[27 April 2010]
The original Lunar released way back in 1992 on the Sega CD and was met with much critical acclaim. It was a major hit for the console. It set up a franchise and was revolutionary at the time for its use of CD quality audio, video playback, and voice acting in addition to its quality story and characters, which were for its day ground breaking.
Though the follows ups in the series have never managed to reach the lofty heights of its progenitor, the faith shown in its original seems unbreakable. This enhanced PSP remake is the third of its kind with ports having graced the Sega Saturn, PS1, GBA, and even Windows, all of which have been lapped up by its cult following, who claim it be a benchmark in RPGs. I couldn’t say for sure however, having never played these versions.
Remakes and ports of older titles are increasingly common nowadays and this feels like the 30th reworking of a game that I’ve played this year. Bizarrely, the PSP seems to be the platform that receives the lions share. A benefit to gamers being that the PSP version can be picked up for a reasonable price, while the original can cost you your house on eBay.
Cashing in on nostalgia is a lucrative business, and while I’m sure that long term fans have their rose-tinted glasses surgically attached to their faces, newbies such as myself will be wondering: what’s the fuss?
Lunar curca 2010 features a host of new bits to try and make it the definitive version, a new isometric view, a simply beautiful new hand drawn style for the visuals and menus, new music, new animated cutscenes, new expansions for the story, new voice acting, but unfortunately, the same old rusty gameplay from 18 years ago.
For all the graphical beauty on display (and there’s a lot), and for all the truly atrocious voice acting (there’s a lot of that too), the cost to the PSP processor is severe, the constant loading times being some of the most intrusive that I’ve ever encountered. Each and every time that you enter a new area, building, room, dungeon section, etc. you’ll be introduced to your new best friend and companion for your 30-hour-long journey—pitch black loading screen. The fade in, fade out and irritating pause after entering a new area makes even the quickest of tasks seem nearly infinitely lasting. The fact that cut scenes can’t be skipped, nor can the hero Alex run, slows matters down to almost sleep inducing levels.
The dungeons are long and confusing to navigate due to a lack of a map. The battles, though mercifully not random, are way too frequent. Enemies can be seen on screen but are usually impossible to avoid, due to them blocking your route and giving chase when they get a sniff of you. Of course, Alex can’t run, so fighting is inevitable and necessary. As usual with any JRPG, especially with one where its core mechanics are almost two decades old, the amount of grinding required is really, really high and items are expensive as well, so either fight a lot, or die a lot.
Battles themselves are your fairly stock turn-based JRPG fare with the usual commands that one would expect and the ability to learn new tricks as you level up. You also build up a special bar that, once full, allows the player to unleash a super attack, spell, etc,, and which naturally takes ages to fill. You can alter formations so that weaker members stay at the back of your group, and you can tweak individual A.I. to defend, attack, heal etc.
The battles are very easy and tension or any need to strategize rarely emerges during these encounters. You never really feel that you could die. You just have to be patient, especially since the unskippable battle animations drag out the proceedings for way too long. There is an automatic command option, in which the game plays for you (it’s almost as if the game has become sentient and feels your pain), but sadly, the AI fails here occasionally with the computer using up your items unreservedly or draining you magic unwisely.
Lauded in its day for its story and sense of humour, the ravages of time have not been kind to Lunar in the narrative department as well. While some of the dialogue is actually funny, most is childish, immature nonsense that even the kids of today won’t find amusing. While the themes of romance, loss, betrayal, etc. feel clichéd and predictable, it’s your usual anime drivel, wrapped up in your typical pantomime acting with its nursery level dialogue.
Without a history with Lunar, this really is just another JRPG. For all the fanciness on display, the shortcomings of many remakes nowadays are to spruce up the presentation, but they forget about doing anything to the gameplay. If you really are that gaga about Lunar and love your JRPGs served retro, feel free to waste another 30 bucks. Just don’t go and expect your childhood memories to remain intact. For everyone else, this is the quintessential blueprint for the genre but not in a good way. Probably its only merit is as a viable cure to insomnia.