30 August 2010

RPG Week — Lunar: Silver Star Harmony

Despite being a fan of classic RPGs and an owner of a Sega CD, I have never played the original Lunar: The Silver Star. Maybe it's because my Sega CD was packaged with the godawful Sewer Shark and that the first game my brother and I bought for it was StarBlade, but we just weren't that impressed with the Sega CD. In fairness, I think it was purchased along with the Genesis itself, and we were more than happy to play the Sonic games and other Genesis gems.

Of course, now that I'm older, I've realized that in those early days, I missed out on a lot of good RPGs. I didn't even have an SNES, so it's not surprising that the first console RPG I ever played was Final Fantasy VII and the first one I ever beat was Chrono Cross. I'm not complaining—those were great games and original PlayStation was truly a golden age for RPGs—but it does mean there are a lot of great games I've yet to play.

One of those was Lunar. That is, until just recently. I'd still love to sit down and give the original a go, but for those without Sega CDs at their disposal, the latest remake on PSP provides gamers yet another chance to play through Lunar. It may be important to note that this is not the first remake of Lunar, as there was Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete on original PlayStation (which is itself a port of the Sega Saturn remake). As such, the PSP version is arguably a remake of a port of a remake, and thus draws heavily from its PS1 predecessor.

So let's get down to business, shall we?

Honestly, I think this is where Lunar really shines. Someone would have to be rather cold-hearted not to fall in love with them.

Although the game tends to be fairly simple, perhaps even generic, the characters are something else entirely. There's an immense amount of personality going on here, and there's a lot of interaction between the characters. The party is essentially divided into three couples: Alex and Luna, Nash and Mia, and Jessica and Kyle.

The relationship between Jessica and Kyle is probably the most entertaining, as both are rather brash and headstrong and frequently butt heads. That said, the other couples have their own joint personalities that provide plenty of character development and interest. Alex and Luna probably have the most "romantic" and "sweet" story, and their love is the ultimate focus of the story.

The story itself follows the usual RPG trope of "save the world from the Big Bad and get the girl." Most of the plot points are fairly basic and while there are some twists, none really shocked me. That's not to say it was bad, but compared to the characters, the events tend to be more forgettable.

I would say that, moreso than many other RPGs, Lunar is a love story. Although many games have love interests, it is the focus of this game. However, the game generally avoids getting too sickly sweet. Also, unlike some games *coughcoughFFVIIIcoughXenosagaEpisodeIIcoughcoughcough*, the love interests actually make sense. You see the development of the relationship and how the characters work together. Each couple seems right for each other, and it never gets too whiny or angsty about things.

The story is a very, very happy one. And while that's not good all the time, in a genre that tends to get a little too emo at times, it's kind of a welcomed relief to play a game where the characters are genuinely happy and in love.

The gameplay is solid, but nothing extraordinary. Everything works the way it should. The combat system does mix things up a little bit in that your characters actually move around on the battle field. When you choose to attack an enemy, the character will move into range and then attack. Thus, if an enemy is far away, it is possible that the character will not be able to move close enough to attack, and will only run part-way.

This version, like it's PlayStation predecessor, also includes ranged spells. In other words, there are some spells that will only affect enemies within a certain range (a circle around the main target, enemies in a straight line horizontally or vertically, etc). This does add a little bit of extra strategy in planning your attacks.

However, overall, the game is pretty damn easy. So easy, in fact, that I ran into one major problem with the game. There is one boss fight that you cannot win. I am used to these in RPGs. However, it's usually pretty obvious that you can't win. Perhaps the enemy is just ridiculously overpowered, like a certain boss in Chrono Cross. (And, in fact, if you are playing New Game+ and do manage to beat the boss, the enemy gets back up and performs an instant kill move.) Perhaps the enemy uses a spell that instantly kills your party, like a boss in Persona 4 that kills your characters (and you cannot revive them).

Technically, this boss does have an instant kill spell, but it only affects one character at a time and it doesn't always work. Furthermore, you can revive that character afterwards with spells or items. I fought the boss for 45 minutes, far longer than any previous boss in the game, before finally going, "Okay, what the hell? Is there something I'm missing?" I checked a guide and lo and behold, you're just supposed to sandbag it. Okay, so maybe a character in the game tells you that you can't win the fight "through normal means" or something like that. However, that often means, "So beat the boss, but he won't actually die and it will go to a cut scene where you use the Power of Lurve to kill it or something." Apparently not in this case. You're just supposed to know, "Hey, why even bother putting up a fight? Just stand there and let him kill you." What the hell?

But that one specific case aside, the game was pretty fun, if easy. You definitely play more for the story parts than the battles, but the battles never (except for one) get boring, tedious, or frustrating.

The updated PSP graphics are pretty slick in their 2D sprite glory. I really wish more games would use 2D sprites instead of 3D models, especially RPGs where that third dimension is rarely needed. The game looks good, and the voice acting is pretty solid. The music was nice, though it didn't quite stick with me like some musical scores have. I know that Menchi really liked the music in the SegaCD version, and that it was redone for this version (not sure about the PS1 version). Maybe this is a case where they should have left it as it was. Not that the music was bad, it just wasn't great.

Overall, the ambience was good and helped accent the fantastic writing and characters, but it wasn't phenomenal.

Cutest sidekick ever.
Final Thoughts
Lunar is a nice little RPG with a lot of heart. Its characters are amazing and you have to love it for that. I wouldn't say it's an absolute must-play for gamers, but if your an RPG fan and you want something to help you relax and smile a little, definitely go for it. I could also see it being a good RPG for some people to start on due to its relative easiness.

Plus, you gotta admit—Nall is damn cute. And handsome to boot!

Tomorrow, I'll take a look at Final Fantasy XIII.

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