I’ll preface that I’m a huge fan of the LUNAR series and I wear heavy nostalgia glasses for it.
Originally conceived in 1992 by the Game Arts sub-studio aptly named Studio Alex – Alex being the main character in the first game – LUNAR was one of the first series that I can remember from my youth that was heavily influenced by Japanese animation styles. Toshiyuki Kubooka, who has went on to be known primarily as the character designer for the Idolm@ster series, among other works, was lead character designer for the series. Lead writer & scenario designer Kei Shigema had LUNAR as one of his first video game writing roles.
When the first title, LUNAR The Silver Star, was being developed for the Sega CD it took advantage of the-then budding CD format. It was one of the first RPGs I remember having both full motion animated video and CD quality score. I remember it for being one of the first games that had in-game character designs that were well defined outside of box or manual artwork; a far cry from thumbnail sized characters obscured by a CRT’s scan lines that I had been used to prior. For the time when the title came to the US – late 1993 – it was a decent game for the Sega CD console. It’s been reported that ultimately the first game sold as many copies of the title in Japan as were sold actual Sega CD (called Mega CD in Japan) consoles.
The LUNAR series takes place on a planet that bears the same name. It’s a small habitual moon that orbits the Blue Star. For reasons that have seemingly been lost through time but further explored throughout the series a war broke out on the Blue Star, rendering it uninhabitable. The Goddess Althena, revered by the people, gathered up the survivors of the Blue Star, made Lunar habitual, and transported all the people there. Throughout time Althena watched over her people and would periodically return in human form, only to retreat back to her goddess immortality. In her absence, all-powerful dragons lead by a Dragonmaster would become the saviors of the land. However over time, Althena comes to realize that the people rely on her less, and consequently her journeys to Lunar become less frequent. This sets the stage for the first title.
LUNAR The Silver Star is the original entry in the series. It’s the story of a young man named Alex, who lives in a reclusive village on an even more reclusive island. He yearns for adventure, spurred by the then recent stories of exploits from the last Dragonmaster Dyne. Dyne is reported to have passed away under mysterious circumstances during the last re-incarnation of Althena. Alex’s childhood friend Luna, an orphan that lives with him, does not share the same enthusiasm for adventure that Alex does, but understands that he will eventually depart on similar adventures to Dyne. Alex is joined by his ‘pet’ Nall, whom proclaims he is off-spring to a dragon, and Alex’s friend Ramus, who is a shrewd individual looking to make it rich.
Alex’s first adventure is spurred by Ramus, who learns that a valuable dragon diamond resides in a cave near their village. The four adventure to the cave, only to realize that the cave itself is home to the white dragon Quark, whom uses it as a trial for potential Dragonmasters. Quark deems Alex worthy of becoming a new dragonmaster and sends him along his way into the main adventure.
The first thing to get out of the way is the game does have some considerable flaws. The first that possibly doesn’t get critiqued enough is the narrative. The English language version was produced by Working Designs, who were well known for injecting pop culture humor into their titles. This game has no end of various circa 1993 humor that could be lost to individuals playing the game over twenty-five years later and having not been alive at that time. However where the game really faults is the narrative doesn’t really… ‘flow’ well. It seemingly jumps around from point to point, and not helped that the protagonist Alex, sans maybe three lines and two ellipses points, is silent. Silent protagonists can be effective but it disconnects Alex from the story heavily, especially with a story that has a very heavy emphasis on love. The jumping of the narrative can make some parts incredibly confusing or result in a “where do I go” type situation.
An even further flaw, if you can call it that, is it’s easy to exploit the game’s turn based battle system making most of the game easy to play. The battle system itself is a placed character ranged battle format; basically think of early Final Fantasy games but both allies and enemies can move around the field between turns. What occurs is the ‘AI’ selection for the controllable characters can ‘add’ turns; a prime example being with magic spells. Typically, casting a magic spell is supposed to exhaust the entirety of a particular character’s turn. However it’s possible with characters that have more than one move, such as Alex, to cast a spell and then use whatever remaining moves they have for automatic attacks against the nearest enemy. By the time the final dungeon is reached exploiting this function makes it incredibly easy and allows Alex in some cases to execute a strong magic attack on rear row enemies and two to three physical attacks on front row foes.
The story itself is also predictable. Not necessarily bad predictable, but by the time the climax and resolutions start to roll nothing is really going to surprise you. It’s an atypical romance story that ends with hugs and joys all around.
The game does have good points. Again it’s presentation with animated cut scenes and musical score are very good. It’s relatively low difficulty level also make it a good entry level RPG to play for those that may find puzzles or dealing with level grinding not to their tastes. I did not find the title that difficult when I originally played it and compared to circa early 1990s RPGs it had a solid middle to slightly below level of difficulty. It’s also simply one of those warm fuzzy good vs. evil stories. There’s no major character deaths, no world ending apocalypses, just hack your way through and win the girl.
