THE FIRST AND THE FINEST
Released for the Sega CD in 1992, this was Game Arts first RPG title (And their best), and while the game was deemed for obscurity thanks to sparse sales of Sega CD units, master publisher and now defunct Working Designs was kind enough to bring the game back again in 1997 in the Saturn, which was also a system doomed to sink in the depths of oblivion. So again Working Designs, must be thanked because finally in 1999 they brought Lunar SSS to the PS1.
For Starters the game went through some minor changes from its Sega CD days to its SAT/PS1 coming out party. While the Story basically remains the same as it was in 1992 complete with the anime scenes and excellent 2-D graphics. Some events were taken out by Working Designs while others were added, such as a new trio of Female Villains. The addition adds to the already epic and excellent story. It is things like this that have always made me believe that a lot of RPGs would have been greatly improved had Working Designs had the chance to work their magic on them (The Granstream Saga I am looking at you).
Other than that Working Designs, made some improvements to the amount of monster encounters in the game, and took away Alex’s Magic abilities which might sound like a chore in theory but actually helps to balance the game out in my view.
This virtually remains the same game that was released in 1992, more or less a year after Final Fantasy IV which is mistakenly given credit for pushing the envelope in RPG storytelling. FFIV had the advantage of been released on the more popular SNES, but using my years of experience in the genre and the fact that I played and finished FFIV to the very end , I can safely say that it was Lunar SSS who pushed the envelope in story telling, and cinematic presentation on RPGS not the FF Series during the 16 bit era.
Indeed RPGs in the 32 bit era probably were all inspired to go into a Cinematic route, by the Lunar series, which featured gorgeous Anime FMVs that added to the experience of the game Story and presentation. Not only that, but the spoken dialog, and just the long epic story coupled with magnificent character development that very few RPGs have been able to equal much less surpass, made this a ground breaking game in its time, and a timeless masterpiece that will be enjoyed by RPG fanatics in any era.
OLD BUT CHARMING
Graphically there isn’t much to say here, except that the artwork has survived well enough that, as long as you don’t have a problem with 2-D graphics in the year 2006, the game will be a treat to the eyes. This is as good as graphics got in the 16 bit generation, the game is up there with FFVI, Lunar 2 and Trigger.
The backgrounds are as bright and as crisp as the characters are, the bosses are beautifully designed, the only downer here is the over simplistic world map, which while pulling the job of delivering a convincing world, it could have been better as even some of the latter SNES RPGs featured better looking and more interactive world maps.
The one thing that hasn’t aged at all (besides the amazing artwork and character design) are the Anime FMVs, which are flawless and very well drawn, and always pop up at the right time and they are always awe inspiring. I cant imagine how jaw dropping this FMVs were for players in 1992, I mean by the time I actually got around to get myself a copy of Lunar now in 2006, I had pretty much seen everything in what FMVs were concerned, so I can only speculate of how awesome they were back in 1992.
IWADARE AT HIS BEST
Noriyuki Iwadare is a premier composer, and Lunar in my opinion is far and away his best work, its amazing that after composing the soundtracks for the three Grandias and Radiata Stories, he still cant quite surpass his work on the two Original Lunars. Its hard to go against Uematsu here, specially because the Sega CD had better sound capabilities than the SNES, but I actually find the soundtrack here superior to that in FFIV and FFV. Stating this speaks more of Lunar SSS greatness rather than demeaning FFVI-V’s orchestrations which are considered rightfully great by this reviewer.
Musically this game sounds better than most post 32 bit era RPGs and that’s saying something. Lunar SSS’s voice acting is superb, and this is to be expected because Working Designs, doesn’t slack in any department, and one of the departments where they really take pride in is voice acting and it shows. The voice acting here is as good as you will hear in any anime series. However there is an issue with the acting that I didn’t particularly find that it was appropriate, Nall is a Male dragon and yet he sounds like a girl, and I don’t mean like a girly man, but like a 6 year old girl. But that’s a small complaint that was never a distraction.
