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)
11 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Lunar The Silver Star”
“…top-notch character designs from that tragically fleeting era between the ’80s and Evangelion”
Ah! Thank you; now it all makes sense. I’d been thinking that I appreciated Japanese designs and characters from this period more than others due to my impressionable age at the time, combined with nostalgia.
No, anime of the late ’80s and early ’90s had a really distinctive aesthetic that disappeared under the withering double-blow of Evangelion and digital paint.
Oh man, Lunar. I so loved this game. Still have both my Sega CD and PSX remake. It’s one of those games that I have nothing but fond memories of once I figured out an early sticking point. Especially considering how I just squeaked by the final fight with Ghaleon* with Alex being the last one standing and everything.
*Yes, yes, “not just blah blah, Magic Emperor yadda yadda yadda.”
I played through the Lunar port on PSP and I didn’t catch the fact that it took place on our moon, Luna. If it’s supposed to be set in our universe, where did all the magic and monsters come from?
That’s all part of the terraforming process.
Everything else aside, that last screenshot brings me right back to that nineties Double Dragon cartoon. With the code, the code of the dragon.
I have nothing but great memories of Lunar back then, the great story-twists really worked and surprised me and the music kept me hooked through the whole adventure. Although its a lot more polished on PSone and Saturn, I still prefer the Mega CD Lunar.
My memory of this game is being completely blown away by the fact that Working Designs went back to the original developers and got not only new animations but significant re-arranging and expansion of existing plot events for the PSX version. That kind of trans-Pacific collaboration was just about unheard of, and is still pretty rare to this day.
The original incarnation of Lunar was great, and my first introduction to what the Sega CD had to offer. Of course, a few years of retrospection allows for that, given that I didn’t get one until the launch of the Dreamcast.
As great as the game is, though, my most fond memory of playing through the game was rapping on the top of my Model 2 Sega CD to rectify the game’s tendency to freeze at the end of battles when it would fail to load an audio track. A case where hitting something actually works? Madness.
I didn’t play the original, but the PSX remake was quite good, even with an aged battle system that was so-so when it was new. Ghaleon was a fantastic villain, and the game even threw a curve ball at you when a minor (optional?) plot point reveals that Ghaleon isn’t evil at all; he just thought humanity’s newfound freedom from the Goddess came with too much suffering. It’s an order vs. chaos, safety vs. freedom matchup without needing to beat you over the head to get that point across.
I personally enjoyed the GBA version.
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