interesting points, the rest of the game is like most other standard RPGs with towns and shops (wherein you can buy weapons, items, and the like), overworld maps (which are free of enemies), and dungeons. Still, I was never bored with the gameplay and the pace really keeps you from being mired down with level building and such.
The graphics, on the other hand, are not so uniformly enjoyable. In fact, it is such juxtaposition that the scoring really comes down to averaging the in-game and movie graphics. Anyone who has played Lunar: SSSC will find that EBC’s graphics are quite similar. The 2D sprite characters are very simple and boring. During battles the characters and enemies have some movement, but nothing that could be called impressive or even on par with today’s games, and that goes for the spell effects too. What’s worse is that, during certain special attacks, the camera zooms in on the characters and they become pixilated, which is a definite no-no.
Then, on the other hand, there are the anime/CG hybrid movies that provide one of the main impetuses to playing further into the game. The anime is very well done and the skills of the artists come out in the character design. What’s more, the CG is mixed in perfectly with the Anime drawings, and is impressive when you think about when the game came out in Japan. The movie direction is wonderful, and you get the feeling that you’re watching an important plot point rather than filler, like in Xenogears.
Yet, even here I found something very annoying: the quality of the recording. It was awful, truly awful, some of the worst I’ve ever seen, and I remember FMV on the Sega CD! The edges around the characters in the anime are blurred and an eyesore. I’ve heard that this was due to Working Designs increasing the movie size to 320×224 up from 256×224, and if so, it didn’t work well. It may not sound like a big deal, but this game needed everything it could get to maintain legitimacy in today’s polygon, hi-res world, and the shoddy recording job does not help at all.
Music was generally good, but didn’t escape glaring problems. Having a wonderful score to begin with, thanks to Noriyuki Iwadare, EBC retained most of the tracks from the original, and added to a couple of them, and that helped. I’m a big fan of the Lucia’s Song and Blue Star, and the changes they made to them for this remake were all for the better. That being said, all the tracks sound like they were recorded with a merely average MIDI synthesizer. They all sound like something you’d include with an e-card. There are no sharp edges to any of the tracks as there were in the original, a flaw that can be seen best in the lackluster offering of two of my favorite tracks from the original, Zophar’s Domain Theme and Hiro’s Fight. The battle music did not excite me at all, and one of my favorite tracks, the Star Dragon Tower, which Working Designs had added to the original Sega CD version, was not added to the PlayStation remake, which fueled my ire. A sad situation indeed.
The sound was also a problem. Granted, this is a remake, but it would have been nice to see sound effects that weren’t ripped right from a Genesis sound chip. In this day and age, they can do better. Sword slashes sound like splashes, magic spells have lackluster explosion effects accompanying them, and though the effects for ice spells were passable, that was about it. Disappointing.
Working Designs is also known for the great voice acting talent that they employ for their games, but EBC’s voice acting was actually a step down from the SCD version. I particularly disliked the changes in Ronfar and Ruby. Ronfar used to sound more like Clint Eastwood, but now he just sounds like a regular guy. Ruby used to have a sharp attitude that you could feel in her voice, but it has been seriously downgraded, something which drastically takes away from her character. The only voice acting that I found to be an improvement was Hiro’s, and that’s just not gonna cut it for me. A generally blasé performance.
Fortunately, the control was very good. In the original, there was a problem when facing a wall; when trying to move, your party would slip by your target. The problem has been significantly reduced in the remake. Also, the inclusion of the vibration feature for Dual Shock owners was an interesting touch, but really was rather unnecessary. Every time an enemy hits you it shakes, and that got tedious and even physically irritating after awhile. But you can always turn it off. Very good control.
In the end, EBC falls short of the expectations I had for it with all the delays involved and with the knowledge of the changes TSS had undergone in its remaking. Yes, there were many, many extras, including a metal replica of Lucia’s pendant, tiny cardboard standup figures of the characters, a paper map of Lunar, a soundtrack CD, a “making of Lunar 2” movie CD, and, for those who pre-ordered, a Punching Puppet Ghaleon, but none of this justified the long wait for me, and the game itself didn’t either.
There are just not enough differences between the original and the remake to compel the casual Lunar fans from the old days want to play it, and the story alone isn’t going to attract new gamers who are into flashy graphics and such, leaving the only market as the people who were introduced to Lunar through SSSC and those die hard Lunar fans (like me) who just had to play it. Yes, I enjoyed the game, but I doubt it will sell as well as Lunar: SSSC. For fans who have only played SSSC, or die-hard Lunar fans, this is a good buy. Otherwise, you should probably pass.