By Laura . April 13, 2010 . 4:50pm
Lunar’s story opens several years ago, with a band of four heroes. The four heroes, alongside the Goddess Athena who journeyed along with them, stand before the ultimate enemy, a dark force with the power of demons behind him. In the final battle, he falls as the demons abandon him, and as his lair begins to collapse, the heroes escape from the crumbling wreckage.
We then jump to the present, to Alex, the protagonist of Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, standing before a sword embedded in the ground at a tree’s roots, the only objects on the precipice that overlooks the nearby mountain range. These are all that mark the grave of the great Dragonmaster Dyne, the leader of the legendary band of four heroes; the man who could command the power of the four Dragons, Athena’s messengers, at will. All Alex dreams of is to be the next Dragonmaster, which is accomplished after completing the arduous trials of each of the four Dragons. However, he has yet to leave his hometown, Burg, once.
Developed by Game Arts, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is the third remake of the series’ first entry, The Silver Star – the first being Silver Star Story for the Sega Saturn, which was later ported to the Playstation as Silver Star Story Complete, and the second Lunar Legend for the GBA. The PlayStation version was released in North America under Working Designs, whereas Ubisoft took on the localization of Legend. Silver Star Harmony has been handled by Xseed.
It’s been years since I’ve played the PlayStation game, but even so, I noticed several differences – both in terms of design and narrative — between the two versions, right off the bat. In this playtest, I’ll consider two main perspectives:
1. Is the game enjoyable for a player new to the Lunar series?
2. Will a fan of the series be satisfied with the remake, considering the changes made to the overall experience?
For the New
Lunar is, at first glance, a standard fantasy RPG. It’s about a boy living in a farming village who has never traveled a step outside of his hometown. Said boy is then thrust into a great journey that forces him to become a hero by completing a series of trials, each of which endows him with a new power after he passes. Ultimately, the boy arrives at the final boss, faces off against him, and…as you can guess, the game ends with a “happily ever after” with his archetypical damsel in distress. The classic formula, almost like in a fairy tale.
If this were all that there were to this game, I don’t think I would’ve been able to play past the first five hours. Thankfully, and wonderfully, the game actually does all of the above in a way that is original, unexpected, and touching.
Your first journey? You’re practically dragged from the village by your money-grubbing best friend in an attempt to con some riches from the great White Dragon, who lives in a cave just around the path.
I would go more into the twists and turns of the story, but I do believe that spoilers are best kept clear of this article. Suffice it to say, the story seems simple at first glance, yet the curve balls the game throws you at every possible moment make it something new. The combination of tried-and-true and uniqueness is like a breath of fresh air in the RPG space.
Your companions? There’s Nash, an arrogant, obnoxious mage with a penchant for thunder magic who also seems to have a vain streak that makes him brush his hair with a comb that he hides ready in his sleeve (complete with twirling motions). Kyle, on the other hand, is a tough-as-nails mercenary with a good heart and is also the head of a group of bandits that is kind of like this world’s Band of Merry Men. But don’t put him up against his ex-girlfriend, Jessica, who is actually a priestess-in-training and is also half-Beastman, as well as the daughter of one of the Four Great Heroes. Mia is also the daughter of one of the Heroes of old, but she is a timid, quiet mage who hasn’t had much interaction with the outside world, and is constantly fawned over by the overbearing Nash.
Following that, we can’t forget Luna, your childhood friend who has lived with you as long as you remember and who also has a beautiful singing voice that is the pride of Burg, and also holds mystical, mysterious powers. Last, but not least, there’s Nall, flying cat extraordinaire, although he’ll scratch you to shreds if you ever call him that to his face. He’s also a constant companion of Alex, and often acts as Alex’s voice, since the protagonist is very quiet and talks little, although I’m pretty sure that all the sarcasm and mischievousness are 100% Nall.
And these are just the main characters. The supporting characters are just as rounded and entertaining, and even the villains are well-written in such a way that evokes emotion (in other words, you want to kick their butts to high heaven).
