Lunar: Silver Star Harmony - Staff Review  

Surprisingly Dissonant
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Terrific cast of characters.
+ Excellent soundtrack and great visuals.
- Story is extremely predictable.
- Battle system is slow and tedious.
- Far too many enemy encounters.
- Dragon Lament makes regular encounters a complete joke.
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   Watching the news accumulate for Lunar: Silver Star Harmony was an interesting experience. Among the rabble, two names kept popping up over and over and over: Working Designs and Victor Ireland. I will put this out there right now: I have never played an earlier version of Lunar, and I don't particularly care what Working Designs may have done with the localization over fifteen years ago. If you're looking for a comparitive review, I suggest you read over my cohort Sam Marchello's review, as it's more likely what you're looking for. This review is for people like me: people who never experienced Lunar in its hey-day, and are curious as to what this whole silver star business is all about.

   Lunar follows the tale of a young man named Alex, his sister/girlfriend (they're not blood-related so it's okay!) Luna, his odd flying-cat-thing Nall, and a rag-tag bunch of friends he meets along the way. Dreaming of a life of adventure like his hero, Dragonmaster Dyne, Alex meets a dragon in a cave outside his hometown and finds that he may be destined to become the new Dragonmaster. All is not well in the world of Lunar, and an evil Magic Emperor has begun a rise to power, his evil machinations causing unrest everywhere poor Alex visits. What begins as a simple trip to the big city to sell a sparkling piece of fresh dragon poo quickly turns into a quest to save the world.

   If this whole thing is starting to sound a bit stupid, that's probably because it is stupid. It's unlikely you'll ever encounter a more cliché-riddled and predictable story than the one in Lunar. You'll have plot twists from the middle and end of the game figured out in the first few hours, and you'll be rolling your eyes every time the protagonists fail to see them coming. The foreshadowing is as subtle as a bull in a china shop. But it's a good, charming kind of stupid. The characters are terrific and have great chemistry, and despite the idiocy of many of the plot points, it's easy to become completely enamored with each and every one of them. Jessica and Kyle's constant lover's quarrels, Nash's over-the-top bravado, Mia's soft-spoken innocence, and Nall's complete lack of tact and grace all meld together to create one of the most memorable casts I've ever encountered in an RPG. Without question, Lunar's story and characters are the highlight of the game.

The guards of Lunar aren The guards of Lunar aren't of particularly high quality.

   Because it's certainly not the gameplay. With a decent set of mechanics to accompany the story, Lunar could easily have been a terrific game, but unfortunately, both the combat system and the level design seem deliberately constructed to infuriate and annoy. Combat is a typical, turn-based affair, but with the unusual addition of attacks and skills with ranges of effect. As battles progress, both party members and enemies move around on the field, though you don't have any direct control over their movements. This adds a little bit of strategy when targeting area attacks, as choosing the right target can ensure you hit the most enemies. However, the game is rather easy, and really the only reason strategy comes into play most of the time is to finish battles as quickly and efficiently as possible.

   The main problem with the combat system lies in the speed in which they occur. Battle animations are extremely slow, spell effects being particularly egregious in this regard. Even a one-round battle can easily last upwards of a minute, and many take two or even three rounds of combat to finish. The flee command is also extremely unreliable.

   All this is compounded by the ridiculous number of encounters the game forces you into. There are no random encounters; enemies instead appear on the map and battles begin when you touch them. While normally this would be a good thing, the enemies are so numerous that you'll find yourself wishing that encounters were random so you wouldn't have to fight so much. The paths are generally very narrow, so avoiding encounters is difficult, and even the wider areas often have multiple enemies patrolling them. Most annoyingly, you aren't even given a few seconds of invulnerability after a battle as most games with this type of system allow. This leads to several points where you may find yourself fighting back to back battles without being able to take a single step in between. The number of enemies on each map could easily have been cut in half, and traversing dungeons quickly becomes annoying. Thankfully, most dungeons are mercifully short.

Bizarre responses like this are rather commonplace in Lunar. Bizarre responses like this are rather commonplace in Lunar.

   The encounter rate and battle speed might be forgivable if the game provided a bit of challenge, but sadly it doesn't. Even boss battles are typically quite easy, though not so easy that you can't pay attention. In fact, after a certain event towards the end of the game, Alex gains access to a spell so powerful that normal encounters are reduced to simply casting it. The spell affects all enemies regardless of position, causes instant death, has a one-hundred percent success rate, and has a relatively low MP cost. Despite making normal battles a complete joke, it has the benefit of drastically speeding battles up, so I can't say I wasn't thankful for it.

   While the gameplay might not be up to snuff, the aesthetics manage to make up for it to a certain degree. The visuals are colorful and attractive, sporting the 3D environment, 2D sprite style that games like Crimson Gem Saga and Star Ocean: First Departure have made use of previously on the PSP. Dialogue in the game is accompanied by anime portraits, of which there are several for each character showing a wide variety of emotions. One of the most impressive and probably underrated aspects of the visuals is the enemy design. Enemies are bizarrely shaped and have some really weird and quirky animations, providing a bit of visual entertainment during the prolonged combat bouts.

   The soundtrack, composed by Noriyuki Iwadare, is excellent, and the game's story makes use of some of the musical compositions as well. The game also provides some solid voice acting, although it's disappointingly infrequent. Occasionally the voicework gets a bit awkward, particularly when Nall is speaking for extended lengths of time, but for the most part it's quite enjoyable, and Lunar is definitely a game worth playing with the audio on.

   Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is an odd duck. It's easy to recommend based on its visuals, audio, and story, but when it comes to the gameplay, the game disappoints on every possible level, and being a video game, the gameplay takes up most of your time. Once you muddle through each dungeon to the next bit of story, the game manages to be quite enjoyable, but with similar and more well-rounded offerings already on the PSP, it's a tough sell.

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