Discussion Review: Lunar: Silver Star Harmony

LunarPSP.jpg Lunar: The Silver Star is a classic Japanese RPG originally released for the Sega CD system and later remade for the Sony PlayStation. It was scaled down for a GameBoy Advance release in 2002, and has now seen a release for the PSP both on UMD and via the PlayStation Network store. The story tells the tale of young Alex, who idolizes the legendary Dragon Master Dyne and longs to become just like his hero, and suddenly finds himself thrust into a great adventure that might just force him into filling the shoes of that legendary figure.

For this review, Matt played the UMD version while I had the digital download for my PSPgo.

Mike: As is fairly typical for console games, I never played any of the Lunar games – in fact, my only other experience with the franchise was the dreadful 2005 DS game Lunar: Dragon Song. I also had no specific knowledge of Lunar: The Silver Star, nor that this PSP game was a remake. So starting up I was fairly clueless about everything – and my only thoughts were somewhat cringing and hoping this was better than the DS game. As always, Matt, I’ll be interested to hear how your history and experience with this franchise differs from mine.

I was clued into the fact that this was a port pretty quickly when the opening cutscenes were in 4:3 aspect ratio, and then the game itself filled the entire screen. But from the very start I felt immersed in a very traditional JRPG – there were interesting and quirky characters and an involved story where I knew I’d play a key role, and all of the characters were kids who would naturally end up as the only ones able to save the world.

Depending on how such a tidal wave of tropes and clichés are delivered, they can feel tired or inspired – and I found the story in Lunar: Silver Star Harmony to be fun and light and well presented. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout, and though none are very surprising, it is a fun ride. For me the best part was the characters – the developers did a great job of creating interesting characters to carry the story along.

The combat is a fairly typical menu-driven turn-based system similar to those found in most JRPG games of the era. You set up your party, choose options, or just define their behavior and have the AI carry out the battle round after round for you. I found myself doing that quite a bit, and it took the sameness out of the game for me.

So Matt – are you a veteran of this series, or are you a newbie like me? What are your thoughts?

Matt: For once, I think we’ve found a JRPG series you actually are more familiar with than I am. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I’ve never played a single game in the Lunar franchise before – not even Lunar: Dragon Song on the DS. I grew up on console JRPGs, but I never owned the consoles the Lunar games originally released on (Sega CD and Saturn), and when Lunar: Silver Star Complete came to the PS1 it just never appealed to me for some reason, which was weird given my fondness for the genre.

So pretty much like you, I went into Silver Star Harmony as a Lunar virgin (though I had known all along that it was a remake), and after playing it I feel even more guilty about having ignored the series for so long.

As you say, it is a very traditional JRPG, but it is a remake of an old classic so there was no reason to expect otherwise. And as a traditional JRPG, I think Silver Star Story is a wonderful game. The story is predictable at this point, but I enjoyed the more lighthearted approach compared to the angsty, pop-influenced vibe that has taken over the JRPG genre of late. Between its likable characters, colorfully remade graphics and strong musical presence, it sorta has the whimsical spirit of a Disney production. I also like how the game introduces you to new main characters with quick anime cutscenes. These scenes do a great job of providing immediate insight into a character’s personality and instantly cluing you in on what their role will be as the plot progresses.

Combat, again, is mostly typical JRPG fare, but there are a few subtleties that distinguish the game from others. Like always, battles start with your party on one side and the enemy party on the other, and from there you enact your turn-based battle plan from the usual choices of attacking, defending, casting spells, using items or fleeing. However, the battlefield is actually treated as a 3D space, so when you attack or perform another action your characters don’t just leap forward at the enemy and then bounce back into place, they move in to strike and stay put.

Characters can only move a certain distance as well, so if you choose to melee attack a creature on the other side of the screen, your character probably won’t make it close enough and your turn will be wasted. The only thing I don’t like about this is that you are never given any indication of your party’s reach. Early on I didn’t know about the movement restrictions and it was a little frustrating until I learned to gauge whether a creature was close enough to reach for a successful attack.

Another important thing to note is the game’s lack of random encounters. Instead, you can see your enemies roaming around the environment. There are times when pathways are so narrow that you are forced into combat no matter what, but most of the time you can evade encounters with quick fingers and a little patience to wait for a break in an enemy’s movement pattern. I never felt like the game was a grind like many other old-school JRPGs tend to be. What do you think?

Mike: I’m glad you mention the lighthearted vs. angsty difference. I have always had an issue with the way many JRPGs have done things since Final Fantasy VII with all of the teen angst … which is why my favorites in that franchise are the earlier games. So I share your enthusiasm for the lighthearted feel, and too really enjoyed the silly vignettes for the characters.

I had also noticed the 3D battlefield, which is still fairly rare in current JRPGs, but as more games such as the Legend of Heroes series actually deal with distance and space effectively it made me not even notice it here. That is a good thing – it means that Silver Star Harmony had a combat system that was well thought out and innovative, so that it remains feeling modern more than 15 years later.

The problem I had was that the game is generally very easy. Coupled with the fact that while encounters were avoidable – which was a good thing as you said – there are so many potential encounters I found myself using the ‘auto-battle’ quite a bit. Generally there is a price to pay for automation, so you use it sparingly. But I found that if I controlled one battle in ten, I would be happy and never have any problems.

My main complaint is loading … good lord is there a lot of loading. It felt like no matter what action you wanted to take there was some loading to be done. I was just glad I didn’t have to listen to the UMD spinning! I imagine that you found it annoying as well, since you had to wait for slower UMD loads.

Strangely enough, I don’t have much more to say about the game so I am going to summarize. I found Silver Star Harmony to be a thoroughly enjoyable game from start to the finish a few dozen hours later. The characters and story and combat system are all from another time, but they remain engaging today and the reworking of visuals makes this a thoroughly modern feeling experience. I felt that the game was too easy – probably much easier than the original – and also found the load-times annoying.

I’ll hand it back to Matt – and if he has anything else for me to ponder I’ll chime back in, but otherwise I highly recommend this game!

Mike-BuyIt.jpg

Matt: Interestingly, I didn’t think the game was too easy, nor do I recall having any troubles with load times. But as we’ve talked about before, load times don’t bother me unless they are truly egregious (like in Dead or Alive Paradise), and Lunar’s didn’t cross that point of obnoxiousness for me.

As for the difficulty, the game isn’t punishing in any way, but I thought it was mid-range on the challenge meter. I died on many occasions from trapped chests and enemies who’d stun or put my entire party to sleep and completely wipe me out, which I thought was kind of cheap and frustrating at times. Thankfully the game has a “save anywhere” feature, so you can save before every single battle if you so desire.

I didn’t use the “auto-battle” option all that much either, mainly because I didn’t approve of the decisions the AI was making for me, such as wasting spells and special attacks on weak enemies and that sort of thing.

Frankly, I can’t put my finger on anything I would consider a significant flaw. There are a couple little quirks, but overall Lunar: Silver Star Harmony stands tall as both a phenomenal remake of an old classic and an excellent RPG, even by modern standards.

Matt-BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ No random encounters
+ Graphics overhaul makes game feel modern
+ Engaging characters
+ Beautiful music
+ Fun, well-designed combat system

Cons:
– Long and frequent load times
– Too easy

Game Info:
Platform: PSP
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Game Arts
Release Date: 3/2/2010
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review copies provided by publisher

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!