The layout of the game also follows a fairly standard RPG format. There are towns, and you travel between them to complete your quests and advance the story. Each town is richly designed, and the vivid colors used, as well as the conversations with the NPCs, make each of the villages come alive. Then there are dungeons, which are teeming with monsters. Each group of monsters is represented by a single icon that travels around the dungeon map. If you approach one, it will charge at you and attack, but if you’re skilled enough, you can dodge it and run away. Some of the more beautifully-drawn dungeons are straight lines through (not including minor branches for treasure chests and such), while others contain puzzles, some of which even involve manipulating the monsters in the dungeon map.
When a monster touches you, you are taken to the battle screen, which starts off with your party on one side and the monsters on the other. Battles are strictly turn-based, and orders are all given at the beginning of every round of a fight, so some strategizing is required. There is the standard attack, magic spells, and items, as well as the option to leave everything to a fairly intelligent AI (other than the fact that it likes to spend your MP like it were last week’s allowance when you’re facing enemies with high HP). Commands can be given individually, although, the Tactics command can be used in bulk, so if you find you’ve been making use of the same set of commands over and over again, you can assign them to a set of Tactics and just choose that at the beginning of each turn instead of going through six different menu screens. And then, of course, there’s also Run.
However, the battle system starts to get more original from here on out. The screen is not divided such that “enemies are over here, allies over there.” The characters move in accordance to their actions, and this is very important in affecting the flow of the battle. For example, each character has a set amount of distance they can walk in one “turn,” and they also have a set number of turns they can take per round. Using the Attack command, Alex, with a turn number of, say, three, would attack a nearby enemy thrice. If he spends one of those turns walking towards the enemy, then he attacks twice. It’s also possible to spend all your turns just trying to get within range of your target, in which case you wouldn’t attack even once.
Spells also depend heavily on distance, although, this time it’s the distance between the enemies themselves. There are the single enemy attacks that, obviously, attack a single enemy; then there are the zone attacks, the all-enemy attacks, and the linear attacks. This may sound simple until you remember one thing: the enemies move as well, which means that you’ll have to take into account your enemy’s speed and try to predict where each will be at your character’s turn.
I found Lunar to be a very refreshing game with a battle system that didn’t wear me out, as well as interesting characters and story to keep me hooked. The art in the game is executed wonderfully; both the avatars as well as the in-game graphics, and the music is gorgeous. This game is definitely worth a try if you’re into RPGs, especially if you’re new to the Lunar series.
If you’re not…
For the Old
The first thought that comes to returning fans when they turn the game on is, “Oh! That’s the old anime opening that was in the PlayStation version!” I know I had a little fangirl moment when I saw that. The song and animation are as beautiful as ever … which actually means that its quality has been remastered since the last remake. It was a great start to a game I had such fond memories of.
The second thing that came to mind when I had started the new game was, “I do not remember this scene happening. At all.” And I was right; it hadn’t.
Interspersed in the PSP remake are added scenes that serve to expand upon the story and make it less vague than it was in the original. These scenes do a good job of blending in with the overall flow, and I honestly wouldn’t have noticed the difference had I not played the original Lunar. In fact, the first added scene (which is actually the entire opening sequence) serves as a tutorial. It gives you over-leveled characters who make it impossible to lose (unless you really try) and lets you play around with the commands and spells to get the hang of what the symbols mean and how the battles flow in general.
The next thing you’re probably going to notice is that the graphics received an overhaul. As a Lunar veteran, I’m not particularly sure I like the human sprites that aren’t completely super-deformed, but perhaps that’s just my adamant resistance to change in a series I like. Granted, the environment graphics for the dungeons and towns are absolutely stunning, and I always welcome new portrait drawings. Like most visual novels, these portraits change based on the dialogue. Also, the portraits show a full-body view, unlike the original where they only displayed the characters’ heads.
