LUNAR: Silver Star Harmony
by Polly

Jesus Christ, LUNAR: Silver Star Story, you've got some kinda staying power, don't you? You've been completely remade THREE TIMES NOW! I know you were good on both the Sega CD and PSX/Saturn, but Jeezus Wheezus, man, don't you think it's about time to either move forward or hang it up?

After spending the last couple weeks slogging through one of the 90's more overlooked classics yet again, this time on Sony's PSP, I can safely say the answer to that is a resounding "Yes!"

LUNAR: Silver Star Harmony is the fourth iteration of the Sega CD's LUNAR: Silver Star Story. It's the tried and true tale of an adventurous young lad with big dreams of becoming a hero, sprinkled with tales of magic, bravery, loss, and ultimately love. LUNAR's world and story are both equally simple and we've seen it all before, but that's always been its charm. LUNAR took simple elements, and used compelling storytelling and memorable characters to rise above what would normally be akin to any fairytale you might tell a young child.

To those of us that have been following the series since its inception, there's not a whole lot new here. I won't spoil it for those who don't know, but let's just say it's a part of the story we've all always been curious about, and we now finally get to play around with for a bit. The most likely reason any of us are paying attention at this point is to see what they've changed or added to the setup we've been familiar with all these years. To newcomers, these simple elements may likely seem dull and boring, given that JRPGs have taken a more bloated approach to storytelling, but those with an open mind and a bit of that fleeting child-like whimsy may still find themselves drawn into the world.

The first thing noticeable about this remake (and about the only thing worth noting) is the step up in the graphics department. The world of LUNAR now looks like a brilliantly conceived painting, and most of the envionments are highly pleasing to the eyes. Character sprites and enemies were also given very nice makeovers and all are fairly appropriate. They manage to capture the feeling of the old-school style, while punching in a little more detail here and there, but never enough that you'll think "realistic." All of the animated cutscenes from the PSX/Saturn version of the game have returned as well, and unfortunately are centered in a window in the middle of the PSP's large screen. However, this approach is understandable, given that the movies were animated years ago, and stretching them to the PSP's widescreen format would make them look atrocious.

The audio is a tad remixed, but for the most part unchanged. All the familiar dungeon, town, and character pieces from the PSX/Saturn version remain intact and virtually untouched. A big deal has been made about this version's voice-over work, which completely replaces the Working Designs dub from 1999. To those of us who've grown up with those voices (Working Designs utilized much of the Sega CD's voice talent for the PSX remake), it's hard to shake the feeling that this dub is inferior. It's just the lack of familiarity. A friend of mine, who has never played any of the originals, has commented that the dub is simply "adequate." I've listened to my fair share of dubs in the past, and I can agree with that sentiment. It doesn't do anything too awful, but it's not exactly pleasing to the ears, either.

And to fans of LUNAR, the game itself likely won't be pleasing to the senses, either.

In re-imagining this game for yet another generation, it seems a lot of stuff got overlooked and lost in the shuffle, or just completely shit on.

Most notably is the game's ridiculously easy difficulty. LUNAR games have always been fairly challenging. There was a mix of challenging combat and resource management that really made you think about whether you really wanted to engage certain enemies, fire off that round of lightning or ice spells, or use certain items. All of that is gone in this remake. Enemy monsters crumple with the slightest bit of effort, bosses don't hit even remotely hard as they used to, enemy AI is just fucking STUPID (more on this later), and Health and Magic restorative items drop from enemies like candy. You can also hold 99 of every item in the game, whereas in the originals, item space was always limited to six items per character. You have to actively TRY to make this game challenging by bypassing items or just not upgrading your equipment.

Further adding to the ease with which pretty much anyone could finish this game are the new dungeon layouts and completely fuckstupid enemy AI.

Given that they went ahead and re-imagined all of LUNAR's scenery, obviously some geographical changes had to be made to the environments. To the designers, this meant making every room, dungeon, and town as small as possible. Seriously, without enemies, you can run through any room of a dungeon in as little as two to ten seconds. You won't spend more than 20-30 minutes in any given dungeon and I'll almost guarantee you'll be hard pressed to find an enemy or pack of enemies that have the potential to knock a character out, much less force a Game Over. I never saw the Game Over screen once.

Then come the technical difficulties that make this game nigh-unplayable. Principal among these issues is the game's goddamn fuckawful load times. Going from room to room ANYWHERE in the game activates an 8-second transition while the game loads the next area.....OH GOD THE LOADING, WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU LOADING EVERYTHING?!

This fucking game has to LOAD to do god damn everything! I've even heard the UMD reader firing up to load text boxes and displaying the contents of chests for fuck's sake. The 8-second transitions for changing rooms and fights is bad enough, but actually GETTING TO A POINT WHERE YOU CAN PLAY THE GAME FROM FIRING UP THE PSP IS EVEN MORE MADDENING.

I timed this shit. It takes exactly 1 minute and 24 seconds from firing up the PSP, to actually being able to move a character on the screen. This is while actively HAMMERING the X and Start buttons to skip through all the company logos at the start and confirming through TWO pontless save data warnings and finally loading your game. Of course, then it needs to load the area you're in, too. The PSN download version may remedy some of this nonsense, but it's still just fucking ridiculous. Sometimes I'd just leave the PSP in sleep mode because I dreaded ever having to waste 1 minute and 24 seconds of my life hammering buttons. HELLO, I FUCKING PLAYED TRACK & FIELD II ON NES AND IT WASN'T FUN THEN, EITHER!

Holy fuck, where was I?

Oh, right. Fuckstupid enemy AI. It's so bad that I actually witnessed one boss spend FIVE TURNS just walking back and forth on screen while my party assaulted him mercilessly. Many enemies will do really stupid shit like this. They'll either walk around stupidly or all lock onto one character and do the same attack over and over.

Well, truth be told, it's not only the enemy AI that's [REDACTED]ed. It seems that during combat, the game doesn't quite understand its own rules. See, in the older LUNAR games, your party's formation played a vital role in major encounters. Character positioning could be key in how you're able to avoid certain enemy attacks. Now, characters just seem to move however the fuck they want, and on many occasions, they seem to forget to fucking ATTACK when you tell them to. I've also witnessed a character being told to defend and move backward, but instead they'll walk clear to the other side of the screen WHEN THEY DON'T EVEN HAVE THE RANGE STAT TO DO THAT! The game just seems to throw the Range and Number Of Attacks stats out the window a lot of the time and does its own thing. Good thing the game is piss-easy or this game would be "completely insufferable" as opposed to the "almost insufferable" it ends up being.

At the end of the day, LUNAR: Silver Star Harmony ends up feeling more like Baby's First RPG, from both a player's and the developer's side of the screen. It's a sprawling tale that rivals many of today's RPGs in length and size of the world, so there's a lot to see and do. I guess over time the story has worn a little thin and, as I said before, maybe it's time for the series to pack it up or move on. It's a great throw-back to a bygone era of Japanese RPGs, and a lot of those conventions are still enjoyable, but the simple fact is that we've played LUNAR: Silver Star Story so many times now, that there's no new way you can spin it to make it as satisfying as it was on the Sega CD and PSX/Saturn. Especially if you're shitting it up in the way this version has been. To newcomers, barring that the technical difficulties don't end up driving you absolutely insane, LUNAR: Silver Star Harmony easily functions well as a severely-flawed gateway drug into the genre, but I'd honestly advise newcomers to try and hunt down the PSX/Saturn version for a really fantastic LUNAR experience.

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