Written by  :  Oleg Roschin (174006)
Written on  :  Jan 21, 2004
Platform  :  PlayStation
Rating  :  3.33 Stars3.33 Stars3.33 Stars3.33 Stars3.33 Stars

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Old school needs some new classes

The Good

Lunar is a typical Japanese RPG of the kind that has always been mass-produced in its homeland because it's so easy to design: simplistic gameplay, almost no choices or variables that affect the experience, predictability, etc. This unremarkable formula, however, is really perfectly exploited by the game: some good design choices manage to squeeze the few drops of joy out of the rigid experience.

Lunar has no random battles. I don't like random battles, and I'm not sure whether there are people out there who would willingly give up the sensation of clearing out a dungeon. I enjoyed fighting my way through the dungeons in this game and then simply running around for a while, looking for possibly ignored treasure and knowing that nobody was going to attack me. Enemies are reasonably tough, and bosses can grind you into flour if you are not prepared and using every resource available from your pre-configured, but well-balanced party members.

The real strength of Lunar is in the narrative. We keep hearing about Japanese RPGs that are worth playing just for their stories, but the majority of those present badly written, convoluted, improbable tales with delusions of grandeur. Lunar, however, knows better. It is still a corny cliche, but one with a lot of heart. Every character, every line of dialogue and every event was clearly created with love. The eternal tale of good and evil, of our choices that affect the world, is told with unwavering faith and honesty that deepens our sympathy to the game the more we play.

You'll also bond with the characters you'll control more than in most other games I know. Your companions are simple people, but it's precisely this simplicity that makes them surpass, in a way, the most extravagant casts of Final Fantasy games. Japanese designers often lose their sense of proportion and cross the boundaries of good taste when creating characters. This does not happen in Lunar: its characters resemble real human beings more than schematic representatives of various human traits or grotesquely ridiculous attempts at comic relief. Those characters are depicted with warmth; we feel connected to them, and their feelings and actions are believable and understandable.

The Bad

Lunar is not good at theatrics, which have meanwhile become a staple element of the genre. Unlike Final Fantasy games with their cinematic presentation and flashy, melodramatic openings, Lunar starts slow. The deceptively upbeat atmosphere does little to foreshadow the serious events to come. The first couple of quests are thoroughly unremarkable, forcing you to lead around a geeky character that plays no significant role in the story and is thankfully removed later. Not everyone would enjoy the old-fashioned concept of a silent hero, though I must say he really grows as person during the course of the game.

The real problem of Lunar, however, is that when you strip the game of its narrative and characters, you are left with a rigid, limited Japanese RPG made according to the restrictive canons of the genre. Progression is very linear, particularly since the world map is small and there are no secrets or optional areas whatsoever. You'll be traveling from point A to point B with very little to do in between. At least there are some character bromides you can collect on the way, but that's far from being enough.

Character customization is severely reduced as well. One might argue that all older Japanese RPGs offered little customization, but that is not entirely true: the very first Final Fantasy allowed you to build a custom party. In Lunar, all you can do is fight more enemies, gain a level, and witness your character automatically learn a much-needed spell. Equipment management is degraded to marching into the next town and buying everything you can afford. You are not allowed to think outside of the box and experiment, which greatly diminishes the game's significance as an RPG. Replay value is therefore almost non-existent: there is little incentive to return to the game unless you are overcome by nostalgia and wish to experience its story once again.

The game's supposed difficulty is also a coin with two sides: the bosses are tough because you are two weak to defeat them, not because you need to figure out the right way to do that. If you don't overlevel, it will become mathematically impossible to beat some of the game's bosses. The game gives you so few choices that dumb power-leveling remains the one and only foolproof tool needed to deal with every obstacle. Also, the dungeons are just long, not complex; the omnipresent linearity reduces that potential challenge to mere tedium as well.

The Bottom Line

The appealing characters and the sincerely told, emotional story make Lunar an excellent choice for those who value these (in my opinion, cosmetic) elements in their games. However, no amount of cheesy-sweet dialogues and dramatic anime can change the fact that Lunar suffers from all three curses that keep plaguing Japanese RPGs, being linear, simplistic, and formulaic.