GameSpite Journal 12 exists to fill your life with pretty pieces of paper, and the coupon code WONDERFUL will net you 15% off through August 31 on our Blurb store. Sega CD articles get blue stripes in the background. Like this one!
The Lunar series makes for an utterly fascinating tale. Here we have an RPG that doesn’t offer any truly remarkable features except for a surprisingly well-integrated string of animated cutscenes and top-notch character designs from that tragically fleeting era between the ’80s and Evangelion (or perhaps more to the point, the standardization of digital cels). Here we have a U.S. publisher with a string of minor, niche successes under its belt. And while neither on their own might have seemed particularly noteworthy, in tandem they elevated one another, offering complementary strengths that made their respective weaknesses far easier to overlook.
Lunar made Working Designs, but it’s fair to say that Working Designs made Lunar, too. As the most pleasant RPG on a console that no one in Japan owned, the chances of Lunar surviving beyond the 16-bit generation were approximately nil. But Working Designs brought the game to America, amped up its sense of whimsy, invested some genuinely good voice acting and musical performances into the game—especially given the standards of the era—fancied up its instruction manual to catch the eye, and bombarded game magazines with gorgeous full-page ads highlighting Kadokawa Shoten’s wonderful promotional material. Not a lot of people owned a Sega CD in the U.S., either, but everyone who did knew they needed a copy of Lunar.
A cult classic was born, and both developer Game Arts and Working Designs were more than happy to capitalize on their modest success. Lunar: The Silver Star told the tale of Alex of Burg, a young man driven by his reverence for the Dragonmaster Dyne, his affection for his almost-a-sister-but-not-quite-enough-for-their-romance-to-be-creepy Luna, and the dumb luck to have borne witness to the defection to evil of former legendary hero Ghaleon. Lunar set all the tropes in place: Alex’s ascent to heroism, Luna’s revelation as a goddess and subsequent brainwashing (and rescue by the Power of Love), floating cities, giant engines of destruction, and so on.
Mechanically, it’s a good effort, if not an entirely successful one. Game Arts tried to mix up the RPG genre by giving the player the ability to move about the battlefield, making positioning an important facet of the turn-based action. But this tended to be limited in scope, with enemies content to make a beeline for the nearest ally and attack. Shining Force this ain’t, a fact which becomes painfully clear once you unlock most of your abilities about 10-15 hours into the game and realize you’ll be using the exact same tactics for almost every single encounter thereafter.
Interestingly, the story does take an understated approach to a detail that’s mostly just alluded to in the title: Despite its provincial look, Lunar is set far in the future on Earth’s partially terraformed moon. Nothing else in Lunar is nearly so subtle, though… especially not Working Designs’ affection for poop jokes. So really, the two were a perfect fit, and it’s really no exaggeration to say that Lunar played a respectable role in improving the English localization standards of Japanese RPGs. Especially once publishers realized YOU DON’T HAVE TO SHOUT.
Article by Jeremy Parish
GameSpite Journal 12: Lunar: The Silver Star (Sega CD)