"A video game comic and blog that would have been awesome and relevant 10 years ago. Maybe." -Famous Website
Let's talk about the Lunar Series by Game Arts! =D Discovering Lunar for the first time was a very impressionable time for me. I was in a huge RPG high since I just started playing console RPG's a few years earlier. It was around some time after Final Fantasy 6's release that I went over to a friend's house and was introduced to the Sega CD for which my friend had Lunar and Lunar Eternal Blue.
I was completely captivated by Lunar: The Silver Star's visual charm, the amazing quality of the synthesized music, and the fact that there was actual voice acting and cinematics! =D I admit that the first game felt like it didn't have much meat and the voice acting was kinda corny, but it was the good kind of corny that makes you smile and permanently imprints itself into your memory. XD
Though the battle system can be considered really simple to today's standards, it was definitely something different and rather charming! I loved how the battles actually had both your characters and your enemies fully animated and running around on the battle field. There was a stat that determined how far each character can walk and a stat for the number of attacks they can do; if they ran out of steps before they reached an enemy, then they'd use up one of their attack turns as a movement turn. Skills also had specific ranges such as only hitting enemies in a horizontal line adjacent to that character or all enemies surrounding a targeted enemy. It was a very simple system, but it added a lot of fun with a bit of strategy.
One funny thing about the system was that the spell list shuffled upon you using a skill, putting the most recent skill you used at the top of the character's skill list. There was no tool tip telling you what each skill did either so you had to resort to experimentation or research if you forgot what a skill did. XD Also, the game kind of ended in a weird way too by having no real conclusion after you saved the world. ^^; It was okay though because it was fun. XD I admit the game was rather easy too, but I kinda consider the very first Lunar to be more of the stepping stone to ready you for Lunar Eternal Blue, a real kick-ass sequel! XD
Lunar Eternal Blue's story takes place a thousand years after the first game. You might think that a sequel taking place so long afterwards wouldn't have much relevance to its precursor but it surprisingly does; a lot in fact! XD It was also very exciting for me to play two games with a continuous world for the first time! =D
Game Arts really stepped up their game! The base concepts for world romping and battle mechanics were carried over, but everything else was improved upon dramatically; it's almost incomparable. Some very notable changes other than it's gorgeous art direction were that enemies now had specific weaknesses and strengths towards certain attacks, all characters were associated to a type of element or attack type, the cinematics had real animation (unlike the first Lunar in which "cinematics" were mostly static images of characters with flapping mouths), all characters had eight skills -four for each category that were represented by really awesome looking icons on the skill lists, and a long epic engrossing story including an important epilogue to tie everything up.
Lunar Eternal Blue really blew my mind back then leaving me a huge fan of the series! The only real issue I had with the game was that after winning battles, you gained magic experience points. You were meant to use these points to upgrade skills, changing your single target heal to a stronger version for example, and every subsequent version of that spell costs more magic experience than the previous. Your party also shared the pool of magic experience points, saving your game costs the same points AND every subsequent save you make will cost more than your last.
This compelled me to want to only upgrade spells if I was absolutely sure I needed to and to play for as many hours as I can in a single sitting. Dying in a battle was an aggravating feeling, but I think there were temporary respawn points in case that happened. It was definitely not a fun experience having to keep that in the back of my mind. Later I discovered that the magic experience system was implemented by the American publishers Working Designs and that spells naturally upgraded on their own in the original Japanese version. I didn't see any point in the system's implementation, especially for the simple act of saving your game. Since then, I've been had some iffy feelings about Working Designs which I'll get to talking about in a bit. o_<
In 1996, Game Arts released a complete remake of Lunar: The Silver Star, Lunar: The Silver Star Story. It was one of the main reasons why I got a Sega Saturn! XD It was an amazing remake; everything was remade and improved upon! It implemented all the awesome mechanics and design choices made in Lunar Eternal Blue and strengthened its weaknesses to make a meaty, epic game! =D I was kind of disappointed at first that all of the music was completely redone too, but I grew to love the new music too. =) The only things that I think are kind of a shame about the game are that the cinematic video quality suffers due to technological limitations at the time of its release, video compression problems and that after a while, every boss fight can be dealt with by repeating the same strategy.
A remake of Lunar Eternal Blue came out a few years later called Lunar 2 Eternal Blue. Like Lunar:SSS, it was a complete remake (except for its music)! I admit that even though it was an awesome remake, there are still a number of things I like more in the original. For one, I loved the old menu style and design that was reused for Lunar:SSS; it was clean, simple, and felt a lot less "closed in." The second thing I was really disappointed in was that they changed how a lot of the skills look and function. I read that the creators were experimenting with new visual effects such as zoom-ins for certain attacks to increase its visual impact, but I felt the old fashioned "flash-on-impact" effects were better. There were a number of small factors that I felt were very strong and cool in the old one that were taken out; I'd cap on them, but I gotta wrap this up soon. It really feels like though the original Sega CD and the remake have so many similarities, they are rather different entities. If you're a big Lunar fan, I think I'd recommend taking a look at the Sega CD version too if you have the time.
Since I was such a passionate Lunar fan, I looked into other works published by Working Designs and though I admit they do great work and I like the selection of games they chose to localize, I couldn't help but feel a strong dislike for a how they did some things. One thing I noticed a while back that I hated was that before the release of Lunar Silver Star Story Complete (the remake of Lunar for the Playstation), All of their previous games' opening company credits were taken out and replaced with their own. As a kid discovering Lunar, I had to make an effort searching for what company actually made the game, not just published it. It gave the impression that they were taking credit for making the game; even their old website in the mid 90's said "...the games we make..." As a passionate fan and a purist at the time, I couldn't stand how they felt the need to make pop culture references in games. From what I remember, I think there's a Clinton joke in a library in the original Lunar 2 for Sega CD and in Lunar:SSSC, there's a kid saying something about wanting to eat Wheaties to grow strong (or something). I know it doesn't really matter, but like I said, it was a time when I was a serious localization purist. ^^;
Since their publications of the Lunar remakes for the PSX, they felt the need to make big changes to games they've published. I admit that they probably did a good job at making Alundra harder in their version, but it really riles me up that they made system mechanic and difficulty changes to games like Silhouette Mirage, Elemental Gearbolt, and Arc the Lad Collection. I seriously feel that Elemental Gearbolt is impossible to beat for any non super pro player. If Working Designs felt these games were too easy, at least leave their changes as a selectable option!