Lunar: Silver Star Harmony - Review  

Lake Placid
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ The best incarnation of this narrative
+ Localized very well by XSEED
+ Good tunes
- Combat takes way too long
- Loading skips in audio
- FMV isn't that impressive
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   Lunar: The Silver Star on Sega CD was one of the earliest RPGs from Japan to show people across the Pacific that animated cutscenes and voiced character dialogue could exist. GameArts wasn't done after that initial incarnation, and the Saturn, PS1 and Game Boy Advance saw additional incarnations of the experience. Then came Lunar: Dragon Song, which dried up all goodwill for new installments of the series. Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is the last gasp of the series to date aside from cheap ports to mobile platforms. That's all the more reason to be disappointed, both in Silver Star Harmony's unimpressive sales quantities having sealed the doom of the series, and because this wasn't the best note on which for GameArts to conclude its Lunar work.

   Fifteen years after the last time Lunar possessed a Dragonmaster, Alex pines to be the next one in his unexciting home of Burg. His lust for adventure is not matched by Luna, the girl who grew up alongside him, but they are nevertheless an inseparable pair. Alex has a couple of other friends in Burg — Ramus, son of the village head, and Nall, who attracts less attention from most people than a flying, talking cat would be expected to garner. Ramus's idea of collecting a valuable gem from the nearby cave of the White Dragon provides the impetus for a quest that will take Alex to meet all of his heroes, but places the world of Lunar in enormous peril.

   The gist of this tale was already conveyed back in Lunar: The Silver Star, but the PSP incarnation manages to be the most complete of all. Its inclusion of a prologue depicting the crisis faced by the former Dragonmaster helps immensely to flesh out the Lunar world. A few extra scenes sprinkled throughout the tale range from helpful, such as a little more characterization for the chief antagonist, to amusing, such as a singing challenge where the unimpressive attempts are heard by the player. XSEED Games' localization also deserves praise for helping bring the world to life better than prior renditions of this narrative, proving that Working Designs was not the only publisher capable to arranging such a thing. Certain aspects of the narrative are unimpressive, particularly the number of times powerful antagonists drop in to gloat without even trying to seriously stop Alex's quest. Silver Star Harmony nevertheless manages to be the fullest, most effective rendering of this already-involving narrative. It also provides a good reason to keep going back and chatting with NPCs, whose speech changes throughout the game and provokes new reactions from the cast, in a feature that many other games would do well to emulate.

It takes real work to get Jessica mad at Alex with Kyle around. It takes real work to get Jessica mad at Alex with Kyle around.

   Beating the enemies in Alex's way takes place through turn-based battles with visible opponents that will chase the player when possible. A sizable variety of adversaries get in Alex's way, with plenty of different attacks to guard against. Abilities usable by the player also have a spacial component, such as taking effect around a specific foe or area on the screen. Even delivering a standard attack requires that the combatant be in range, leading to turns when one participant does nothing but move fruitlessly around the field.

   Despite the inclusion of elements that seem to reward thought, combat is not a very rewarding activity when using the automatic battle function is completely acceptable most of the time. A significant reason for this is having a difficulty balance that is too easy while being overly time-consuming. The turn order in battle is so baffling that enemies from the beginning area of the game will move before the player's well-prepared party, wasting a great deal of time with inconsequential actions. Combat animations aren't lengthy on an individual basis, but watching everything traipse around the battleground before doing something can result in almost two minutes elapsing before a turn is over. Enemies are so seldom a threat that even in a battle where the player must lose, the game makes it look as if victory is somehow possible. Even though vanquishing the adversaries is rarely a problem, the narrow corridors and speed of enemy movements in the field make avoiding unnecessary combat a genuine challenge.

   Loading times are a frequent issue with games, but Silver Star Harmony manages to make them even more galling. Every time the game needs to load, its soundtrack cuts off for a second, rubbing the player's nose in what is occurring. Many other titles have load times of greater frequency and longer duration than those here, but when the audio is so blatantly disturbed on every occasion, overlooking it becomes a trial. Even transitioning between rooms holding nothing but NPCs becomes a chore with this irritant. At least other interaction aspects are serviceable, with equipment that is self-explanatory and efficient menu operation.

Only brave characters would unquestioningly start to fight this thing without any problems! Only brave characters would unquestioningly start to fight this thing without any problems!

   Sprites and environments depicted are consistently enjoyable, showcasing a pleasant variety of animation and scenery. Silver Star Harmony also has a widespread use of color to convey every area as a distinct one. Its FMV segments, on the other hand, are barely any better than what was seen on the Sega CD. Comparatively little animation is seen in them and most of their time is spent with barely-mobile images. What was a selling point in Lunar's early days needed more work to stand out in the current century.

   Noriyuki Iwadare composed some excellent tunes for the original Lunar that were supplemented over the years with additional music as GameArts remade the title. Not much genuinely new music is on hand for Silver Star Harmony, but Iwadare's work is performed by real musicians in this title, and their musicianship helps to evoke the Lunar world very well. XSEED's vocal cast is workmanlike but underused, given that after the opening scenes very little spoken dialogue takes place.

   I would love to report that the final version of the first Lunar is the definitive one, rendering all prior versions unnecessary. While it's more enjoyable than the Game Boy Advance version of Lunar, the PSP unfortunately did not receive the iteration that renders all others outmoded. This makes its disappointing sales performance that has so far excluded the series from any further signs of life a bit more understandable, although still regrettable.

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