April 6, 2010

Catching Up With Lunar: Silver Star Harmony

Filed under: Editorial Rants — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 12:55 pm

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony
Lunar sets the stage by opening with a bit of classic RPG drama, pitting archetypal heroes against a formidable evil – the game seemingly beginning where most others would end. The ensuing battle, which players cannot lose, offers a taste of the combat system and some understanding toward the world awaiting an expanded narrative.

And when the heroes have proved victorious, the player discovers that these events are being recounted for two children, Alex and Luna, living in a cozy home on a hill – two characters who quickly emerge as young adults, ready to have the player assume responsibility for them as they set off on their own adventures, greatly inspired by the heroic tales they grew up listening to.

The sequence represents a clever approach to establishing the world of Lunar, putting some ground beneath the player’s feet about where they are starting out from, as well as foreshadowing the challenges that wait ahead. It’s a beautiful way to open a game, offering some instant justification as to why the title has seen so many revisits over the years, revisits that cause the world nostalgia to easily attach itself to this PSP remake.

And while that word fits for anyone familiar with earlier versions, nostalgic leanings don’t keep Silver Star Harmony from proving as competitive and compelling as any other on-the-go RPG in recent memory.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony

Lunar doesn’t break out of the gate with a shock and awe approach meaning to convince you that its world is the most original to date, or that its narrative is the greatest story ever told – a habit that does seem to plague the genre.

The game is instead preoccupied with small moments, like a snowball rolling downhill, gathering strength and speed until the avalanche of charm is undeniable.

You’ll find the evidence of that claim in silly little stories you might mention to friends while playing it – such as when I happened to talk with a villager only to find out that my comical sidekick, Ramus, had ripped him off, and I suddenly had to pay the bill.

The game devotes plenty of focus to character moments, offering an entire cut-scene to a musical sequence with Luna as she sings about her feelings for Alex. And if that late-night song on the deck of a ship caught me off guard, it’s because it seems still so refreshing for a game to offer its filmic seduction to character moments rather than the favored battle scenes and monster attacks found in so many other titles.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony
On the other hand, there’s a quickened pace to events in the game that doesn’t allow for character interactions and emotional conflicts to drag out like one might expect from an RPG. Sometimes this leaves certain dramatic moments feeling a tad rushed, and often quickly resolved – a habit that implies more emotion at times than is genuinely demonstrated.

The counter-balance is the way the pacing also creates a roller-coaster ride of oddities, continually presenting the player with bizarre and quirky characters like road signs reading “random fun ahead” on the way toward the plot proper. Perhaps a good example is a strange old witch the player must seek out, who may or may not be keeping pets for food and have desires to eat the player as well, only to then offer a crucial item and let the player carry on without disruption.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony
The most noticeable drag on the game is loading times – entering a building, changing screens, or generally causing the PSP to think about anything requires a few moments that are hard to ignore given the frequency.

This isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but some pauses for cut-scenes will likely cause many to question the purpose of said scenes at times – did I really need an establishing shot of a harbor? Again, this isn’t a major flaw, in the same way that cut-scene animations aren’t able to fill the PSP’s screen – just elements to consider. The animation stands up admirable, with a slightly dated feel that I find more engaging than anything freshly created might have offered.

I’m earnestly unsure what to say about the dialogue, given the love of many for Working Design’s original translation. The script still offers plenty of humor and varying degrees of the ridiculous, but I’m simply not enough of a puritan for the original to pretend I can offer a more complex and thorough comparison.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony
Besides, the priority of interest for Silver Star Harmony deserves some anchoring on the battle system, which offers a surprisingly refreshing game on the PSP this year – and not only because the animation of characters and actions look great on the handheld, which they very much do. A battle begins as in almost any other RPG, with enemies on one side of the screen and the player’s party on the other. And then as commands start being issued, there’s a strange taste of strategy that plays out as all these characters begin moving.

Attacking an enemy will cause characters to move toward them in order to carry out said attack, only allotted a set amount of movement per turn so that there are times where characters are simply too far away to fully complete the command.

There are no squares to rigidly mark how far a character can move however, rather you simply get a sense of the distance while playing, and suddenly there’s a need to reconsider which characters carry swords versus bows and which enemies they should be assigned to attack.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony
Now where this really gets interesting is in the way enemies vary attacks based on their positioning with the player’s party. Many enemies will use more devastating attacks, such as poisonings, when they are further away from the party members. And so staying close to enemies is often advantageous, and in turn enemies will often attempt to move away when crowded. Then again, staying close to an enemy invites getting repeatedly clubbed in the head, and so there’s a need to get familiar with enemy attack patterns in a hurry.

In addition, some spells and special attacks will target an enemy plus an area, giving incentive to attacking when opponents mistakenly gather in clusters. The entire affair becomes something of a dance that earnestly makes the entire game feel refreshing.

These battles are instigated by running into enemies who are visible while exploring dungeons and other locales, which offers an opportunity to slip by some if desired. Sometimes the drawback is that a few enemies can cluster in an area and force the player into three battles back to back.

The maps are fairly simplistic, offering variant paths that lead to extra treasure chests. That straightforward nature along with the fairly light challenge offered by most enemies might lessen the urge for some RPG fanatics – but take the simplicity of the maps and the ability to save at any time via the menu, and Lunar on the go is one of the easiest choices I’ve come across for a mobile RPG fix this year.

Plus no other game this year has a flying cat creature that heals character’s status during battle – in theory at least – Nall never seems to want to help me out.


  1. What I really want to know if is this version of the game enough to get a PSP (used, of course) to get a chance to play it. I own Eternal Blue for the PSX but I haven’t been able to track down a copy of Silver Star Story…

    Comment by EdEN — April 6, 2010 @ 7:39 pm

  2. I don’t know about buying a PSP just for this game, but I really do like this remake. I’ve been looking for a copy on PS1 for awhile myself and feel much less concerned about it after getting this on PSP – all versions have the battlefield movement, but the battlefield interactions on the PSP and the way it all looks in motion has really won me over.

    Comment by Jamie Love — April 7, 2010 @ 7:59 am

  3. Mmm, I might get a used PSP 2000 during the end of summer because now I have 6 games I’d like to play and are only on the PSP. I’m still waiting for Sony to realize they could be getting more revenue by allowing PSP games to be played on a PS3 as you can with Minis but still…

    Comment by EdEN — April 7, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

  4. I have yet to play this version, but Lunar is right up there with Chrono Trigger as all-time great RPGs. The only flaw? The buttrock intro in the SEGA CD version isnt included.

    Comment by Jeffrey L. Wilson — April 16, 2010 @ 12:08 am

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