Lunar: The Silver Star Story Complete is the long awaited remake of the same classic game that was released several years ago on the "Dead-before-it was-born" Sega CD system. The story takes place in a world of Lunar, created by the Goddess, Althena. Lunar is made up of a world divided into two realms. A light half where all live, prosper and study while worshiping the Goddess in peace and harmony. In contrast, the dark half consists of those who refuse to live under the grace of the Goddess and endlessly cause havoc.
The PlayStation remake of this gem has actually been delayed from release in the states for quite some time now. Created by a small Japanese game company, Game Arts, Lunar: SSSC was actually released as a remake on the Sega Saturn and the PlayStation almost two years ago. Working Designs, the same company who brought us the Sega CD release of the game, acquired the rights to translate and produce both Saturn and PlayStation releases here in the US. Needless to say, the Saturn translation was scrapped quickly when it was evident that the system would not last another year in the US, while the plan to complete the PlayStation version was continued. Seeing as the game was released in Japan almost two years ago and Working Designs already had most of the translation done from the Sega CD release, it baffles me as to why they took so long to complete the conversion and release it here in the States. All gripes aside, the game is here and I'm quite happy with the results.
In the updated saga, as in the original Lunar; you take on the role of Alex, a boy with a burning urge to explore adventure across the world just as his idol Dragonmaster Dyne did years ago. Alex lives in the small town of Burg with his parents and Luna, an orphaned girl close to his age. They have been sweethearts as long as anyone can remember, and are never far apart from one another. Luna is known by many to have an incredible, almost magical singing voice like no other. Unfortunately for them, Alex's urge to have an adventure combined with Luna's special ability is about to get them into more trouble than they can imagine. It all unfolds into an epic story that you can almost call a classical fairytale. The way the story unfolds has actually been redone in comparison to the outline theme in the Sega CD version. There's a certain point in the PlayStation version that has been rewritten and it changes almost the entire way you feel about one of the characters; plus there are a number of new characters. The story still begins and ends the same, but it's nice for those of use who have played the original Lunar to get a few surprises this time around.
A lot of the feeling and enjoyment from the story can be attributed to Working Designs' incredible translation. Bigger name companies can't even hold a finger to WD's translation and execution. Working Designs have thrown in a lot of domestic humor in order to domesticate, or allow the game to make more sense on this particular region of the world. You'll either like it or you won't; either way it's one of the best RPG translations I've ever seen. None of the elements in the story are lost and the characters still take on the same personalities they had in the original Japanese release. Thus, there's no harm done and the game comes across being much easier to understand for those who can't quite grasp Japanese humor.
Music plays an important role in the story of Lunar. The story revolves around it and the character, Luna commits to several performances throughout the course of the game. Fortunately, for a game that bases so much of the story on song, Lunar is composed of some very impressive music. All of the songs from the original Sega CD release have been replaced with updated sound equipment and newer songs. All of the songs are catchy and you'll find yourself humming them long after you've completed the game and it sits on your shelf as a memory. Many of the songs contain lyrics, which Working Designs has painstakingly rewritten to match the syllables of the English language and even the mood. Several unfold in large scale, animated cinemas where US voice actors sing the new, rewritten versions of the songs. It's nothing I'm going to toss in my CD player and listen to on a rainy day, but it is fairly close to the quality of Disney animated features and the likes. My only gripe about the music is that some of the songs I didn't see necessary to be changed from the original Sega CD release. Some of the music, including the battle and overworld songs were much more upbeat and ominous in the Sega CD version. The replacements aren't bad, but they don't hold the same emotion the originals did (I agree. -Ed.) Other than that, the rest of the game's music fits perfectly and I enjoyed it.
Lunar's gameplay is pretty linear for the most part so you probably won't have the urge to play it again anytime soon. There are a few side quests, which involve you getting secret items and viewing extra anime sequences but nothing that effects the overall outcome of the game. The battle engine is still one of the best I've seen in an RPG, both young and old. Not only do you have to worry about managing your health and attacks on the enemies during battles but you must also position your characters so that they can attack, and or guard. If there is an enemy on the other side of the battlefield you must move your character through their turns to its position until you can attack him. This tactic works both ways, as the enemies must follow the same rules. Once you get it down you can go through many fights almost unharmed. Game Arts has done away with the "random" battles found in both Lunar and Lunar 2 on the Sega CD and opted for a different approach. In order to attack, enemy sprites must touch your character while you explore through a dungeon. Some enemies are very easy to avoid where as others are nearly impossible. It's a nice addition when you're tired of fighting lower level enemies and you're in a hurry to reach the boss. You do have to remember, however that if you don't fight, you don't level up. And that can be very costly in the end.
Lunar is a balanced game, which in my opinion, makes it a great game. It's not too long, not too short. The music is fantastic and the story ranks as one of my all-time, top five favorites. However, in the present era of the gaming industry, these are unfortunately, not elements that sell a game. Today, it's weighed by factors such as graphics with neat polygon spectacles full of light sourcing and morphing; these have become the "selling points" of any game today. Gameplay and story are almost always considered second while the graphics take front seat and drive the game. Lunar's graphics however are not something anyone would write home about. It's a 2D engine RPG, full of 2D special effects, 2D characters, and 2D maps. In fact, if not for the clear sound effects, animated FMV, CD quality music, and the random voice acting scenarios you would think this game was on the Super NES.
As I stated, Lunar does contain animated cinemas. Each features a series of characters developed by a very popular Japanese anime artist. Each are portrayed as very likeable characters, that fit the story line. Personally, I like the animated sequences, they tend to pull you out of the actual gameplay and almost break your feel for the story line; but they're very well done and the English dubbing is handled just as equal. My only complaint is not so much the fact that the FMV sequences are there, but that there aren't enough of them or where you'd expect them to be. There are several key moments in the game I felt deserving of such a sequence, but instead they were handled in real time with the game's sprite engine. I know this was not done to save memory because there are two discs of gameplay. Furthermore, the second disc contains about half of the data the first does. Toward the end of the game there is also a huge lot of FMV where as almost the other 75% has very little video or spoken dialogue. This makes the game feel a little unbalanced, but for what's there, it's great. The voice acting is above par, the lines are spoken well, and understandable. Although, some of the voices don't match up very well with the characters, the voice acting isn't bad.
In conclusion, Lunar is a terrific game and a great experience. It hasn't really added anything new to the role-playing genre; in fact, it's taken a great step backward. But who's to say it's a bad thing? In a time where RPG's are nothing more than graphical splendor to cater to the masses who bought a PlayStation just for that alone, it's refreshing to receive a game with real personality now and then. Lunar: The Silver Star Story Complete is one of these few wonders that old school RPG fans can appreciate. It's sad that games which possess a story like this are so few and far between in this current era. There was a time when the story in a role-playing game was truly the only reason to play. Although I don't see games like Lunar becoming extinct, I certainly don't see them often, that's for sure. I'll be looking forward to Lunar 2, due sometime in the fall.
· · · Vincent