Gameplay, Story and Value:
I see a lot of value in more lighthearted RPG stories that involve a good sense of humor, lovable characters, fun villains, and a story manages to have a meaningful impact, while not taking itself overly seriously. Sometimes I just like to see good conquer evil, an enjoyable love story (or three) and happy endings all around.
Lunar hits every single one of these notes, and I found myself laughing and smiling from start to finish. Alex, Luna and Nall all make for an excellent central cast of main characters while everyone else you meet, party members and otherwise, are compelling, fun and well worth your time getting to know.
Unfortunately, for every bit of praise I have to shower on the game’s story and characters, I find myself cursing some mechanic or other actual gameplay aspect.
It starts with the simple things. Each character has limited inventory space assigned to that character individual. Nall, your definitely-not-a-cat companion acts as a sort of general inventory for extra items, but cannot be accessed at all while in combat. On the field this makes inventory and equipment management cumbersome, and in combat it can lead to catastrophic results if you didn’t give your characters the proper restorative items prior to the encounter.
Character progression is shallow due to a lack of interesting equipment and a very small pool of abilities. As a result, you’ll find yourself doing the same thing with each character throughout the entire game, making combat very boring. In fact, just about every single boss in the game, including the final one, is tackled in the exact same way, and is functionally little more than an HP sponge for you to beat on.
That brings me to the game’s often unfair difficulty. Despite the lack of strategic variety or character customization, the enemies in Lunar tend to hit like a truck while being able to take a considerable beating. This wouldn’t be so bad, if not for the fact that healing items and abilities scaled so poorly and new equipment and levels never felt like they ever made a meaningful impact. On top of that, there were just too many times where you were pulled into a surprise boss encounter and if your HP and MP, especially MP, weren’t topped off or you didn’t give your party members MP restorative items, you simply had no chance of winning whatsoever.
The above applies to about 95% of the game. At the very end you’re effectively given infinite money with which you can purchase as many MP items as you can possibly hold. What this means is that you have infinite MP for the last couple of dungeons, meaning you can go balls out with your casting and just mindlessly autopilot the final act of the game. It all just feels like really bad gameplay design and poor balancing, and really everything that’s not related to the narrative just feels like an after though. By that logic I’d much rather just watch Lunar: The Animated Series.
Actually, seriously, I’d watch the crap out of that…
Presentation, Music and Sound:
Visually, Lunar Silver Star Complete is excellent. The sprites are bright and colorful, the anime cutscenes are fantastic and the environments and abilities just look great. Start to finish this game just looks and feels like an anime fantasy adventure story in video game form and I really couldn’t be happy… except… again a technical issue manages to irk me. I know it’s minor, but, still. Why oh why don’t the sprites have an idle standing animation? This is something so basic that in a sea of animation excellence it’s just bizarre that the characters can’t freaking stand still!
As for the music, Lunar and Lunar 2 are two of my favorite soundtracks in all of video games. The songs are light and full of personality, and I personally love the vocal arrangements when present. HOWEVER, once again I find myself frustrated by another dumb technical issue! Again, something so basic that it can’t help but stand out, and that is the simple yet annoying fact that every time you change screens, even in the same area, the BGM starts over!! Why!?
Finally there’s the voice work. Yeah, it’s a little hokey, yeah, it shows it’s age, but you can just tell that Working Designs had a lot of fun with it, and put a lot of love into making their characters come to life. The localization, both voiced and written, is phenomenal, as is to be expected from Working Designs, and I really couldn’t have asked for a more entertaining experience.
The last time I played Lunar was about 17 years ago. and I’ve definitely been giving it less credit than it deserves. This is mainly due to the fact that I’ve always though, and still do think, that Lunar 2 is the superior game in literally every single aspect, but I’ve definitely gained a new appreciation for the first entry in the series. In spite of all of its technical and mechanical issues, the stories, characters, tone, setting and localization alone make this an experience no one should ever miss!