Lunar: Magic School - Reader Retroview  

Learning Through Rote Repetition
by JuMeSyn

40-50 hours


Rating definitions 

   The Lunar series has so few entries that interest in the one title to never leave Japan is probably fairly high. Lunar: Magic School is a remake of Lunar: Walking School on the Game Gear, and a little information on Walking School tells me that quite a few changes were made in the revision. Not having played the Game Gear original, I cannot judge how different the game is on that basis, but taken as a single entity Lunar: Magic School is a disappointment thanks to a few unfortunate design choices.

   The stories in Lunar: Silver Star Story and (particularly) Lunar: Eternal Blue are quite strong. Lunar: Magic School doesn’t strive to achieve anything like the level of emotion seen in the two main entries of Lunar, and setting one’s expectations at the proper level is mandatory. The story does gain points for having a party of female protagonists for the first quarter; these protagonists are Eli, Lena, and Senia. They’ve just enrolled at the Magic School on the island of Ian, which seems to drift around the Lunar globe. The game is structured in chapters, and each individual chapter deals with a specific event or crisis. In later chapters a few other protagonists are introduced: Blade the training swordsman, Wan the training mage, and Azu who is Senia’s very good friend and rather more late in the game. Surrounding all of this is a somewhat silly vibe, which does fit when the protagonists are 13 and 14. The silliness is exemplified by the presence of three boys (Rick, Kule, and another whose name I forget). These three are also students, and they seem to exist mostly as targets for Lena’s frustrations and objects of comedy relief.

13 year old girls wanting the monsters to fall in love with them?  Must … resist … urge to make … Jerry Lee Lewis joke…. 13 year old girls wanting the monsters to fall in love with them? Must … resist … urge to make … Jerry Lee Lewis joke….

   The major failing of the story is not its lightheartedness, but a strangely amnesic feel to it. This could be a result of my unwillingness to try translating lengthy scenes, but the presence of two major antagonists of the Vile Tribe interdicting the Magic School’s serenity seems like the sort of thing its members would not forget constantly. After Memphis has been experimenting upon two students, one might think the Magic School’s staff would make every effort to deal with him – not so. And after Valua has brainwashed Wan into setting all the unimportant buildings on the campus aflame, one might think she would have to be brought down – instead Wan is beaten into submission (after infiltrating the floating island stronghold of the Vile Tribe) and the matter is allowed to drop when Valua is clearly not repentant.

   More important than the story’s lack of memory is the combat. Battles look rather like those in the main Lunar titles, though movement around the battlefield appears to be unlimited instead of contingent upon a character’s movement abilities. Movement is important because of the nature of magic. Single-target and multi-target spells are naturally available, but some spells also strike an area and others strike a straight horizontal line along the battlefield. Enemies have these variants also. Unlike other Lunar titles, characters attack once per round instead of multiple times. Enemies give up experience upon death, although not money because there is no money in Lunar: Magic School.

   Spells themselves are acquired differently from most RPG’s: while the character wanders about chatting with professors, the professors can and do impart knowledge to their students in the form of spells. A few spells are acquired in a mandatory fashion, but most must be obtained through repeatedly interrogating teachers. In the middle of the game a new tactic will be learned of combination spells, which work exactly as the name would imply providing both participants have the necessary MP. MP can be recovered via defending in battle, as defense has a variable success rate at actually reducing damage but restores roughly 10% of MP each time it is used.

This picture was taken just prior to a pack of wild Magic School inductees overrunning the class president.  Seriously. This picture was taken just prior to a pack of wild Magic School inductees overrunning the class president. Seriously.

   And the defense option must be used frequently late in the game, because there are no items to use. Also there is nothing to equip. Statistics are improved solely by going up a level, which will also replenish HP and MP. MP can be replenished by talking to Emma the healing teacher, but as she is usually not in the middle of a dungeon the defense option will come into heavy use later on.

   One final note about the battles: they are random. The encounter rate in Lunar: Magic School is obnoxious, and running is often an exercise in futility. Fortunately turn order is strictly governed by agility, but later on fast enemies will inflict pain. Coupled with the absence of anything aside from the goal and/or exit to look for in a dungeon, the irritatingly high random encounter rate makes trudging through the many dungeons quite the unpleasant experience.

   Interaction is incredibly easy here. Outside of battle there are three options: the use of magic (limited to healing spells), checking of status, and going for the system menu (in which saving is possible at any time, thankfully). Inside of battle the option to fight or run is seen at the start, and once the player chooses to fight magic, physical attacks, defending, running (useless when defending restores MP and can be used to reset the character’s location), and later on the combination attacks are viewed. There are no other menus.

   Visuals are adequate, but when this game looks rather like Lunar: The Silver Star on Sega CD ‘adequate’ doesn’t really suffice. The Saturn is a rather more powerful piece of hardware than the Sega CD, meaning that the upgrade from Game Gear graphics could have been better than merely making a game that looked like an early Sega CD title. There are also some FMV sequences, which will not astound anyone with their animation but are nice to see anyway.

   Aurally… while Lunar: Magic School is clearly in the tradition of the Lunar series, this music is not Noriyuki Iwadare’s finest hour. A lack of variety is part of the problem, along with the dungeon themes being universally boring and repetitive. The boss music is alright, and the world map theme is nice, but the island of Ian is so small that it won’t be heard much. Outside of the FMV voice acting is limited to yells and such, while in the FMV Memphis sounds rather bored.

   If Lunar: Magic School could be played through with a lower encounter rate, hours would be shaved off the completion time. I did my fair share of blundering about looking for the next area in the game, but actually making one’s way through the areas takes longer than finding them. 45 hours is probably a good estimate, incorporating all the fighting that will take place. Aside from spells that might have been missed, there is no reason whatsoever to play through Lunar: Magic School again.

   Challenging Lunar: Magic School is, though not necessarily in individual battles. While towards the end there are infuriating enemies that like to charm and stone characters while only one character can undo these things, the cumulative effect of so many battles is what poses a threat. There are no cannon fodder enemies, all of them in later areas require a player’s attention to destroy successfully – but neither are the enemies quite strong enough to kill the player in one or two rounds. Bosses tend to be strong enough to present a threat. If a Game Over occurs, the game returns to the title screen.

   Lunar: Magic School really would have benefited from a Working Designs localization – some humor would have been just the thing to spice up the Japanese text. Working Designs could have also done what was enacted with Albert Odyssey and reduced the encounter rate while increasing experience awarded, which would have been most helpful. But even with improvements like these, the game is set on a single island with boundaries that only expand by chapter, surrounded by a story that is unimpressive. This game isn’t terrible, but it is unfortunately quite bland and not worth the time of anyone who seeks another great Lunar entry. Of course to RPGamers seeking an excuse to fight constantly in dungeons with nothing to find but the exit, the game will be superb.

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