Lunar: Silver Star Harmony ReviewGreg Knoll
I just want to go on record and say that Lunar: The Silver Star is without question one of the greatest RPGs I've ever encountered. It's a testament to the genre, and one of the few that helped create the magical, enchanting worlds we know today.
So it's with a heavy heart that I tell you about Lunar: Silver Star Harmony. I'm usually the first to purchase anything labeled "Lunar"--be it side-projects, memorabilia or re-introductions of past games. But to call Harmony that would be a stretch. At best I would label it as a reprint, nothing more.
Very little has actually changed with the game. And while that's acceptable for those that are new to the series, we who have followed Lunar from the beginning need a bit more of an incentive to play aside from nostalgia. If that was all I sought, I could simply spin the PSX version, or even the one on Sega CD.
I want to see them expand on the world they've created. Yes, they've glorified it, and completely re-designed the monsters, enhanced the world graphics but failed to sharpen the cut-scenes and animation. They brought in a brand new cast to evolve the voice-overs, but now they only come across as corny and overdone for the most part, as if they were thrown together at the last minute. What other excuse can exist for not having John Truitt as Ghaleon?
In addition they've added a new scene, but I can only describe that as bizarre and unfitting. It may have worked, had it been the encounter with the Black Dragon--the quest where everything changed. It's not. It's done at the very beginning of the game with a character--Eiphel--claiming to be the next God of the world and the Goddess trapped in a dungeon, with no indication as to how she got there. I had no idea what was going on and had to sift through pitchy voice-overs and horribly written dialogue to decipher that this was one of the many trials of the Four Heroes long before their fall.
It's supposed to shine more light on their struggles and give you an attachment to the legends you've only heard of. It fails. It's two short battles and you never hear about it again. I could easily ignore it, or even appreciate it, but in those five minutes it does something so detrimental I can't describe it as anything but a horrible mistake: It takes away Lunar's magic. Or, at the very least, buries it incredibly deep.
Lunar has always been a game that speaks of and inspires hope. One that is far more emotional than many, but does it in such a fashion that you follow right along with it. The Eiphel scene tried to capitalize on that. After the first fight he's imbued with power from his demon cohorts and strikes down the Four Heroes in a matter of seconds. Only when Althena's song drifts through the air, do they find the strength to rise up once again.
It's so very reminiscent of the battle between Ghaleon and Hiro from Eternal Blue--one of most memorable moments in a game I've ever witnessed. But the Eiphel encounter is missing one very crucial element: I don't care. The Hiro scene was commanding because I had spent the game getting to know these characters. I had seen them love and struggle, win and lose. I had been with them the entire time, learned why they fought so when they fell, wanted them to rise up more than ever. It was a climax, and you can't have that in the first five minutes of a game with characters both new and old gamers aren't going to really know. Neither one will end up feeling anything but confusion.
And whether it's that scene, or just the watered-down version I can't say but I do know that Lunar was not what it once was. The magic has faded. While I could blame that on a delusional misty-eyed nostalgia, it's not really true. Things are missing this time around. I remember Alex having a wealth of spells he could call upon, learned first in Meribia where that was his only hope of battling through the sewers to retrieve his diamond. I recall Ramus' shame for not having any magick, and a very teary, heartfelt departure between the two when the loveable lug realized he would only hold his friend back. It's gone now. The dialogue doesn't have the same impact, becoming a Dragon Master was not as important this time around because it lacked desperation. No one led me to believe that only I could save the world, and not one made me even feel like it was important.
Had they, I would easily dismiss my other nitpicks about the game. I would have ignored the battle system, and how horribly it's aged over the years. I would have disregarded the fact that they left it as is, making no attempt to cater to a new generation of gamers. They've relied on the system found in Lunar: Silver Star Complete that did away with random encounters--instead putting the enemies on the world map as characters so you would know when a fight was coming. That, I appreciate. What frustrated me beyond belief was how they constantly re-spawned. If you leave the room, they're all back. Go down one floor, they're back. Save the game and quit, turn it back on and guess what? Right. They're back. It wouldn't be a huge issue if the dungeons were re-designed, but many in the later hours entail a lot of backtracking. Dameon's Spire requires that you go from room to room, pushing buttons to lower walls on the other side of the tower. The Blue Dragon cave is a maze of pools that warp you to different areas. Clearing a room to allow you some freedom to explore is pointless, as they return the instant you come back. Leaving the dungeon entirely is one thing, but it's anytime the game has to load a new area.
The frustration is only intensified by making these battles long and arduous. While I appreciate the style, and that it's all animated, it leads to issues. When a player or enemy does a special move, its name shows on the screen, the game highlights that person and they unleash the attack. Once or twice is fine, but with countless encounters and sometimes up to ten different characters attacking it gets old fast. So much that by the last stretch of the game I was simply choosing the A.I. to battle for me, until I realized it made worse decisions than I had. If one of my character had an MP drought, it would use an item to restore it. That makes sense, but what I could not understand was why it used another one after when I was only down by 2. I couldn't understand why Mia continuously used Blizzard on ice creatures when they're weak against fire, or flames against lava. I didn't need Alex to use his most MP-heavy attack against one final enemy that was near death. I needed Jess to heal as opposed to attacking and spare me from death. I felt like a spell of never-ending confusion had been cast on all my characters, and they were doing the exact opposite of what they should have. And at that point, I just got tired of the game.
It's horrible to say that and I wished I didn't have to. Above all else, it's still Lunar, one of the greatest RPGs of all time. But a developer cannot solely depend on the faded, wispy emotions of nostalgia to sell a game. If you're going to re-introduce something from the past, then mold it to fit the ever changing face of the industry, and the evolution of those who play. Maintain the magic it had so that new players can experience it, but give the loyal followers a better incentive than enhanced graphics and one half-hearted scene. Remind us why Lunar was great. Make it that way again.
And bring back John Truitt.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
May I have the strength to lead with compassion. May I have a resolve strong enough to inspire it in others. May my heart be true, my motives virtuous, my spirit valiant. And whether I fail or succeed, may I at least be brave in the attempt.
About the Author: Greg Knoll
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