On a tiny PlayStation demo disc back in the ’90s, a very different type of demo captivated me and never let go. The demo had no gameplay for the game, just an animated segment that lives inside my head to this very day. It was Luna’s Boat Song—a.k.a Wind’s Nocturne—that had grabbed my attention. At first, I thought it was some Disney game due to the segment’s lengthy song and beautiful use of 2D and 3D animation at the time, but I soon found out that it was an RPG and one that I would later fall in love with. Searching the early days of the internet for more info on this demo led me to LunarNET, then down a rabbit hole that would bring me to writing this review on RPGFan almost 25 years later. The Lunar series has meant so much to me, both as fantastic games and as a gateway to my role here now, that I can’t thank it enough. So the question is: After nearly 25 years, does Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete stand the test of time and is it the definitive version of the game?
Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete was marketed as the definitive version of Lunar: The Silver Star at its release, despite it getting additional ports to both the Game Boy Advance and PlayStation Portable in the future. With the power of the PlayStation and Saturn behind it, the original’s visuals, audio, and animated segments were all upgraded to bring the best game experience to the players. Some will argue the charm of the original, especially in the audio department, are best experienced on the SEGA CD, and for that I can’t fault them. However, there are two things that Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete brings to the table that the previous versions did not and honestly places this version above the others. Those changes are in the story script and to Alex’s characterization.
The story, for the most part, is straightforward. Alex, our protagonist, and his childhood friend Luna are young teenagers growing up in the backwater village of Burg. Where Luna is satisfied with her life in the village, Alex longs for adventure and to become the next Dragonmaster, much like his idol Dragonmaster Dyne. So Alex, his flying talking cat Nall, and his best friend Ramus go to the nearby White Dragon Cave in order to meet the white dragon. Luna brings herself along to make sure the boys don’t hurt themselves. While in the cave, the party meets the white dragon Quark, who tells Alex he must go on to meet the other dragons to become the next Dragonmaster, as he feels the world may soon need a new one. They also get a Dragon Diamond to sell and become rich (the diamond is actually dragon poop, by the way). So Alex and Ramus decide to leave Burg and go to the port town of Saith to sell the… diamond and also get directions to meet the next dragon. Luna, totally against the idea, eventually gives in and joins the boys on their quest for adventure.
This is where Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete differs from the original in a very satisfying way. After visiting Saith in the original, Luna stays behind and doesn’t travel with Alex to Meribia and beyond. She gets (at best) three or four hours of screen time before being captured later in the game. In Complete, she joins Alex on the boat and beyond and adds to her active role by about ten+ hours, not to mention interacting with all the other main cast characters before her inevitable capture later in the game. You get a much better love story between Alex and Luna, and the drive to save her not only originates from Alex but from the friends she made in her part of the journey. This one small change adds so much to the story, plot, and characters that it’s hard to make a case that the original Silver Star is the better version.
In the simplest terms, the main plot of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete isn’t anything special. Love interest gets kidnapped and the boy goes on to find four MacGuffins to become a hero and save them from the evil emperor. Lunar’s strength is its characters and their interactions within the unfolding story that sets it apart. Each is lovable, quirky, expressive and fun to be around. They interact with almost every NPC in the game, with multiple things to say and talk to them about. They interact with each other on numerous occasions during story sequences and you get a sense of friendship between them. This works better in Complete than the original because Alex is no longer a silent protagonist. In the original, Alex’s dialogue existed as dialogue choices, or Nall would be Alex’s voice. In Complete, Alex is a much more fleshed-out hero, and his interactions with Luna and his party are a great change for the character. He is still often the silent one of the group, but that just helps build his character. If you ever have the chance to play Silver Star Story, do yourself a favor and try to talk to as many NPCs as possible at different times for some fantastic dialogue between these amazing characters.
