Many older gamers probably remember the release of a game titled Lunar: The Silver Star way back in 1993, and the subsequent publication of the sequel, Lunar: Eternal Blue, a few years later. Unfortunately, aside from these two titles, and not including the small side story that was Lunar: Magic School, gamers have not seen an original game in the series in over a decade. Developer Japan Art Media aims to change that later this month with the Japanese release of Lunar: Dragon Song.
The tale of Lunar: Dragon Song will unfold a thousand years before that of The Silver Star, in a time when beastmen are the supreme race of the planet. Humans, lacking the strength and agility to compete with the physically superior beastmen, have staked out a humble but easy existence on the countryside--a great contrast to the highly competetive lifestyles of the beastmen, who reside beneath the planet's surface in the massive city of Healriz. Despite these obvious differences, with the aid of the goddess Althena the balance of the world is maintained and the two species coexist harmoniously, for the most part.
|"'Changing times demand changing ideas,' is perhaps the mantra that best fits this latest Lunar title."
The story opens with Jian Campbell and his long-time friend Lucia Collins--both of whom are employed as couriers for Gad's Express--as they receive an offer to visit the Healriz, the Beast City. The two accept it almost without hesitation, as it is a rare opportunity to satiate their desire for travel and adventure. Upon reaching Healriz, however, the two friends are greeted with malice and derision. The beastmen, in their self-centered arrogance, regard the surface-dwelling humans as contemptible, inferior creatures. Infuriated by this, Jian attempts to contest their conceit and unintentionally casts himself, Lucia, and a myriad of other characters into a much greater venture.
All the while, rumors of a "Vile Tribe" lurking in the Frontier, the desolate plain at the edge of civilization, begin to circulate. Apparently, this tribe has taken a liking to Dark Magic. They might even be responsible for the recent reduction in the goddess's powers. Perhaps they even kidnapped her. If they did, where was the Dragonmaster?
This history-altering tale will involve a sizable cast of colorful characters, including:
- Jian Campbell - A courier for Gad's Express, Jian resides in the port town of Searis. This simple existence doesn't quite measure up to his standards of adventure and excitement, however, and he longs for greater things; more specifically, he aims to become the next Dragonmaster. This dream, as well as all other things in the world, still take a back seat when compared with Lucia, whom he cares for more than anything else in the world. His suprising agility and acrobatic prowess aid him tremendously in battle, and he has these, a wide array of kicking attacks, and eventually Dark Magic at his disposal.
- Lucia Collins - Jian's childhood friend and fellow courier, Lucia has a strong admiration for the beastmen and even stronger feelings for Jian. Although she's younger than her friend, Lucia's resolve more than compensates for this, as she is often the one to lead Jian down the correct path. Not surprisingly, her compassionate nature lends itself more towards healing than dealing damage, and she is very adept at using the magic of Althena to cure and support her allies.
- Gabryel Ryan - "Gab" is a fifteen-year-old beastwoman who, surprisingly enough, shares Jian's ideas about equality and brotherhood. Both races were conceived through the work of Althena, she argues, so why should one be superior to the other? This similarity of thought between her and Jian makes it easier for her to befriend the rest of the party. That's a good thing, too, because she possesses an uncanny knack for running into trouble. The strength and perseverance of her character are reflected on the battlefield, as players will find Gab to be the strongest of the main characters. Often positioned at the vanguard in any conflict, Gabryel prefers close-quarters combat and attacks using claws.
- Flora Banks - Despite her young age and delicate appearance, Flora is far from being a frail and powerless individual. This inner strength of hers arises from an arduous childhood, and she spends almost all of her time evading the Vile Tribe with her brother, Peres. Fortunately, this clandestine existence on the edge of civilization has taught her numerous things about the region, which can come in handy to Jian and company. Throughout her life Flora has honed her skills with a bow, and can now use them with amazing accuracy in battle.
- Rufus Claw - Full of pride and honor, Rufus is a leader in the beastman army. He, like his brethren, is of the firm belief that beastmen are above humans in every respect. Needless to say, this instantly puts him at odds with Jian and Gab. However, as the story progresses, his concept of human beings begins to change. During combat, Rufus opts for a traditional style of fighting and makes good use of fencing skills.
- Zethos - Perhaps the most powerful beastman on Lunar, the Beast Lord Zethos is the supreme ruler of his race. Having heard of the rumors concerning dark magic and a sinister tribe lurking on the Frontier, he has summoned the strongest fighters in all the world to his coliseum. Much to his displeasure, a young, human boy answered his summons and attempted to take on the challenge.
- Ignatius - Beyond his status as the ruler of the Vile Tribe residing in the Frontier, not much is known about this man. His power is enormous and his prowess with Dark Magic is unmatched, and to the few who have glimpsed him he appears unbeatable. According to the rumors he makes his residence in a massive, foreboding castle deep within the Frontier. What is he trying to accomplish? What are his motives for assembling the Vile Tribe? Only time will tell.
- Gad - This man is the sole owner of Gad's Express, a world-renowned and extremely efficient delivery service. Technically, he is also the one responsible for much of Lunar: Dragon Song's story, as it was by his hand that Jian and Lucia received the summons to journey to Healriz. Gad is not the stereotypical greedy, self-centered businessman, and he often offers Jian support and encouragement.
- Titus Loren - A priest residing in Healriz, Titus's knowledge of Althena, the Dragonmasters, and the ancient legends is profound.
- Peres - Like his younger sister Flora, Peres has spent most of his youth running from the Vile Tribe. He, too, knows a great deal about the Frontier.
- Ezekiel - A skilled warrior, Ezekiel is both Zethos's friend and advisor.
- Jude - One of Ignatius's more trusted cronies, he carries out a great deal of his master's dirty work.