In battles, the enemy sprites have been changed accordingly to provide more detail and the animations of each attack are as well, for both enemies and allies (“Look! Alex swings this way … and then back! And then down again! It’s not the same animation repeated three times in a row!”). However, the battle menus stand out less, individually, in this game than in the PS1 game. Gone are the little icons that represent each spell and item, replaced, instead, by a generic list of each of the abilities a character possesses. The menu backgrounds also come off as a very generic 3D-esque plate, which gives a weird feel to the screen.
The battle actions — each and every movement — are slower, especially the spells and their short two-second charging time for both you and the enemies. This essentially drags the battle out quite a bit. Luckily, the battles don’t feel too tedious, since the game provides limited enemies – provided you don’t backtrack too much since enemies on a screen regenerate (and they’re hard to dodge!) even when you’re running by using the R button. I could’ve sworn your movement speed is lower while the enemy’s is higher, but, compared to the PS1 game, I can’t be certain.
There are two other major changes to the battle system. One is the special attack, which works sort of like the Limit Break gauge from Final Fantasy VII. The bar fills over the course of the battle and once it’s full, you can unleash an attack that almost always devastates the whole enemy party. This system was carried over from Lunar Legend.
The second big change is the overhauled item system. Originally, each character could hold a limited number of items, which included accessories as well. Those familiar with the Genso Suikoden series may find this system familiar, with a few exceptions. Each character could thankfully hold six items instead of four, the characters couldn’t withdraw items from the “bag” (in this game, Nall, AKA the magic flying storage bin), who could only hold up to 30 items himself. This imposed a strict restriction on the number of items you could carry around, and was one of the more challenging aspects of the game. However, this time around, Lunar adopts a Final Fantasy-esque item scheme in which everyone has access to a pool of items that has no limit. In other words, by the end of the game, you’ll probably end up with 99 Healing Herbs and 99 Healing Nuts, whereas, in Silver Star Story Complete, you only would have had however much you could pack on you. Nall loses his job as storage manager, although he still flies around during battle, occasionally reviving you (do it more!) and healing your status effects (including fainting) after the battle ends.
Ultimately, both of these changes make the game a lot easier than before.
Another factor that affects the difficulty of the game is the pacing. As I stated before, the animations during battles are much slower. However, this is balanced out by the fact that battles are easier, making them go faster, especially if you decide to unleash an offensive Arte (the special attack). The loading time between each screen is longer, while the dungeons are actually a lot shorter. For example, a dungeon that originally had 5 screens is condensed to only 2 in the PSP remake. With these pluses and minuses with respect to the amount of time spent running through a dungeon feels balanced, although, the total time you spend in any single dungeon is actually much shorter.
(Interestingly enough, I know that almost all the items found in the dungeons were carried over such that you find them in practically the same order, and, although I’m less sure about this, the same holds true for the enemies as well.)
The last change relating to the game is the world map. The world map is a point-and-click system now, instead of you actually trekking over the land (like the difference between Suikoden 2 and Suikoden 3).
Also, while I’m not overly fond of the voices in Xseed’s localization, I don’t dislike them either. The translation does seem a bit more straight and literal than Working Designs’ goofy dialogue, but they included their own brand of humor too. It’s different, but it’s not something that detracts from the game.
Lastly, Alex talks. Yes, the silent protagonist talks, though, only occasionally. While he doesn’t contribute anything earth-shattering to the atmosphere of the story, it is weird getting a response from a character who was originally mute (to us, anyway). The fact that Game Arts specifically let the silent protagonist speak shows how much effort they put into trying to bring the game up to modern standards in RPGs.
I love the Lunar series, even if that third game is long, long overdue. It is a solid series and Silver Star Harmony is a solid game that, while not exactly providing anything terribly new, will prove enjoyable as you play it. This remake is a good place to start for newcomers, and it’s also worth a peek for those returning to the series. While there are many parts that may feel awkward and different in ways you may not like, the “Lunar-ness” is still intact. Xseed did a good job with the translation and especially with their Limited Edition box, which includes the Bromides found in the game, as well as a blurb about each character at the back of every card.