Lunar: Silver Star Harmony

PlayStation Portable

Reviewed: 3/15/2010

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony begins at the end of the legend of the Four Heroes. Ghaleon, Hell Mel, Lemia, and Dragonmaster Dyne interrupt the ramblings of Eiphel, a self-styled dark lord, who is attempting to siphon the power of the Goddess Althena. After some very brief characterization, the player takes control of the Four Heroes and their battle against Eiphel. This is the tutorial. The game never tells the player what to do, but losing the battle is impossible. Lunar fantastically allows the player to figure out how the battle system works without explicitly stating what everything does. The only hand-holding present is the lack of a ‘game over’ while doing so. It is rare to see a game forgo a proper tutorial in the RPG genre, and this allows Lunar to open up a good note.

After this opening, the game picks up 15 years later with Alex, Luna, Nall and Ramus; three good buddies and a flying cat living in the nowhere village of Burg. The boys dream of adventures bigger than they, symbolized by Dragonmaster Dyne’s monument. Dyne was a hometown hero, and an inspiration to the characters. In true hero-story fashion, everyone’s wishes for adventure are granted. Alex is the focal member of the quest and the story revolves around his desire to accomplish his dreams and protect those he loves.

The plot does not offer the player heavy moral questions. Indeed, the game gives the player good and bad choices several times, and the bad choices do not matter. Even when light is shone on the worst parts of Lunar; such as slavery, forced labor, and the inability for a race of people to stand on their own two feet, the plot glosses over it. Lunar is the poster child of feel-good games. This is not a bad thing. Lunar exists as an antidote to any game taking itself too seriously.

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Characterization is huge in Lunar. The player can talk to an NPC and one of the party members will often chime in with their own thoughts and feelings. Talking to the same NPC might also warrant another point of view from a different party member. Most of the interaction is comedic, yet the jokes reinforce the traits each character possesses.

The translation of Silver Star Harmony is very well done. It’s not without occasional flub, but among the Silver Star titles, this is the best translation available. It has fun with the game without being absurd or needing to rely on outside sources. The nature of Lunar is not too serious, and appears to have allowed the localization team some leeway with writing dialogue. It is also by no means a direct translation, and even pokes fun at the Working Design localization with the bar in Saith’s Star Wars quote and Myght’s declaration to Team Alex “Delays are temporary. Mediocrity is forever.” While dialogue during cutscenes can devolve into much-abused phrases since Lunar’s initial inception, the rest of the game is handled very well.

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The characters do experience growth over time beyond their stats. Even so, Lunar is a game which wears it heart on its sleeve, and much of the plot is predictable even given the time period the game is from. However, since the game is a remake, it is hard to pin down whether or not Lunar’s characters are prototypical or stereotypical. Either way, it is enjoyable to travel along with them.

Lunar’s combat system stands apart from many RPGs available. It is turn-based. Every turn, the player chooses each character’s attack, skill or item functions, and combat is fought according to which character or enemy has the highest speed. Where Lunar differs is that on the battlefield, placement matters. This adds an element of strategy to each battle, as spells and attacks target individuals, an area, or the whole field. Additionally, players can set up the party’s formation along a grid so the members start out to the player’s advantage. Keeping characters apart prevents attacks from an area driven spell. Characters and enemies alike have a number of steps they can take during their turn. Putting weaker characters along the player’s side of the battlefield can keep them out of reach of the enemy’s range. The combat system itself is very good, and lends well to a console title.

The downside there is that it’s on a handheld device, and battles can drag on. Handheld games ideally would have a faster battle system to facilitate the on-the-go nature of a portable gaming machine. The battle system does have an AI function, or the player can set up commands for the characters to follow. Both hands-off systems suffer from massive retardation. If three monsters are in a diagonal row, and attacking the middle monster with an area spell will allow the other two enemies to be targeted, the computer will attack a monster on the end of the row. It winds up artificially extending the battle and makes it so inputting the commands one-by-one is the player’s best choice. The AI is even worse, and will use items and attacks at leisure even if the normal attacks would definitely kill the enemy. Normally this is not a problem towards the end of the game where the player has a surplus of everything, but one would still think the computer would be a little smarter. A decent AI would have helped move the game along a little faster. At least the game allows the player to save anywhere outside of battle and cutscenes.

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The game is also very easy. Not once were the words ‘game’ and ‘over’ ever displayed on the PSP at the same time while Lunar was being played. The AI may be stupid, but the player has nothing to fear outside of boss battles and fights involving Greater Demons. Even the end boss posed little threat, even if a player decided not to use the game’s Artes system –- a system where the player gains excessively powerful attacks with pointless portrait cut-ins after a meter fills up. The meter fills up very quickly, by the way. The Artes system is an implementation from the Game Boy Advance version of Lunar. While Game Arts deserves kudos for implementing the best elements from prior remakes of Lunar, the Artes system takes a very easy game and makes it pathetically easy. Lunar has little challenge to offer players.