- Gideon - An animalistic, bestial man, Gideon is perhaps Ignatius's strongest lackey.
Those who longed for greater character detail in the series' first two titles have had their prayers answered. The aforementioned cast will no longer be portrayed in a "super-deformed" fashion, but will sport a much higher level of realism. Purists need not worry; Toshiyuki Kubooka is still in charge of character design, so there will be no loss of the Lunar charm to excessive detail. Other graphic deviations include the game's perspectives. While exploring, players will notice that the top-down perspective of old has been abandoned in favor of a three-quarters isometric view, and combat situations will be shown from behind the party inside of from the side.
The graphics aren't the only things that have changed, however. Serious adjustments have been made to almost every aspect of the Lunar battle scheme. Yes, players can still expect turn-based affairs in which characters will attack with the weapons and items they have acquired in their travels, but the random battles inherent to the originals are no more; all enemies will appear on the field, as in the numerous remakes.
Also, two modes of combat will be available to the player: Normal and Virtue. When battling in Normal mode, characters will not earn experience but will win items when the fight is over. When battling in Virtue mode, players will be able to take advantage of the "Light-and-Dark" system, which involves the conversion of monsters from the "Dark Side" over to the "Light Side."
Virtue mode has another advantage, as monsters who have been defeated in this mode will cease to regenerate on the exploration field. When this occurs, a checkmark will be placed in the corresponding monster's checkbox in the exploration menu. This regeneration cancellation will remain in effect until the stopwatch on the menu revolves once. When this happens, one checkmark will be erased and the monster will continue to regenerate. To throw the stopwatch's arm back to the starting position, simply defeat another monster while in Virtue mode. If all the monsters in an area can be defeated before the time in a stopwatch runs out, all of the monsters in that area will cease to exist until the player leaves and then returns. Those who accomplish this will be duly rewarded, as a 30 percent restoration of party HP and MP will be granted, along with access to all of the blue chests located on the field.
During battle, three different attack commands are accessible: Attack, Special, and Item. While the first is fairly self-explanatory, the Special command might give rise to some questions. Basically, Special command opens the doors to both magic and character abilities. For example, Gabryel's Whirlwind Slash and Lucia's healing magic are both accessed using the Special option. The third command, Item, allows players to make use of both their stocked up items or their battle cards, which will augment a character's stats in one respect or another, making them a temporarily more powerful warrior. Each battle card has a corresponding attribute, or element, and a set number of "P." When a card's P is completely depleted, it disappears.
Of course, since this is a DS title, the battles will make use of the handheld's two screens, as players will be able to confront both ground based and airborne opponents. The latter, not suprisingly, can only be harmed with magical or missile attacks. Players who prefer brute strength and close combat needn't worry, though, as the aerial foes will descend onto the bottom screen once all of the ground based enemies have been vanquished. Of course, a player could simply activate AT mode and let the battle automatically run itself, or he or she could attempt to flee by saying, "Run" into the DS's microphone.
Of all the new additions and alterations, perhaps the biggest is in the form of party size and character placement. No longer will players have the luxury of commanding five warriors in a battle, as the maximum has been reduced to three. Also, a character's position on the combat field is restricted; range and movement are no longer allowed.
Single player affairs aside, details about the multiplayer Coliseum have arisen as well. Before a gamer can make use of this feature they must acquire a number of battle cards through the single player campaign. When at least one card has been obtained, the Coliseum will be opened. Utilizing the DS's wireless capabilities, the Coliseum enables players to participate in the "Scratch Battle" system, which is, essentially, a card battle game. The view for the scratch battle is split by the DS's two screens, with the top displaying the player's card, their opponent's card, and a P meter for each. Occupying the bottom screen is the "scratching area," which consists of a 6x4 grid, above which are five attack symbols.
Before the battle begins, each player must select which card to send into battle. This decision is kept from the opposing player until the fight commences. Once the "start" signal has been given, the players may begin scratching at the grid. When 70 percent of a square has been scratched off, players may proceed to the next square. The icon revealed beneath the square will correspond to one of the five attack icons above the grid and will determine which attack the card executes. Players should note that, once a square has been scratched even a little, it must be completed before another may be scratched. The fight ends when the P of one card reaches zero, and victor receives the opposing player's card. If all of the squares have been scratched but no players have one, the fight is declared a draw.
Interestingly enough, Gad's Express will play a much larger role than simply Jian and Lucia's occupation, as players will be able to take advantage of its presence to reap a number of rewards. Every town Jian visits will house an outpost for the renowned delivery service, which players can visit at any time to accept one job or another. The pay one receives is determined by the task's difficulty, which is rated by a four star system. When players enter an outpost they will see all the jobs available for acceptance on the bottom screen, while the details for the currently selected venture can be viewed on the top screen. These details include the name, reward, difficulty, description, and delivery address respective to the task. Once a job has been accepted the player must complete it before selecting another. If a job becomes too difficult and one wishes to dump they must first pay a small fee.
One example of a job could be to find and deliver 50 X's to resident Z. We say "find" because only certain enemies will drop these X's. While this may not sound too arduous, one mustn't forget that some items can only be found on exceedingly difficult enemies. The items one must find will be, for the most part, completely useless in all aspects beyond their purpose as a delivery item.
"Changing times demand changing ideas," is perhaps the mantra that best fits this latest Lunar title. Over ten years have passed since the last original game, and in that decade RPGs have progressed exponentially. It is only natural that the Lunar games would follow suit. The changes may be immense, but Japan Art Media intends to provide enough Lunar charm to keep series fans happy, while at the same time drawing a wave of newcomers into the fold. Gamers can expect this title to hit North American stores sometime in September.