Rated: 3 / 5
“In the old days, we used to get through the gameplay so we could get to the cutscenes. Nowadays, we need to get through the cutscenes so we can get to the gameplay.”
— Some Youtuber or Bitchuter whose name I forgot
So this is a classic J-RPG game that appeared on the Playstation system. But this isn’t its first appearance. That would be on the Sega CD (or Sega Saturn?) in Japan in 1996. There is some debate as to which version is superior (most go with the Playstation version), but I’m not going to get into that. I have only played the PSX version, so I’m only going to be reviewing the PSX version.
Yes, once again I got sucked into playing the time of game that tends to become the bane of my existence. A J-RPG, with all its grinding and repetitive combat. However, this game did one thing different from most others (aside from Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana) to make it stand out. It doesn’t have random battles. When you journey in the overworld, there won’t be any sudden flash and you’re suddenly in a fight. Nope. Any monsters that you can fight, you can see. Heck, you can even try to avoid them by moving around them and trying to avoid them so they won’t touch you and start a fight. So that was very much appreciated.
As for the battles themselves, you do get to move around on an invisible grid, and can re-organize the position of your characters. Sometimes this matters, as you’ll want some melee guys to start closer to the front in order to attack enemies earlier on, as opposed to risking them moving a distance and not being close enough to execute their attack. While as the ranged attackers and magic casters you’ll usually want in the back, so that they can be (temporarily) safe from enemy attacks. Though late in the game, this won’t matter, as you’ll come across enemies that can move all the way from one end of the screen to the other, so the distance won’t matter in that regard. But you will start to watch out for area attacks, which will encourage you to have the characters keep their distance from one another (and you can have them move to a different position mid-battle via the Defend action, which in addition to raising their defense just for that round, also allows you to move them to a different spot). So combat isn’t completely mindless, and it also allows you to set tactics (just a fancy way of having decisions inputted ahead of time, similar to Phantasy Star IV, so that you won’t bother continually inputting the same attacks against the same enemies over and over again). But for the most part, it’s not all that deep/complex either.
Sure there will be some enemies more susceptible to certain attack types than others. But once you figure those weaknesses out, the monotony will set in. And it doesn’t take long to figure the weaknesses out, and set tactics accordingly (though that might not be a viable option if you want area attacks to hit the largest amount of targets possible, in which case you’ll just have to do the manual method, which is standard procedure for virtually all J-RPGs). Thankfully, aside from a few areas in the game, random battles aren’t so frequent as to drive you insane. Once you have your party of 5 that you’ll spend most of the game with, and you have all their abilities unlocked (they each have a maximum of 6, which get unlocked at certain levels, no customization there, which I’m fine with), you’ll basically be implementing the same moves against bosses over and over again. The only difference being with the last boss where you’ll actually have to rely more heavily on reviving and healing characters, and equipping them with anti-magic armors.
The most valuable items in the game is easily the silver stars (which makes sense, considering they’re in the title; though their relevance seems strictly limited to the gameplay, as they’re not mentioned in the story). They completely restore a character’s MP. Use those as sparingly as possible until you get to the last 3-4 bosses. You will be begging for them at that point.
But that’s just the combat system. And let’s face it, when it came to RPGs made since Phantasy Star II and Final Fantasy III (among others I’m sure), the battle systems (and thus the core gameplay) became secondary to what people want to get out of these types of games. The story and characters come first. So, how are they in this well revered classic title?
In one word: cliche.
In terms of plot cliche, I was mostly ok with that. Because the story hits just about all the beats I’d expect out of a traditional fantasy story (at least in terms of anime-style fantasy stories). There’s dragons, a love interest you’ll have to save at some point, interesting characters who join and make up your party, and solid plot progression up until the finale. The finale in-of-itself isn’t necessarily bad, just that the pacing doesn’t have anywhere to go at that point, so it flatlines at a high point, and stays there for a while until you beat the last boss (and assuming you use some intelligence with the brief gameplay moment that follows, such as saving immediately afterwards). It was all just, “All right all right, I get it, we have to climb up the villain’s tower, going through waves of enemies and solve some fucking puzzles, and work our way towards the last boss, while hoping we don’t use up all our MP and HP restoration items along the way. Can we just get to it already?” This isn’t something most will find problematic; and honestly, I’m nitpicking here a bit.