Two years later in Japan the sequel LUNAR Eternal Blue would be released. Eternal Blue went through changes in it’s development. Initially, the game was to be a direct sequel to the first, but the decision was made to extend the time period to taking place a thousand years following the first title, possibly to give this sequel more leeway on it’s narrative and not giving the player a focus on roughly double the characters.
The game follows Hiro (Hiro the Hero?…), an adventurer. A millennium has passed since the events of the first LUNAR title and the exploits of Dragonmaster Alex (uh oh…) have begun to be lost to time. While exploring a ruin with his ‘pet’ Ruby – also claimed to be off-spring of a dragon – Hiro comes across a sacred dragon eye jewel. When combined with a second jewel, the dragon eyes allow access to a location called the Blue Spire (curiously omitted in the first title, but a key location in this game). The Blue Spire is a gateway that directly connects to the Blue Star as a sort of magical elevator.
On the Blue Star a woman named Lucia is the last human-esque individual on the planet. The Blue Star having been rendered uninhabitable, Lucia watches over the planet in a peaceful slumber. She is stirred by the awakening of a strong malicious force on Lunar, and arrives on Lunar via the Blue Spire. There she meets Hiro, and the story itself beings.
Taking place a thousand years following the events of The Silver Star, Eternal Blue tells a story of Lunar going through seemingly a ‘dark age’ of sorts. Many of the inhabitants have lost all reverence for Althena, and an all powerful Cult of Althena carries major influence in the world. Magic being a major theme in the first title has now been reduced to almost a taboo of sorts, and many of the characters struggle with various strifes that magical power brings to them. Lunar itself appears to have gone through many geographical changes, with a few locations identifiable from the first title but many being new for Eternal Blue.
It’s also very easy to give away even more spoilers than what has been given here, but the game does eventually tie itself into the first title very well and likely reveals a lot of situations that will not surprise anyone who played The Silver Star. Theres a few teary moments, especially when you learn the fate of most of the cast from the first game.
While the score and presentation are largely similar to the first title, with Eternal Blue further taking advantage of CD medium with more voiced lines and better quality video, it suffers in that it’s difficulty is severely increased over the first title. There are many, MANY boss fights, and many portions of the game that really slow it’s flow down. The icing on the cake so to speak involves the biggest – and what became most controversial – change by publisher Working Designs was to ‘charge’ the player each time they wanted to save their game. Unfortunately, the ‘cost’ was the same Magic EXP points used to manually raise the party’s magic levels. It essentially boiled down to the player being given a choice; do you save more frequently to mitigate loss from dying, or do you risk it in the ease of raising magic level only to be more susceptible to losing progress should you die and need to reload an earlier save? It produced what many players both then and since – including myself – see as an incredibly negative feature that hampered the overall experience of the title.
Are both titles worth playing today?
Speaking specifically of the Sega CD versions, personally I do not feel so. The first game, Silver Star, has received three distinctive remakes since then, all of which have offered both vast improvements on the narrative and produced an overall more enjoyable gameplay experience. The second title, Eternal Blue, has been remade once on the PS1 and ultimately it’s revisions are very minor, although Working Designs has various issues with their translation including outright leading players on a quest that doesn’t exist in-game (basically whole segments of narrative from the Sega CD original were copied, with WD’s play testers missing important dialogue points).
Regardless you cannot go wrong with any of the remakes and ports, and the prohibitiveness of obtaining a working Sega CD console and both titles can be negative towards casual players. Additionally aside from the narrative – my opinion here of course – the updates through Kubooka’s style in his character designs also gives the remakes a softer tone to the characters, whereas in the original characters often appeared older or more ambiguous in their age. The games are just more pleasing to look at in the remakes, even if you are nostalgic for early 90s anime style like myself.
The LUNAR series itself received two other entries which are not as frequently spoken of. The first, LUNAR Magic (sometimes also translated as Walking) School details students at the school of Vane, and is unique in the main character for the title is female. The second, Lunar Genesis (Dragon Song in the US), details a time period prior to The Silver Star. While Magic School has not seen a US release, Genesis/Dragon Song has and was not a well received title both in Japan & the US, and ultimately has been cited as resulting in an overall decline of the LUNAR series as a whole.
I own every title and remake released state-side of the LUNAR series. The Sega CD versions are actually my two worse copies, with me having obtained Silver Star at a used video game store and Eternal Blue through Funco (what eventually became GameStop). All the other versions and titles I bought new. The PS1 releases (these versions themselves being ports of what were originally Sega Saturn format titles in Japan) are well known for their extravagance and it’s no wonder Working Designs often seemed to be it’s worst enemy. The PS1 games were LOADED; full hardcover color instruction manuals, a full cloth map for Silver Star, soundtracks, a full sized replica of Lucia pendant from Eternal Blue, and Working Designs themselves produced a ‘Making of…” DVD for each entry. I will admit I have not given Dragon Song a thorough play-thru, and I need to eventually return to it.
My definitive picks are the PSP remake of Silver Star and the PS1 remake of Eternal Blue. Both of those titles do a good job of giving the player the story of LUNAR, and both can be completed easily in under seventy hours combined during their first play throughs.
It’ll be seventy hours well spent.