It's hard not to smile when one reminisces of Lunar. Though 1993’s Lunar: The Silver Star wasn't short on nefarious villains and was no stranger to difficult battles, collective sentiment is little other than happy-go-lucky. It was quirky in a way contemporary RPGs weren't allowed to be, demonstrating an altogether different approach from Squaresoft's more popular 16-bit offerings. A few years later, both The Silver Star and Lunar's sequel, Eternal Blue, were both remade for the PlayStation with a clean localization from Working Designs. That refresh did well to amplify Lunar's most endearing assets; it's unmistakable charm, through witty dialogue, and fantastic cast of characters. After a Gameboy Advance interpretation that we should all probably forget about, the Silver Star Story is back again as Lunar: Silver Star Harmony for PlayStation Portable.
No Longer “Ghaleon…”
The world of Lunar borrows liberally from high fantasy cliché as well as standard "boy and friends save the world" Japanese RPG tropes, but that doesn't necessarily translate to a hackneyed narrative. Alex seeks to be like his hero, Dragon Master Dyne, and thus acquires a set of like-minded friends and sets out on a quest to serve the goddess Althena live out his fantasy. Ghaleon still makes for a fantastic antagonist, easily trumping most of the clichéd crap that's churned out of modern releases, and some of the less prominent non player characters (oh, Royce, what am I to do with you) remain amongst finest ever presented in a Japanese RPG. The characters of Lunar come alive through their dialogue, not flashy cut scenes or ridiculous feats of strengths. It's a throwback to when charm and character mattered more the technical prowess; a trait most of today's jaded RPG veterans often wish was more visible in modern software.
Lunar is considered a classic for a reason, and while the plot line might appear to be somewhat pedestrian, it's unshackled by its delightful cast of characters. Alex is mostly a visage for the player, but nearly every other party member’s stands as a unique character. Nash is a highly confident magician prone to unbelievable acts of forehead-slapping failure, and Kyle is a flagrant, womanizing douchebag who steals every scene he's in. Despite their lack of moral fiber, both manage to be alluring and engaging characters, thanks mostly to foil created by their respective objects if affection, Mia and Jessica. XSEED didn't go word-for-word on the utterly fantastic Working Designs translation from the PlayStation version, but the replacement text fairs pretty well, if not feeling a little bland. A few dated references have been replaced with new ones and the dialogue still comes off as fairly humorous (especially compared to ultra serious modern RPG's), but overall I found myself slightly less attached to the characters for this go around.
Content wise, there have been a few changes. Chief among these is the voice work. Having gotten significantly attached to the PlayStation version (seriously, I last played that over ten years ago and I can still fondly recall characters personalities and voices), I assumed it was going to be difficult "let go" and that I may find the new cast intrusive, but I actually got used to them quite quickly. Ghaleon no longer seems to devour every single word and Dyne is a near disaster, but everyone else seems to come out for the better (especially Nall or Kyle), or without much offense. Aside from that, there are a precious handful of new scenes (most notably the prologue at the beginning, which was quite jarring and had me wondering if it was a reimagining rather than a remake), but most do well to support the existing narrative. The music is largely rearranged, but is still easily recognizable as Lunar.
And yes, most obviously Silver Star Harmony has received a considerable facelift. The original games had kind of a "small" feel about them. The environments, rather than the characters, seemed to dominate the real estate, but Silver Star Harmony does much better at harmonizing the two. Bigger sprites make for better animation and more identifiable characterization, and they seem better proportioned with the almost-claustrophobic environments. The actual art remains incredibly faithful to the original, albeit with the blessings and detail afforded by modern tech. Both Meribia and Vane looked awesome, and they even made The Grindery feel something other than drab and ugly. Some spots occasionally sport animation that looks and feels kind of like Flash but, on the whole, the visual upgrade is Silver Star Harmony’s best new asset.
Combat remains unabashedly archaic, but in an entirely charming manner. On screen enemies give way to turned based battles, and your usual attack and magic combos are good for tried and true offense and defensive purposes. At the time, what set Lunar apart from its peers was how it took the concept of range into account. Game Arts later perfected this concept with Grandia, but deciding whether to spend a turn approaching an enemy or cashing out with a magic attack provided a pretty good risk/reward scenario, and it definitely helped keep combat fresh. The inevitable grind still rears its ugly head, but the game kind of speeds you along with the return of the A.I. combat option, which delegates the combat tasks out to the nebulous computer.
A major difference arrived with my perceived difficulty of Silver Stay Harmony. To this day, Silver Star Completes’ Vile Crustacean holds my person record for "most times I ever had to fight a boss" with a count somewhere in the mid fifties, and the Bronze Dogs down the road weren't too far behind. Neither felled my party in Silver Star Harmony. Enemy level scaling was either weakened or nonexistent, leveling up now restores health, the Arts Gauge (back from the GBA remake) bails you out of nearly any risky battle with (essentially) super moves, and an inventory without space limitations insures a near complete lack of frustration. Plain and simple, Harmony is dumbed down but, as someone who just wanted a casual stroll through a land I loved long ago, it didn't grate too much. Those who were looking for a challenge on par with previous versions, as I'm sure much of the rabid fan base are, might be disappointed.
The rest of Lunar follows a familiar pattern. Get sent off to a dungeon, go to a town, talk to people, buy new equipment, grind, meet another utterly fantastic character, rinse, and repeat. Its school is old, but not in the desperate and borderline unplayable ways of other 16-bit RPGs. Time has been quite kind to Lunar, and undoubtedly aided by the slick new presentation and opened accessibility.