Lunar 1 is the Blade Runner of video games. Not because of its influence in the medium, though it has a dedicated fanbase in its own right, but because from the original Sega CD release to the latest PSP version, every single time the game gets a rerelease it gets tweaked. In the gba version (called Lunar Legends)the skeleton of the plot remained but the animated cutscenes were gone and the scenarios and dialogue the characters found themselves in were either tweaked or outright different. Lunar Silver Star Harmony (the PSP version) made Alex, the main character, more talkative whereas in the past he was a semi mute, introduced a new isometric perspective as well as new music, backgrounds and a short scenario concerning the legendary four heroes from the game. The version I will be looking at today will be the Playstation uno version called Lunar Silver Star Story Complete.
Silver Star Story Complete is the kind of game people generally think about when the word JRPG is uttered. Stronger emphasis on a cliched story, troubled combat, and a very (90's) animesque art style. However, let me stress something, "cliched" does not mean bad or poorly executed, merely that it has been done many times before. So does this mean Lunar rises above the rabble? After all I went to the two minutes of trouble clarifying the word cliche so it must be, right?
Ehhh yes and no.
Plot is as basic as it gets, you're an aspiring adventurer named Alex and after visiting the local [s]hero factory[/s] dragon cave and receiving a fecal matter diamond you take the mayors overweight son and your girlfriend Luna on an adventure to the other dragon caves, as well as a place to sell the doodie diamond, eventually things escalate as the Magic Emperor reveals himself, eventually culminating in you saving the world and your girlfriend because [u]insert plot reason here[/u].
While the plot will never surprise you I can't say it isn't entertaining nor competently done. In fact I can, without irony, compliment the games writing. The pacing is neither sluggish nor rushed and the exposition rarely feels the need to force itself down your throat. For example, Luna's secret, the first major hint is how she casts magic, she uses songs rather than prayers to cast healing magic. In many other games this would be conveyed via a cutscene or a party member versed in magic taking you to the side and effectively stating "GEE IT SURE IS WEIRD THAT YOUR GIRLFRIEND CAN HEAL WITH SONGS ISN'T IT?!" instead you find out its weird by means of a totally missable passing npc's comment. It is established that while healing through song is unheard of, magic takes many forms. For instance one magician you meet can only tell the weather, while another can only cast personal hygene spells (officially making this poor schmuck the single most ironically unlucky mage in recent memory) so the idea of songs healing the injured isn't that insane.
Its little touchs like the above as well as a healthy dose of tongue and cheek humor from your party members that help to put this game above the average 16-bit style rpg, however one area that this game fall flat on its face is the combat. Especially in the early parts of the game.
Combat is, to be blunt, below average. Battle are standard turn based affair but with the added factor of having to keep track of the distance from you to your enemy. Or rather you should, except that skills and magic have unlimited range making spacial awareness a factor exclusive to basic attacks and whether you can catch enemies in the blast radius of a given attack. however by the time your half way done with the game everyone but the dedicated attack mages will have enough range that unless you try to strike the enemies in the back with your sticks, you will reach them just fine. While I would complain about this, but the truth of the matter is that there is no good way to adjust your position on the battlefield. The only way is to pick the retreat option where (assuming you don't, you know, retreat) your characters spin around and randomly wander around the field a tiny bit. It's about as effective as it sounds.
While the combat itself is tolerable, if unexciting, what really sours them is the enemy placement. Enemies appear on screen instead of being random, in theory, that would allow you to dodge them. I say in theory because 9 times out of 10 they are either A) in a tight corridor that you have to go through or B) as fast if not faster then you meaning you can't dodge them. Even better the detection boxes extend so far from their actual sprites that you will curse at the screen, yelling how you totally dodged that bastard. That being said, the normal encounters do somewhat improve in the second half with fewer tight corridors as well as everyone having more MP to work with. However, the first half is exasperated by one little thing, Alex.
You wanna know how you will fight every boss from the first to the last? Have Alex use Valor to increase his attack, and spam sword dance. Sword dance is Alex's default skill, its also his most powerful one. In the beginning you will average around 100-250 damage while later on you will average 4-500+. For the record in the beginning both player character and enemy struggle to have their attacks crack 50. The only two reasons you don't go through bosses like EA goes through developers is because they all have ridiculous amounts of health, presumably to compensate for Alex's damage output. Even worse, until you recruit your last permanent party member Alex is the only character who can meaningfully damage the bosses. Everyone else is either healing, chipping away with impotent lighting bolts, or outright chaff. This becomes especially infuriating because Alex's MP is pitiful, meaning you can't use any of his skills on the regular enemies because those precious points are reserved for whatever theoretical boss is around the corner. Better yet, even if Alex keeps every magic point and dumps them all into the boss you WILL have to use at least one or more of your expensive mp restoring items on Alex every time you fight a boss.
Wanna know the only thing worse then making the player dependent on one character for damage output? Putting multiple bosses that can incapacitate said character, meaning that if the game feels particularly vindictive you simply can't win. While its true that your companions become stronger and in the second half of the game can do real damage themselves. Your dependence on Alex's Sword Dance skill never wavers. Later when you get the cool dragon powers the only one you will use in a serious fight is dragon heal, the other ones just aren't worth the MP.
Lunar has at once aged well and poorly. On one hand, the characters actually feel like characters and not cardboard cutouts (Alex aside) the art, while dated by PS1 standards, is still easy on the eyes and It rarely felt like the game was wasting my time not to meantion the occasionally amusing voice acting. On the other hand, combat is really underutilized, I fail to see the point of having the enemies appear on screen if you have no way of dodging half the time, and certain voice acting, most notably Nall the flying cat that accompanies you, is straight up annoying.
Overall Lunar has this strange property of being at once rote and predictable, yet pleasant and unironically enjoyable. A genuinely clever line here, a surprisingly well done development there (most notably the truth of the Vile tribe) and an experience that has overall aged better then a lot of 16-bit style RPGs. With that said, the time for recommendations has come.
Who will like this?
Definitely not modern gamers. While the writing isn't bad it certainly isn't up to par with the better works that have come after. When the combat isn't semi mindless its being infuriating with ridiculous boss HP, turning boss fights into wars of attrition. However the game retains a certain nostalgic charm, said charm can be found in games like Ni No Kuni. If you like 16-bit style RPG's and all the idiosyncrasies that come with them, you will like Lunar. If what your are looking for is a turn based JRPG with a bit more meat to its combat I would recommend the Shin Megami Tensei, seriesor one of Game Arts later works Grandia. With that said i will leave you with one of my favorite cutscenes from the game.
Lunar Silver Star Story Complete took about 27 hours to complete