Our weekly Thursday ‘Throwback Bit’ section has gathered a good deal of popularity over the past few months. Remembering old games is always good – if nostalgic – and today’s chosen game is no different. Lunar: Silver Star Story is a monumental RPG that some presentation standards in place, standards that have been attributed to Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy.
Perhaps, or at least partially, the reason for why we don’t hear much about Lunar: Silver Star Story (or The Silver Star as it was originally titled) today when talking “All Time Great J-RPGs” is that the game made its debut on the failed Sega CD add-on.
From the very start, the Lunar series was fated to fall into obscurity. The Sega CD, was one of Sega’s worst ill-conceived ideas during its shaky 90’s run which was full of many ill-conceived ones. The CD add-on was meant to complement the Genesis (Mega-Drive), but at $300 dollars, the system was a very bad business decision by Sega, and one that ultimately contributed to the company’s demise as a hardware maker.
With only 2 million units sold globally, the Sega CD didn’t present Lunar (The Silver Star) with an opportunity to reach a large audience in the same way that the SNES provided Final Fantasy IV, and VI a massive market of hungry RPG gamers to conquer.
Most of us who played Lunar, had to wait for Working Designs to bring the collection to the original PlayStation console in 1999. The game had also made an appearance on the ill fated Sega Saturn a few years prior.
The game would sell – somewhat – well on the PS1 (200,000 copies during the first year), it was still a far cry from other titles with in the genre, as 1999 was right in the midst of the Japanese-Role Playing Game era’s peak.
Many critics didn’t receive the game as well as they had 7 years prior. Some of them panned its 2-D visuals, and really did not give the game a proper examination.
Lunar, as the Silver Star Story Complete edition was a victim of the times, as 3-D gaming was all the rage then. However, a level headed perspective is always needed when examining old games, particularly old JRPGs.
In 1999, Lunar’s once upon a time engrossing story line, seemed cliched and predictable. But it was only ‘cliched’ because many games emulated what the game had originally done in 1992. So, it is hard for me attack the game for having familiar RPG troupes in 1999, when in fact, the game established many of these troupes in 1992.
Even then, in its PS1 days, one thing would be hard to argue. Whether by virtue of being a Working Designs’ published title, or because the original Japanese script was THAT good; Lunar’s written dialog was superior to anything that had been mustered by the genre at that point (including Final Fantasy VI, VII, VIII).
Go ahead, boot up Lunar today, and prepare to laugh at the clever humor of characters whose lines had personality in each sentence. If ever a game felt like I had played a good anime saga, that game was Lunar.
Underneath the great world, atmosphere, and overall storyline that FFVI still possesses today, its written dialog has aged badly. The bland translation is partly to blame, but the fact of the matter is that the game wasn’t designed with great character chatter in mind.
Lunar also established the modern standard for RPG presentation when it introduced anime sequences to accompany its storyline. The Sega CD allowed for this innovative technique – along with voice acting – to be used at the time, as the SNES was incapable of it (thanks to cartridge’s memory constraints).
Still, Lunar’s story and progression was similar to most post 16-bit era RPGs, and it did it before anyone in 1992.
Many might hate me for what I am about to say in the following sentence, but here it goes: Lunar: The Silver Star, not Final Fantasy IV, was the first truly engrossing J-RPG in terms of storytelling.
It was, play both today, and if you are free of a ‘fanboy-ish’ mindset you will see that this is true. Lunar wasn’t a slouch in the gameplay department either. Character placement in battles could make a world of difference, as well as choosing how to properly utilize your party members during each turn based encounter.
Lunar: Silver Star Story was 28 hours of pure fun for me, and its enjoyable tale, and set of characters have aged like fine wine.
The game can be pricey, but there is a Game Boy Advance remake called Lunar Legend and PSP reboot called Lunar: Silver Star Harmony. I can’t vouch for the quality of those titles, but the PlayStation’s Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete is a 10/10 JRPG in my modest opinion.