A plethora of remarkable voice acting helps add to the feeling of character growth, especially for a game made in the late ’90s. The audio work, especially the care Working Designs gave to get good quality sound out of the PlayStation and put effort into the voices when many games had no (or horrid) acting can’t be overappereciated. The notable standout for the voice acting is Ghaleon’s voice actor, John Truitt. I don’t say this often, but it is a perfect casting for this character. The music tracks by Noriyuki Iwadare are incredibly memorable and plentiful and will stick in your head long after hearing them. I still often find myself humming Lunar tracks while swimming or working out. The two most memorable tracks are the two vocal tracks: the opening theme “Wings” and the previously mentioned “Wind’s Nocturne.” The Boat Song smacks of classic Disney “I Want” songs (think Part of Your World or I Just Can’t Wait To Be King) and sets a tone that you can’t help but love. This is a game for people who love audio in their classic retro RPGs.
Graphically, the game has amazing sprite work for its time, accentuated by fantastic ’90s anime cutscenes that are fully voiced and can be pretty lengthy toward the end. In a time when every game was trying to push into some sort of 3D, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete kept true to its Sega CD roots and kept everything 2D. Animations are plentiful as well. Every character, enemy, and boss sports tons of unique animations for all their attacks and idle positions: a real treat for the eyes for those that love old-school retro sprite animations. The anime cutscenes are also very well done despite the PlayStation’s resolution. They are colorful and make use of blending 2D animations with 3D CGI to create some of the best cutscenes on the console.
Gameplay-wise, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete is good at best and never proceeds into the outstanding category. Battles are your basic turn-based affair with the slight twist of having characters and enemies traveling a distance across the screen based on their range stat to hit their opponents with melee attacks. You can also tell what skill an enemy will attack with based on their idle animations while selecting your actions, allowing you to plan accordingly. This adds a bit of strategy to the game and is a little unique for its time. Unfortunately, despite their frequent care in making games, Working Designs loved to mess with the difficulty in their games, making them much harder than their Japanese counterparts.
Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete can be pretty difficult at times. You have limited inventory in battle, enemies are plentiful, they hit hard and fast, and your battle options are limited for a long time. It’s not brutally difficult since you can save anywhere you want, a luxury in 1999, but you can expect to die every once in a while unless you have played this game 50 or so times like myself. On top of that, the game can be obtuse at times (once again, Working Designs at fault here). There is one puzzle in the game where you must go through four doors with a planet, star, sun, and moon on them and must enter them in the correct order. In the Japanese version the letter on the wall hints at how to proceed, while the English version has flavor text and no hint. You must then force your way through the puzzle. Nowadays, you can easily look it up online. Back then, for the many people without internet at the time, the only option besides buying the strategy guide was to brute force it. It doesn’t happen often, but it smells like bad practice to sell strategy guides, which happened a lot in games from the 90s.
I love to gush about Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete and its sequel, but even I must acknowledge some flaws with Working Designs. I love Working Designs; they went above and beyond in many aspects of their games, including the packaging for their games. This one in particular came in a huge cardboard collector’s case filled with a making-of CD, a hard-bound manual, a music CD, a cloth map, and a punching puppet for those that pre-ordered. Still, many are put off by their choices when it comes to localization. Some say it’s not faithful to the original, and others find the ’90s pop culture references throughout the game jarring. As someone growing up in the late ’80s and ’90s, those references are things I still find funny and are a part of my childhood. Some have not aged well, definitely would not fly today, and shouldn’t have been used back then. Thankfully, there aren’t many of those. It is very much a product of its time, which some might see as not aging well. It’s only fair to put that out there, as it might affect your enjoyment of the game. I still believe that the localization is one of the game’s strong points and that it would not be as loved as it is if it had a literal translation, especially in the late ’90s trying to appeal to a Western audience.
That said, I still love this game and its sequel, Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete, even more. If you’re a fan of retro RPGs, or RPGs in general, you owe it to yourself to play these games. It has been 23 years since Lunar 2 and 13 years since Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, the PSP remake of this game, but I still hold hope that one day we will see a proper Lunar 3. I have never given up hope, and I never will because it’s as Luna sings in this game, “When the horizon darkens most/We all need to believe there is hope!”