During the cut scenes the sounds effects are high class stuff, really there isn’t enough I can say about the aural quality of the game. It’s on par with the greats in any era.
SIMPLE OLD SCHOOL GAMEPLAY
Any on who has played pre 32 Bit Era RPGs, knows that the entire gameplay set up of old school RPG games has always been: travel to a town to trigger a plot point, which will eventually lead you to a dungeon of some sort, where you will you random battle your way to the boss, and once at the boss you success will depend on how high your party’s level is. After this Rinse and repeat all the way to the end. Lunar does little to move away from this establish formula and the reason for this is that Lunar SSS was one of the very first RPGs ever, so this gameplay mechanic back in 1992 wasn’t considered old.
So prepare to do a lot of Random battling, which shouldn’t really be called random battling because you can actually see your enemies in the screen and can avoid them if you want to in most cases. However avoiding them is not a good idea, because if you do you will get your head handed to you by the tough bosses. I spent many hours out of the 28 it took me to finish, battling to level up, and it was smart on my part because I cleaned the house with the last boss, which still presented a challenge like every other boss in the game.
As long as Alex and Kyle used their sword tech attacks with Jessica as a healer with Nash as either a magic attacker or item user, and Mia powering the characters up, chances are you will be fine. Item management however is very important since you only have few slots for each character to carry healing items. I found that the best strategy was to use all of the slots to put magic restoring items such as silver lights, however you should save those as often as possible and only utilize the blue ones since you can actually buy those.
The World Map doesn’t feature (thankfully) any random encounters which is really a change from the norm, and you can save anywhere in this game which is a super life saver and allows you to save right after the last boss so you can replay the ending as many times as you want! While I don’t know if the save anywhere at anytime feature (except in battles) was a feature in the original 1992 version, even if it was implanted by Working Designs in the Saturn and PS1 release only, it is still a ground breaking achievement in the genre.
The battles are fought in the traditional way of turn based battles you select your commands from an actually diverse (in 1992) menu of options, which include the standard attack, magic attack, item command, run from battle command, AI command, among others. Once your command is selected your actions are carried through, as are the enemies commands, then you will repeat the same process until, either your party or your enemies are defeated.
What Lunar SSS brought to the table that was different from the other RPGS at the time and every RPG into the 32 bit generation, was that the actual placement of your characters in the battle map mattered, because you can actually avoid some magic attacks, by having your characters spread out through out the field. In fact some bosses which use attacks that can harm your entire party if they are together in the battle field, will only damage one or two party members if you strategically place your characters so that they are not always crammed together. The same applies for the enemy groups you can hurt multiple enemies with a magic or tech attack if they are crammed together in the battle map. While Lunar SSS doesn’t completely take advantage of this innovative (at the time) feature, its spiritual sequels, the Grandia series takes full advantage of this.
As far as secrets go there isn’t many that don’t include just finding and opening treasure chests, unlike Lunar 2 which has an epilogue that you can play, when Lunar SSS ends, it ends. However since you actually can go back in to Meribia after beating the last boss, and you can walk around and save, you are given the opportunity to buy a mirror in one of the shops (if you have about 65,000 in money, get 70,000 just to be safe) that will let you see ALL of the FMV movies that occurred during the game, which is a typical Working Designs nice gift to fans. Other than that and the collection of some wall papers with character designs on them, there isn’t much to collect in the game and the game clocks in at a nice 28 hours. Which is roughly then hours less than the amazing Lunar 2. That being said, the game felt just as long as Lunar 2:EB and not because it was dreadful, but because it was just as epic.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT AND DIALOG THAT DOESN’T AGE
Lunar SSS tale is a familiar one, provided that you have been playing RPGs for awhile, Alex is a young man who dreams of becoming a Dragon Master just like his hero Dyne, and along with his love interest Luna, best friend Ramus and Flying cat pal Nall, will embark on a quest to find adventures. However, not all is well in the world of Lunar, and after clearing the first dungeon you will be sent in a globe trotting quest to solve a few mysteries, such as why does Luna have strange dreams and why are young female singers getting kidnapped by the Vile tribe. The game is full of twists and the true villain isn’t revealed until a few hours into the game.
