|It's a beautiful time for RPG
fans. Plots become more epic, cutscenes become FMVs, and we all end up spending way too
much time in front of the tv. But total envelopment is illusive because of constant little
reminders that the world we're exploring is imperfect. Or, in the case of games like
Xenogears, every time a character speaks. Pre-rendered backgrounds only make it more
obvious that the characters are crude heaps of polygons. And the third dimension has given
gamers a whole new angle on pixels. I'm as excited as the next guy about the future of
RPGs, especially on console systems, but I, like many others hanker for the good ole days.
Actually, I'm lying. There were no "good ole days." Problems like the ones listed above have plagued gamerkind for eons. The rough edges are no problem, as long as the interactive elements are compelling. And, when done just right, it is possible to create a game that is beautiful and involving, regardless of the technological limitations. What's better than that? Revision.
Nothing's really all that great the first time around Star Wars, sex, beer. All great, sure, but they benefit from thoughtful contemplation and improvement. Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete is one of those things that was great the first time around, and still packs a serious wallop.
When LSSS was released on the Sega CD it gained a sizeable and devoted following. The game was improved and re-released on the Saturn, and was a huge hit. The demand warranted a PlayStation version of the game, and Working Designs brought it to America. Thank goodness.
LSSS Complete is a shining example of what RPGs should be. It incorporates excellent FMVs, an epic storyline, and impeccable control to create a gaming experience that makes you feel all warm and glowy inside. The play graphics are quintessentially old-school. Hand drawn backgrounds and 2D environments make the game feel early nineties, but the controls and scope of the story rival any modern RPG.
The new version of the game has undergone significant improvements. All the cutscenes are now anime FMVs, full screen and beautiful. There is a huge amount of spoken dialogue, and the characters have been aged. The storyline has also been broadened, so the game is in no way a repeat for veterans. The basic story, however, has remained the same: You play Alex as he and his friends, including the blue-haired temptress, Luna, begin an adventure that will change their lives. Alex aspires to become a Dragon Master, guardian of the goddess Althena. Along the way, the group becomes involved with the leaders of the world in a fight between good and evil, with the lives of their families and friends at stake. So it's not a completely original story, but it's told well.
LSSSC has many tongue-in-cheek jokes that make the play that much more fun. The translation is hands-down the best I have seen so far. Working Designs really deserves kudos for the care and attention that LSSSC received in the US. References abound to popular culture, such as Star Wars and Austin Powers, and many of them are on the "blue" side. There are veiled jokes about drinking, sex, and masturbation to spice things up. Along these lines follows the absolutely flagrant use of anime hotties. Being a sucker for anime hotties, I can't help but want to play to the next cutscene. There are springs where your characters can be seen in the strategically-placed buff, and you can collect pin-ups of each of the female characters in the game.
But even if you're not into ogling hand drawn anime characters, there's always the gameplay to coo about. Navigation is fairly standard: You move around a world map as little balloon-headed icons. When entering an area with enemies your characters all suck up into the Alex icon, and you can navigate among the monsters. I much prefer being able to see, and sometimes evade, monsters rather than randomly encountering them with no warning. It makes for quicker trips through dangerous areas.
The battle screen on LSSSC seems like a contemporary RPG. There is an AI option, to allow the computer to fight your fights for you, and the standard battle options: Run, Attack, Defend, Magic, and Item. Battles are quick and dirty when they need to be, and there is a lot of strategy involved in fighting a boss. I put Lunar's battles on par with any contemporary RPG out there.
Of course, the biggest criticism of LSSSC is the game graphics. They are 2D, balloon-headed and follow-the-leader style. We've grown out of that, right? Wrong. After playing some of the great RPGs to come out in the past year, I found it refreshing to not see any pixels or sharp-edged polygons. The settings and characters are simple, but they feel much more finished than some of the gameplay graphics on newer games. I also found that the use of audio people telling their stories helped overcome the graphic simplicity. The sound-bridge added a refreshing breath of multimedia.
If you can, run out and pick up the collector's edition of the game. It comes with a hard-bound manual, a cloth map of the world of Lunar, a soundtrack and a "Making of Lunar" CD. The manual is gorgeous, with full color illustrations and a silky bookmark ribbon. The map the map kind of looks like a screen-printed hankie, and doesn't have very many towns shown on it, but what the hell. It's a real snazzy hanky. The soundtrack is a game soundtrack. I have close personal friends who really love anime and import video game music, but for the life of me I have never understood it. I like that Luna sings so much in LSSSC, it gives the game a musical feel that's unique, but I don't see it winning a Grammy. Well, maybe a Grammy, but not a good award.
"The Making of Lunar" is actually really cool. It is an hour or so, and is a pretty complete documentary. They interview both the Japanese and American developers. There's a wacky Japanese guy talking about "Mr. Sega CD" and "Mr. PlayStation" and how their storytelling styles differ, and the contrast between the look of Japanese and American programmers is always worth a laugh. Overall, the film is quite enlightening, and brings new Lunar players up to speed. The disc also includes a mini-game called Lords of Lunar. LoL is an up to eight player game of Pong. Each player picks a character and castle (a square of bricks on the board) and then tries to keep the little ball from wiping out all of their bricks.
Overall, the LSSSC package is just too good to miss. It's an RPG, but it's a film, and it's more than either of those. Nostalgia needn't even enter the equation; play LSSSC because it's a great game.