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By: Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland
Early in the 1990s, at the height of the 16-bit console wars between the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, a company called Game Arts was born. Around the time of this new company’s arrival, Sega had come out with a unique addition to the Genesis, the Sega CD. Ironically, despite being one of the first disc-based videogame systems at the time (Nintendo wouldn’t follow suit for nearly a decade), Sega couldn’t get the upper hand in the console wars, with few games on its CD system barely standing out, with the possible exception of two RPGs—the Lunars, among the first titles developed by Game Arts. While a mediocre title overall, the first of the series, Lunar: The Silver Star, was perhaps one of the system’s strongest titles.
Lunar, to begin, features a turn-based battle system, though in a highly non-traditional sense. After a battle starts, players can choose to input individual commands for their characters, get advice from Alex’s flying friend Nall, or, of course, escape, which thankfully works all the time (except against bosses), though enemies might get their turns first before characters flee. If you do choose to fight, though, each character has the options of Attack, Item, Magic, Flee, and Run, and if you can’t decide on what command to input, you can always use the A.I. option…yeah, right. Anyway, attacking, item use, and magic speak for themselves, although Flee allows characters to try and run away from the enemies across the field and take a cowering, supposedly defensive, position.
Oh, did I mention that your characters and the monsters move across the field when performing normal attacks, as well? Right, well the combat system’s main weaknesses lie in this movement, since players, for one, have no control whatsoever over how their characters move across the battlefield. Not that any skills (as far as I saw) depend upon your characters’ positions, but they can only move so far across the field before stopping and losing their attacks for a turn. The same goes for many monsters, however, although quite a few seemed to have unlimited movement range. As for item use, your characters can only bring a meager amount into battle alongside their equipment, and in the end, the battle system is average at best.
Interaction has its share of weaknesses, too. While players can save their games most anywhere, always welcome in an RPG, inventory space is highly restrictive, and the interface leaves gamers clueless as to the effects of items and spells, not to mention how weapons and armor affect characters’ stats before buying them. Moreover, rather than having traditional inns, Lunar opts instead to have HP and MP-recovering monoliths and occasional HP and MP-healing shrines scattered haphazardly across the world map, which I should mention is a tad bit too big and easy to get lost on, despite not having that many locations. As for the localization, Working Designs performed their typical excellent work, despite using “alot” often, yet still full of humor and references to American culture. Still, the interface could’ve easily been more user-friendly.
In its time, Lunar was one-of-a-kind. The battle mechanisms and the story, among other things, differed heavily from those in other RPGs, and overall, the first of the series succeeds, for once, in not ripping off any other games in the genre.
The story, though, isn’t as strong as it could’ve possibly been. It stars Alex, a random nobody from Burg who dreams of following in the footsteps of his hero, Dyne, and becoming a Dragonmaster one day; the opportunity finally comes when the Magic Emperor threatens the world. The plot is a bit dependent upon fetch quests, though, and nearly all main characters throughout the game contain no real development, although the plot twists involving two characters, Luna and Laike, may surprise some. Still, the story could’ve easily used a lot more development.
Lunar, moving on, marks one of Noriyuki Iwadare’s first attempts at a videogame soundtrack, and it shows; ironically, this is one of the game’s stronger aspects. Aside from a horrible opening theme song, most of the pieces are decent, such as the second world map theme and the music played in Burg, although the tunes do get fairly repetitive throughout the game, with quite a few, such as the boss battle themes, lasting shortly before looping. The sound effects, moreover, don’t really fit, and the little voice acting is of poor quality. In the end, the aurals could’ve easily sounded better.
Even given the opportunity to utilize Sega’s sexy new CD visual technology, the developers, lamentably, fell flat on their faces and spewed forth more mediocrity. For one, the graphics designers didn’t attempt at all to use pleasant color schemes, with sloppy character sprite rendering and dull, sometimes unfitting hues for most environments (as in the case of one purple cave). The monster designs, though, are passable, as is the anime, despite also showing sloppy coloring at times. Still, the game could’ve easily looked better.
Lunar’s difficulty, finally, hovers between medium and hard, with many boss battles, for one, requiring a bit of luck and strategy. Surprisingly, though, the game is short, taking anywhere from ten to twenty hours to finish.
Despite being one of the strongest titles for the Sega CD, Lunar: The Silver Star, unfortunately, is far from perfect, what with its highly unpolished disposition. However, it would receive remakes on the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation, and most recently, the Gameboy Advance, though since then, Game Arts has become an idle developer, churning out a few obscure action games and no RPGs, so what lies in Lunar’s future is most certainly beyond everyone, except its creators, of course, if they’re still alive.
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