Lunar: Dragon Song - Staff Review  

Go Slap Granny
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

25 to 30 hrs


Rating definitions 

   As one of the first RPGs for the Nintendo DS and the first game in the Lunar series in ten years, Lunar: Dragon Song had a lot riding on it. However, with a number of bad design decisions and poorly thought-out changes to basic Lunar systems, Dragon Song is honestly little more than a train wreck, an unmitigated disaster. The game's plot is poorly written and uninspired, its visuals are technically faulty, and its combat system is so badly designed that player input is almost pointless. In the end, the game simply gives no reason why it should even have been released.

   Combat is split into two modes: Virtue and Combat. In Virtue mode, characters recieve Althena Conduct - a fancy name for EXP - and enemies disappear from the map when they die. Defeat all of the enemies on a given map before time runs out and receive a prize, usually in the form of new equipment. In Combat mode, enemies drop items instead of EXP and regenerate after a certain amount of time. The game is balanced so that enemy levels will be comparable to the party's no matter what mode the game is played in, but there is little reason to use Combat mode beyond collecting items for Gad's Express fetch-quests or collecting some of the game's ridiculously overpowered enemy cards.

    Turn-based systems should not be difficult to execute, but Lunar: Dragon Song manages to make it a dull, painfully slow experience. The biggest problem with the system is that, in the style of some of the least-loved games of all time, the game does not allow players to select their own attack targets. Instead, the game will randomly select a target of its own accord, meaning that players are essentially cut out of any tactical aspect of the system. The game has little or no idea of what enemy to target, so it's common to have an unusually powerful enemy beat the party sensless while they unconcernedly pick off the weaker, less dangerous foes. The game's auto-combat option and fast-forward button takes some of the edge off, but quite frankly, they shouldn't have been necessary. A game's combat system is half the reason for playing and shouldn't be treated as a sideshow or a necessary evil, as it is in Lunar: Dragon Song.

Caption Combat takes up both screens, but the break isn't that noticeable.

    Lunar: Dragon Song utilizes most of the DS's features, and makes good use of the touch screen for navigating menus. Blowing into the microphone to run away from a fight is a little ridiculous, but it could have been worse. The game's translation is passable, though marred by a few odd phrases here and there.

    In previous games, music has been a highlight of the Lunar series. Compositions by Noriyuki Iwadare lent the games a unique feel and gave the series a strong personality with flute themes and strings. The music of Lunar: Dragon Song tries very hard to capitalize on this, and ends up with a mish-mash of disconnected music. Without any single theme to tie it all together, the music feels aimless and unfocused. The sound quality isn't bad, though, and the sound effects are decent if a little silly.

Caption Text takes up the bottom of the screen, which can make it difficult to follow the action at times.

   The story of Lunar: Dragon Song follows the trials of Jian, a young delivery boy for Gad's Express, which is a sort of medieval FedEx. In short order, Jian and his companions are dragged into a battle between the Beastmen and the Vile Tribe for control over the Goddess Althena, and therefore the world itself. While the game uses a number of conventions from the Lunar series, the story doesn't come anywhere near the strength of its predecessors. Lunar: Silver Star Story and Lunar: Eternal Blue worked largely because of their colorful, well thought-out characters. However, the characters of Lunar: DS aren't nearly strong enough to pull this off. With underdeveloped characters struggling through badly-written dialogue in a lightweight story arc, the plot simply doesn't work at all.

   Visually, Lunar: DS is designed reasonably well. Character design in particular is very solid, though monster design could have been better. The technical aspects of the game are less solid. Using a sprite manipulation system similar to what is commonly used on the GBA, sprites are rotated and magnified to create depth and distance. Unfortunately, this results in blurry, pixellated sprites that distort the visual style and can make combat difficult to get into. Things are a little better on the field, though the sprites do have somewhat limited animation.

    Due to the automated nature of combat, Lunar: Dragon Song is a reasonably easy game, and only the chance of bad luck in computer targeting makes it otherwise. With no real sidequests beyond the endless list of Gad's Express packages to be delivered, Lunar: DS clocks in at around twenty-five to thirty hours.

    In the past, the strengths of the Lunar series have always been strong characters, bright visuals, and a traditional outlook in both combat and story. Lunar: Dragon Song has none of these, and given the dedicated following and high expectations of the Lunar series, Lunar: Dragon Song may be a serious misstep. With a flat plot, poorly executed visuals, and a combat system that can only be described as pointless, Lunar: Dragon Song is not only a bad game, it is an insult to a venerable, old series.

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