Created by Game Arts and released stateside by publisher Working Designs, Lunar: The Silver Star on the Sega CD was a role-playing game that made a small splash with budding RPG fans, enough so that the sequel, Eternal Blue, also made an appearance. While the Sega CD versions definitely have their own set of fans, I think most people became aware of the series once the PlayStation ports were made in the late 1990s, with Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete being a remake of the original Sega CD title, and a port from the Sega Saturn version that was only released in Japan. Silver Star Story Complete was a huge step up from the limitations on Sega CD, this time featuring an expanded use of animated cut scenes (50 minutes compared to the 10 minutes from the previous version), a fleshed-out story, combat, and other features that just didn't make the cut in the original. Game Arts was once again behind the production of this title, with publisher Working Designs, headed by Victor Ireland, in charge of translation and bringing the game to the U.S.
If you were into gaming during that time period, and more specifically RPGs, then chances are you had some experience with Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. It came in some fancy packaging, sporting multiple discs, a soundtrack, a hardbound manual, cloth map, and even a collector's strategy guide. Maybe this doesn't sound too extreme to us now since just about every RPG that Atlus puts out seems to be packed with some goodies and most games have multiple pre-order incentives with extra items and/or toys. At that particular time, though, North American gamers didn't see a lot of the cool stuff that Japanese gamers tended to get with their titles, so Lunar was a pretty exceptional release. It also helps that it was a great RPG that featured some charming characters, an interesting and humorous translation, and a fantastic soundtrack that people still remember today. Part of that charm definitely came from the translation work by Working Designs; much of the trademark humor was created by not making a literal translation of the script, but peppering it up with pop culture references from that time period and so on. It's a bit of a double-edged sword, though, since those very references make the script feel a little bit dated today.
Another version of the game, titled Lunar Legend, appeared on the Game Boy Advance in 2002. This version of the game wasn't published by Working Designs and also featured a slightly revamped script that stayed a little closer to the actual translation. However, cartridge size limitations cut out the voice work and animation, making it feel like a less-than-ideal port of the original game. It too has its fans, but as I've played all versions since the PS1 era, the GBA iteration was definitely my least favorite of the series.
Finally, we have this game that I'm reviewing today, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony for the PSP. Once again, Game Arts has some involvement with the development of this remake, but it's being published by XSeed, not using the Working Design script, and doing its best to stay true to the Japanese translation. I know a lot of fans are skeptical of a script that doesn't contain the humor of the PS1 titles, but I found that a lot of that humor was still present, sans the pop culture stuff, so aside from the missing Clinton jokes, it holds up really well. It was my biggest hesitation about the game, and I emerged feeling like this might be my favorite incarnation yet.
Many of the other trademark elements are present, too; the animation from the original, the fantastic soundtrack, and the traditional combat system all seem to be in place. The character names are retained, so fans of Alex, Ghaleon, Luna, etc., should be happy to see all their familiar faces return here. The game has seen a graphical overhaul, which was definitely needed in light of current tech. I'm glad to see it's still sprite-based, though, as they could have just as easily gone with a 3-D look, but the traditional sprites really are a better fit for this game world. Even the enemy design has been spruced up a bit but still has plenty of familiar elements that longtime fans will certainly appreciate.
How will this title hold up for those who have no prior knowledge of the Lunar series?
Well, it definitely depends on your appreciation of old-school, turn-based RPG mechanics. The combat system might seem a little dated to modern gamers. There are no random encounters; instead, as you explore dungeons and other locations, you'll see enemies walking around. Bump into them, and you'll initiate the combat screen, allowing you to control up to four characters in your party at once. A typical battle screen layout resembles most RPGs, with enemies on the left and your team on the right, but one big mechanic of Lunar's combat system comes from the ability to move around the map. A lot of enemies won't even be in range for your initial turn, so you'll have to spend a turn walking toward them before being able to attack, depending on whether you're equipped with a ranged weapon or magic. Once your sprites can be toe-to-toe, you'll duke it out over a series of turns, where you can select from basic options like Attack, Items, Magic, Run and Skills. If you find the monotony of basic enemy fights to be a little boring, you can also select Party AI, which will let the computer control all of your party actions, or Individual AI to let it take control of specific characters. You can even set tactics for these AI-controlled moments, so the party will still act in a manner that befits your style of play.
For the most part, other elements of Lunar are just as traditional. There's a world map that you can move across different points to areas that will give you access to new story-based sections and towns. There's a lot of NPC interaction in towns, with much of the dialogue being quite good and funny. There are also your basic weapon and armor equips to keep track of, such as bows, swords, and so on. There's a little bit of side-quest content as well, but it doesn't seem to be very involved when compared to other RPG series, like Final Fantasy or even Dragon Quest. The story is the main drive, so although you might be picking up a few items along the way that won't seem important until later in the game, you're usually not missing out on much by sticking with the main quest.
Lunar's biggest draw is the story, which is big on adventure and betrayal, and it just feels like a great RPG from the '90s, which it is. I don't think Lunar: Silver Star Harmony for the PSP will hold a great deal of appeal to newcomers, and I'd even venture to say that the majority of people who are going to be interested in this title are already familiar with what Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete had to offer. It feels like a love letter to fans, with improved graphics, sound and script to offer up something fresh but still familiar to those who haven't played a great Lunar title in years. If you were ever a fan of the series, then I'd suggest an instant purchase of this particular title, but if you've never played Lunar before, you might be better off with a rental before diving in, just to see if some of the dated mechanics of classic RPGs are your cup of tea.
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