The World Map is made up of points to travel to by selecting their location. There is no overworld to traverse. Dungeons are well-designed and have multiple paths, often leading to treasure. Dungeons are also short, an excellent design choice for a handheld game. Enemies in the game are visible on-screen, eliminating random battles. Both of these features help balance out the slow battles, as encounters are less frequent than in other RPGs. Monsters can be avoided with the dash feature present by clicking the right shoulder button, but this is often futile in smaller areas of a dungeon, or requires a great deal of practice. If it were not for the terrible AI, Lunar would have a very good battle system for a portable title. As it stands, the system balances out to an average.

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The story is told through both the in-game sprites and animated cutscenes. The cutscenes are from the PlayStation version of the game and were great during their time. Some retouching appears to have been added, and almost all of the cutscenes translate well to the PSP. Some cutscenes were apparently not shown as much love as others; the hot-air balloon sequence has horrible artifacts compared to other animations in the game.

The backgrounds are colorful, bright, and highly attractive. Every area seems filled with energy, a phrase hard to type out but well meant with Silver Star Harmony. It was fun to check out all the little details the dungeons and towns had to offer. The character sprites look great too. They do not have the animation detail of other recent sprite-based titles, yet the characters are as bright and attractive as the backgrounds. Except Kyle — dude’s battle sprite makes him look like a gorilla.

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Battle animations are well-done. The art seems to recreate the super-deformed or big-head style in a new and pleasing way. Since faces are represented by a portrait of the character, the bodies of the characters have become more detailed. Alex’s Sword Dance looks awesome, and the magic-using characters are shown posing their arms and hands while casting. Outside of battle characters interact with each other through their sprites, but the detail is not as prevalent as the battle sprites. There are still plenty of minor details that make viewing the game pleasant.

The portraits are good and frequent, and share the same bright colors as the rest of the game. Graphically, Silver Star Harmony’s sprites are a credit to 2D games.

The music is also very good. This is the first time Lunar’s music was noticeable, as for this version, the music was redone with actual instruments. It really works. Some of the dungeon themes evoke other games, and though tunes are replayed often, they never get tiring. Alex and Luna’s ocarina and singing are classic within the game. I found myself whistling along with music, and while the tunes will fade from memory over an hour’s worth of time, the fact they still linger puts them leagues ahead of the instantly forgettable soundtracks featured in other games.

The voice-acting is decent. While no voice stood out, no voice did terrible either. It would have been nice to include the Japanese VAs as an extra, but it is understandable why they were excised given space and/or financial limitations. Sound effects are fairly standard, though different types of enemies had different sounds for moving. Sadly, sound effects will occasionally drop in battle.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony
has loads of extras that are easily missed. The game brings back the PlayStation’s bromides, pictures of the characters in either every day life or, as Nall calls it, “selectively clad.” Additionally, players can boost their Artes repertoire by finding accessories to add more insanely powerful attacks. Both the bromides and accessories are often available at very specific and slightly insane points in the game – sometimes their availability exists between the span of two conversations. After a certain point in the game, the player will also be able to open red chests they have encountered for more items and weapons. This causes the player to backtrack frequently, made much easier in this game by the lack of an overworld. Backtracking also unlocks a slew of character dialogue, an extra on its own thanks to the great localization. The options menu on the title screen also allows the player to listen to sound effects and tracks from the game, which is always a welcome bonus. There is also an item capable of replaying cutscenes sold in the game. Again, this item is available only for a short time. Should the player decide to explore Lunar to its fullest, they will be well-rewarded.

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The game does have some bugs. Sound effects drop in battle, and sprites disappeared while fighting. Once, the game caused the PSP to freeze inexplicably. The version reviewed came from the PSN store, so loading times were not bothersome and the game moved along fast. Outside of the glitches, the game performs rather well.

Replay value is hard to gauge. The game offers little in the way of replay value unless the player wishes to grab missed items or extras. The game’s lack of difficulty can add replay value, though it is safer to say that once a player has beaten Lunar, it will be some time before they come back.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony may seem to be a tough recommendation based on the above review. The plot is predictable, but Lunar is still a fun ride. The localization is the best the game has ever received. The battle system is decent, though the game gets bogged down with slow battles. By the end of the game, the battle system is suited for portable gaming, though the game is terribly easy. The graphics are great, hands down.

Most importantly, it’s a fun game to play. Lunar was in no way a chore to play, from start to finish; it was a fun way to spend time. It comes easily recommended to those looking for a nice way to pass the time in a place where fantasy does not have to look real to be appreciated, and flying cats sing of their love for fish. In the end,  Lunar is something any fan of Japanese role-playing games should experience at least once.
-Russ Ritchey

Score Breakdown
Very Good
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Average
Story Very Good
Graphics Great
Sound/Music Very Good
Replay Value Bad
The Verdict: Very Good