And speaking of anime, the cutscenes in this film are anime cutscenes. Of course, there’s the usual sprite animation with dialogue boxes. But every once in a while, you’re treated to something that stands out (title screen intro aside). And they’re fine. If nothing else, they do make things more memorable. For the most part, they’re limited to introducing characters. Every once in a while, they are used for pivotal moments (which means they’re more prevalent during the last act).
That being said, there’s this one moment with a cutscene where we’re introduced to this old inventive geezer, who is built up to be anti-social and be a bit smelly. So to emphasize this, they have him blow out a fart at the last moment of the cutscene. I’m willing to bet money that the American studios put that sound effect in for the hell of it. And I won’t complain, because I fucking lost it. I don’t care if it’s immature, I found it hilarious.
But when I saw this other moment where some guy asks, “How many licks does it take to get to the inside of a Tootsie-Roll?” that’s when I slapped my hands onto my knees and shouted, “All right, that’s it! There’s no fucking way that’s an honest translation of the original Japanese version!” So I went to look up if there were any differences between the Japanese and American versions, and sure enough, there’s plenty.
English version: Japanese version:
Person there (not the guardian) asks about how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop. Person there (not the guardian) muses about what might happen if Vane were to fall to the ground
I mean, granted, I got a good laugh knowing that they decided to go all MXC and Ghost Stories on the translation at brief moments, but at the same time I wish they were a bit more respectful to the source material. I mean what were they thinking? I can understand the rationalization for throwing in a, “Milk, it does a body good,” line for the sake of encouraging the kids playing the game to drink milk and have healthy bones. But some of this other shit? Ah whatever, it was entertaining.
And lastly, it’s possible to acquire images of the female characters in a more somewhat revealing fashion (not THAT revealing, this isn’t a ecchi/hentai game here; but I might get to one of those on a later time). It’s shameless, though at one point it does actually serve a legit purpose. Seeing a character that is equipped with one of these images (and increases his wisdom by one level, thus increasing his magic power; hah), it gives insight into his character and his motives, and gives an earlier explanation in regards to his action and how he acts as a guardian to a character. It’s a nice touch honestly. But no such excuse can be made for some of these other images.
It gets a little more shameless too when you make to one of two hot springs (the first one you encounter will be for men only, the second for women only). If you have a bar of soap (an item so rare, there’s only 3 of them in the entire game), you can initiate an animation scene of the characters bathing (it’s not as good as you would think; this is mainstream 90s standards we’re talking here). One with all the men, and a bit of man-ass so extreme they had to fuzz it out for the censors (stupid). Two with the women. One soap shows one woman bathing, a second soap shows the other bathing. Honestly, they deliberately make it a pain in the ass to get to that second hot spring for the women, doing their best to cocktease the player, and the reward for it is just so-so. Not to mention the very very difficult enemies to fight through don’t reward all that much XP. Don’t make the mistake I did of using up a silver star to get through that. On top of that, you also have to change the fucking disc when you do this at the women’s spring. And then you have to change it back to disc 1 when you start to head towards the semi-final area, and then change the fucking disc back to disc 2 again after the fucking cutscene plays showing you heading towards the destination. All because you wanted to see scantily clad women taking a fucking with without any nudity to show for it (oh, but showing young nude man-ass is fine, especially for the pedophiles who want a piece of that). It’s not worth it, and neither is the animation, especially when it’s online.
All that aside, what did I think of the game? It’s just ok. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, but it’s not something I think I’ll find myself playing again. Even with the (unintentional) hilarious dialogue and line delivery during the final cutscenes. And this began to make me realize why I prefer some JRPGs over others. Obviously, fun combat is a huge bonus, which most of these don’t have by my standards. Tales of Symphonia on the GCN is a notable exception, as it’s more on the real-time side. But combat is never enough for games like these.
