Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
A boy on a quest, an attractive love interest, and a world in peril certainly aren’t original RPG themes, but Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete contains all these clichés. Originally for the Sega CD, and later making appearances on the Gameboy Advance and Sega Saturn, this dated game shines on the PSone for a variety of reasons despite the lack of any real innovation. Honestly though, can you expect anything other than old-school goodness from a classic originally released back in 1992?
Lunar starts off small in scale, but the storyline moves at a brisk pace. Alex lives in the small village of Burg, which isn’t exactly a happening place to live. When he’s not hanging out with his portly and greedy friend, Ramus, or playing music with the cute Luna, Alex visits a memorial for Dragonmaster Dyne and dreams of becoming a great adventurer like his idol was. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against him considering he lives in the middle of nowhere, but as fate (or a predictable turn of events) would have it, a great adventure is about to begin.
Ramus, with his hopes of getting filthy rich, has Alex and Luna accompany him to the nearby cave to find a valuable dragon diamond. While venturing through the cave, the trio runs into the ancient white dragon, Quark. Through this chance encounter, Alex manages to complete the first trial in order to become a dragonmaster, and the group even manages to get their hands on the diamond. Now the three must leave their village for the first time and head to the big city of Meribia in order to sell the precious jewel.
The initial small scale of the game is a great prelude to a storyline that gradually gets more dramatic and much larger in scope. Other dragons are encountered, more heroes are recruited, and some betrayals raise the stakes when the world becomes threatened. While the storyline could easily grow boring considering it doesn’t break much new ground, there are a few unexpected plot twists that keeps things entertaining. Also, it’s the unique translation that makes the storyline truly memorable. Some nerds complain that the inclusion of pop culture references about Courtney Love, M&Ms and masturbation aren’t what the original Japanese writers intended, though it makes for a hilarious time when talking to the various NPCs. Also, the constant bickering and insults between the party members is not only well written, but it makes the characters easier to relate to. I’d take this funny dialogue sprinkled with pop culture references over the poorly-translated dreck that populates most RPGs.
While the writing is hip and fresh, the graphics certainly aren’t. The visuals are 2D all the way, complete with tiny characters, very little animation, and not a polygon in site. Despite the dated visuals, it’s hard not to be charmed by them. The PSone made it evident that 2D is becoming a rarity, so it’s great to see a throwback to the 16-bit days. The developers even decided to take advantage of the 32-bit hardware by adding nearly an hour of high-quality anime cutscenes that not only look good, but also provide welcome introductions to the cast of characters.
While the dated graphics might not appeal to everyone, the solid gameplay will appeal to most RPG fans. First of all, I must warn you that Lunar can occasionally be challenging. The difficulty level can be jarring considering how easy most modern games in the genre are. The final boss is brutal, and even regular enemies can sometimes take out your party in a few turns if you aren’t prepared. However, some great features prevent the game from ever being frustrating. First of all, you can save anywhere outside of battle. This makes traversing some of the lengthy and difficult dungeons much more enjoyable. Also, Lunar comes with a feature that should be standard in every RPG: you can actually see the enemies as opposed to getting in random, annoying encounters. Since these fights can sometimes be rather difficult, it’s great to be able avoid some of the battles altogether.
However, I rarely found myself avoiding the fights since the battle system works so well. For the most part the battles are the typical turn-based kind that’s been around forever, but here movement plays a factor, sort of like in the Grandia series. That means that if an enemy is on the other side of the screen you might end up losing an attack trying to get over to him. Of course, there are plenty of ranged attacks such as crossbows and magic skills that add some strategy to the battles. Another great thing about the battles is the tactics command. In the menu you can customize a plan of attack that is executed automatically without having to go through all five characters. There are also some helpful default tactics, such as having each character use only physical attacks on the nearest target, so the battles move at a refreshingly quick pace.
If there’s anything really wrong with Lunar it would probably be the somewhat boring dungeons. The biggest problem with the dungeons is that they are so repetitive. I don’t even remember how many nearly identical forests had to be traversed. Making things worse is that there aren’t any puzzles until the final dungeon. It’s too bad that those few puzzles were far easy. At least the decent battles and well-paced plot development prevent the dungeons from being a total bore.
The thing that really sets apart Lunar apart from other releases is the lavish goodies included with the game. The best of the bunch is a soundtrack that contains the catchy vocal tracks, the decent background music and even some tracks from the original Sega CD version. Also included is an informative half-hour “making of” documentary that provides interviews with the developers and shows the people behind the voice acting. Finally, there is a thick hardcover instruction manual with interviews from the developers, and a cloth map of the game world.
While these additions ended up making Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete rather rare and expensive, the whole package is definitely worth it. The game clocks in at around 25 hours without ever wearing out its welcome. Although the graphics won’t appeal to everyone, everything else in Lunar more than makes up for it. This isn’t just an old and crusty RPG; it’s a game that has withstood the test of time.