By Philip Orona
The Japanese love a good Role Playing Game. They can’t seem to get enough of western Dungeons and Dragons like RPGs such as the Ultima series and Dragon Quest. Born out of this came the J-RPG. Japanese flavor role playing games with anime like character designs and personality tropes, Final Fantasy and The Ys series are great examples. However, it was Lunar the Silver Star Story that was the first J-RPG that made me truly love the genre. I owned it for Sega CD and then again later on Playstation. Eternal Blue didn’t quite hit the same notes as the first game but it was still a solid entry. To my disappointment we have yet to have a modern follow up or at the very least, a current gen remaster. Final Fantasy 7 got it’s second chance with a penultimate remake on a modern console, why not Lunar?
Lunar Silver Star Story tells the tale of a young adventurer named Alex and his quest to become a Dragon Master. He is accompanied by his adopted sister Luna, his pet flying cat (dragon) Nall and his best bud Remus. Although they start off by adventuring for a large diamond, things quickly spiral out of control into a plot by a former heroic wizard to conquer the world and Alex stands in his path. Along the way Alex meets Nash and Mia from the magic city of Vane, Jessica the healer from Meribia and Kyle the bandit who assist him in saving the world and rescuing Luna who is actually the human personification of the Goddess Althena. Also Luna are Alex actually in love but they would never admit it since they were raised together (anime trope #1). The rest of the cast is vibrant and distinct and they each have their own character development arcs during the game. Nall is the sassy pet\team mascot who has almost no filter (anime trope #2). Jessica is the sweet daddy’s girl who goes tsundere when pissed off (anime trope #3). Nash is the overconfident hot head who learns humility (anime trope #4), Kyle is the loud mouth swashbuckling womanizer who has a soft spot for Jessica, and Mia is the soft, reserved yet strong willed magic user who overcomes her self perceived weakness (anime trope #5) to step out of her mothers heroic shadow. This game is one Harem love triangle away from hitting the anime trope bingo win. The main antagonist, Ghaleon, was thought provoking in that he wasn’t truly evil, just disillusioned with the world he had helped create. The rogues gallery back up cast was pretty colorful as well, the vile tribe encounters were always good fun.
The sequel which also debuted on Sega CD, Lunar: Eternal Blue had more of the same with a mostly new cast that is set 1000 years after Silver Star Story. There is Ruby the female baby dragon who accompanies the main hero, Hiro. There is a new goddess type character in Lucia who also serves as a love interest for the main player. You also have Ronfar a priest turned gambler, Leo a holy knight who loses his faith in the goddess, Jean the exotic dancer\martial artist, and Lemina the money grubbing magician who is the current head of the Vane Magic Academy. We also see a appearance of Ghaleon who was the main villain from the first game and appears as an antagonist at first but repents and joins the cast in their quest (anime trope #6!)
Unlike Final Fantasy, Lunar only had 2 numbered releases under its franchise belt with several ports to PS1, Gameboy advance and PSP. Final Fantasy had the luxury of being produced by RPG giant Squaresoft (later Square-Enix) while Lunar was produced by a much smaller group Game Arts with Working Designs. The Working designs team was firing on all cylinders as a Sega CD and Sega Saturn publisher giving us games like Alundra, Arc the Lad and Dragon Force. The J-RPG was their chief product but unfortunately first person shooters took off as the goto genre in the mid to late 2000’s and Working Designs didn’t survive beyond 2005. In 2009 the last Lunar re-release, Silver Star Harmony, was produced by Gameworks with Xseed Games for PSP, which was a greatest hits of game mechanics, combining elements of Silver Star and Eternal Blue. It’s been 12 years since we have had any kind of follow up. We did have a couple of spin offs in 2005, there was Lunar: Sanposuru Gakuen (Walking school) for Game Gear and Sega Saturn and Lunar Dragon song for Nintendo DS, both serve as prequels with an all new cast but neither were ever released outside of Japan and neither saw the same success as the first 2 games.
Despite Lunar never achieving the notoriety of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, it still has a larger-than-cult following. Lunar: Silver Star Story is constantly placed in top 50 J-RPG lists and often recalled fondly by those who played it. I would argue that the Lunar series is more worthy of continuation than Phantasy Star, which constantly gets re-released and gets new releases via MMO games. Phantasy Star 2 is probably the hardest J-RPG I have ever beaten and I liked it for its ambitious sprawling over world and party building mechanic but its characters were largely generic, the sound design was repetitive and for as punishing as the game was, the ending was a huge let down. This also holds mostly true for Phantasy Star 3 and 4. I couldn’t recall any memorable or really likeable characteristics of the party members in any of the Phantasy Star games despite how many hours I poured into that series. With Lunar, you really had a chance to care about the story and its players. Everyone had their motivations laid bare through exposition, voice acting and game play. I was relieved when I finally beat Phantasy Star 2 and 3 because I had had enough of the punishing maze like dungeons. When I beat Silver Star Story, I was sad that the journey had come to an end. The feeling was mutual when I finished Eternal Blue.
With Final Fantasy 7 remake part 1 completed and the Mana series getting an update, we could possibly have a J-RPG renaissance on our hands. On the back of a good story and a memorable cast throughout, the lore and world built by the creators of Lunar is worth returning to. Perhaps if a chronological compilation of Dragon Story, Walking School, Silver Star Story and Eternal blue were released with updated graphics and voice acting it could spark renewed interest in the franchise and while it would be fantastic, we don’t necessarily need a high budget Final Fantasy 7 remake treatment here. Just give us newly rendered towns, fights and character designs. Keep the story points from the Playstation complete editions and perhaps someone will see fit to give us Lunar 3: Money Green.