Which is why I think back to the one game I hold a special place for, Final Fantasy VII (and you all probably sigh and think, “Oh of course it is; you’re as cliche as the shit you criticize.”). Why does that game stay so memorable after all these years? It’s certainly not because of the combat. And the plot is great and all, but that’s not the main thing I remember about it either. Nope, it’s the characters. At the core, the characters are the binds that hold these games together. If the characters aren’t solid and memorable, then neither is the game (unless the plot and gameplay is exceptional, which is very difficult considering how pretty much all JRPG combat systems are, “been there, done that,” and the plot isn’t interesting unless the characters are as well). In fact, the reason why FFVII worked so well is because the plot served into the character development so well, in a mature way. There’s none of that, “Oh no, our best friend is kidnapped and being seduced by the dark side; we must save her!” Or, “He killed my town/friend/family/dog, I must avenge him/them!” Or at least that doesn’t serve as the basis of it all. In FFVII, it’s about reconciling with the past, trying to be better than you are, even if you seem destined never to be. And not having any of that, “You are prophesied to become the savior of the world,” which is also too commonplace, including in Lunar. It’s more personal. It’s more about the character and those close to him/her than it is about the fate of the world.
It’s a bit difficult to put this into words without coming off as hypocritical, since Lunar basically does this too. Your best friend and love interest can sing so well that she’s a goddess that others want to exploit so they can take over the world. Personally, I find the problem to be that the character’s problem and motivation is linked too directly to the plot, too directly linked to saving the world. The characters are in service to the plot rather than the plot being in service to the characters. The struggle adheres too closely to the plot. In FFVII, the character’s issues are binded less closely to the whole story (by “story,” I mean the whole fate of the world thing, or fate of a kingdom, continent, whatever) than it is to just themselves. For instance, one of the most memorable things about FFVII is Cloud’s internal struggle with himself. How he couldn’t seem to handle reality, so he mentally blocked out certain memories and made up others, in an attempt to avoid his failures and claim the success’ of others as his own. Only to realize, with some assistance from Tifa, who has to go into his mind (in a sense) to show him how he did act as a hero and succeed in doing something to help others. Plus his mental issues aren’t entirely his own, he was subject to some mental cleansing of a kind that’s not entirely his own.
Learning more and more about Cloud and his personal struggles, we get more hooked on that character, rooting for him to overcome these issues. And that’s another key factor. The protagonist is flawed. He has flaws that he hasn’t reconciled yet that he needs reconciled. Such flaws are not present in the protagonist in Lunar. While he does struggle to gain the powers and skills to save the world, and we see him go through those trials and tribulations (unlike Mary Sue Rey from Star Wars), his struggles begin and end there. There’s nothing else to him. All those struggles relate directly towards saving the world. There’s nothing personal enough about it. Even Phantasy Star IV had a moment of self-doubt for the protagonist where he considered where his priorities lie and if they should lie with the fate of the world (it was half-assed about it and not altogether satisfying, but it was something). Because a character’s flaws, and how they seek to overcome them, are what make them memorable. Cloud isn’t the only character in FFVII to have these issues, but he is the most significant one (of course, he is the protagonist).
In Lunar, a couple side characters have these moments and issues. But they are so trite, especially in anime. And they primarily lie with the men. The women are the ones who end up knocking some sense into them, because they’re the stronger ones with fewer faults, naturally (which is one of the reasons I dislike many females in anime, something I’m sure I’ll dig into on another review of something). Seriously, I hate this anime cliche of the women disparaging the men from acting as perverts and wannabe wise dudes, because they are so superior to them and must show them the error of their ways. When the fuck is it the other way around in these stories!? That’s all I was thinking whenever Luna and Jessica yelled at or smacked their “boyfriend” for acting out. And the girls don’t ever show any such faults themselves. Thinking back on it, I don’t recall Tifa in FFVII having such faults, but at least she had the decency not to act all morally superior to them (and having the male characters being written to be deliberately lesser than the female counterparts on a moral/wisdom level). She struggled alongside them in her own way.
Jesus, that was quite a tangent. I’m probably going to have to replay FFVII one of these days just to see if it holds up as well as I would like to believe (not the combat though; aside from the ATB system being real-time, it’s forgettable overall in that regard, as is most JRPGs).
Anyway, so that’s why I couldn’t completely get into Lunar Silver Star Story, and why I likely won’t ever play it agian. The characters were to cliche and shallow by my standards. It’s a fun time while it lasts, and I’m glad I played it just to say I did so. And if you prefer the more cliche traditional anime fantasy JRPG games, this one is likely up your alley.
PS: And that one villain, Royce, was a very annoying bitch. Able to teleport in and out of any situation, always screwing with the characters, always talking high and mighty while sending monsters out to get you while not doing anything herself (until the end). She got on my nerves real fast.
PS: Well, if this game isn’t going to give me fan service for all that hard work to get to the hot springs, I’ll bring some myself!