The Story is predictable yes, but not anywhere near as predictable as the game many consider to be the first to have a great plot FFIV, which didn’t have a great plot but none the less FF fan boys outnumber Lunar ones, so unfortunately it was spread and wrongly so that FFIV was the game where finally epic plot and amazing character development came together. The news flash is that FF story wise didn’t get all of its assets together until FFVI, and that happed a WHOLE two years after Lunar had done it with more grace and better character development than any of the first 6 FF games.
What do I mean by this, while the story might be some what predictable ( part of it was because I actually played Lunar 2 before Lunar 1, so I sort of had this Star Wars déjà vu feeling all over again) it was way more complex than that of FFIV, there were three vastly different love stories going on, and that was just in your party, there probably 6 or 7 going on in the entire game. There was a very well done pre Lunar SSS events set up that is slowly revealed as you play, there is a despicable Villain, who is by the way very dramatic, and more importantly the is humor EVERYWHERE. As in most working designs titles talking to EVERY NPC is rewarding and satisfying. The dialog between party members amongst themselves and between party members with villains is peerless, can I say that this is the best RPG story I have played in the year so far? This being a year where I have played new games like Grandia III, which is games arts newest baby, is an impressive feat.
Working Designs who closed its doors not to long ago, always did the best translations bar none, and Lunar SSS is proof of this, the game is a whooping 14 years old and the dialog still as funny and as smooth as it was then, and its better than probably any other RPG I have played besides Lunar 2. This game was way ahead of its time, it is thanks to this game that probably RPG stories got more serious, and more dramatic, it is a shame that the Lunar Series never graced the SNES because we probably would be talking today about Lunar XII rather than FFXII.
The thing is the characters are believable and they all make gradual change in the way they act from the beginning of the tale to the very end. The change doesn’t ever feel forced, and the humor is always there. My favorite dialog scenes in the game were perhaps Jessica and Kyle’s love hate relationship moments… Kyle is a funny FUNNY guy.
There is something about this tale’s magic that Game Arts was never able to duplicate ever again with the Grandia Series, even though they have tried as hard as they can, perhaps they need Working Designs to translate those.
AN ALL TIME GREAT THAT RPG FANS HAVE TO EXPERIENCE AT LEAST ONCE!
Lunar SSS is Game Arts finest RPG, in 1992 it was head of its time, and it is also Working Designs finest published RPG, which is no small feat from the now defunct master publisher. Lunar SSS is unfortunately almost if not impossible to find in Gamestops and Ebs thanks to their stupid policy of not taking any more PS1 era titles.
Not only that since working designs went under, there will be no more new copies available. I myself was lucky enough to come across a copy of the game this year, which only had the two CD game set with out box art or other related Working Designs goodies such as soundtrack CD and a making of the game CD. Those lucky enough to acquire the game in Ebay with all of the original packaging will be treated to Workings Designs usual collectors gifts such as the Cds I mentioned before and a hardcover instruction booklet with interviews with the developers. If you can find this title and you are an RPG enthusiast this is without a doubt a must buy. Working Designs will be missed.
Gameplay: 9.0-Huge world, easy to pick up gameplay and while the game plays like the usual traditional old school game, nice additions like the save anywhere feature still impress.
Graphics: 9.0-That’s obviously a Retro score, since today it would probably rank like 6 if it was released on the DS or game boy Advance. The character design is flawless as is the artwork.
Music: 9.5: Iwadare at his finest, and the voice acting is top notch too.
Story: 9.5-Cliched? maybe today, in 1992 however this was ground breaking, and the dialog is still amazingly great today, so what is not to like?
Addictiveness: 8.0- A must buy really, and will be a joy to play through once whoever unless you want to replay the great story there isn’t much more to do here as far side quests go.
Overall: 10.0- Simply put this is one of the pillars of RPG gaming, and the fact that it has aged so gracefully merit the game a perfect over all score, really if this was 1992 or even 1995 I would have given the game a 10 in each category. Do what you must to get your self a hold of a copy.