Yay, another Lunar remake! Let’s call this one… Silver Star Story Silver Star Story Complete Lunar Legend Silver Star Harmony. There we go. While the PlayStation version was an enhanced form of the SEGA Saturn version (which itself was a slightly better port of the SEGA CD version), L:SSH for the PSP goes back to the original SEGA CD source and switches up the viewpoint, redraws the characters and environments, and adds new music and scenes.
If you’ve never played Lunar before, you should go get this immediately, as it’s one of the finest old-school RPG’s on the PSP. If you’ve played the other iterations, however, your purchasing decision is a little hazier…
First off, Lunar is straight retro. Young-boy-leaves-village-to-become-hero storyline, turn-based battles (although your position on the battle screen actually matters, a first back in 1992), a whimsically orchestral soundtrack, sprite-based graphics, and dungeon after dungeon after dungeon. Man. There’s a lot of dungeons. Sometimes, you have to go through one dungeon just to get to another dungeon. True story.
The guys at XSEED took a lot of care with this update. Every environment was redrawn in a new isometric perspective, the battle animations are smoother, and some of the new spells even have fancy PSP particle effects (ooo, shiny!). The characters are still lovable, but fans of the PlayStation Lunar will notice something… a little off: there’s a new translation.
Working Designs (the company in charge of the American translations of the other disc-based Lunar remakes) had a controversial translation style. They took a lot of leeway with the source material, injecting pop culture references, American colloquialisms, and masturbation jokes. In some cases – especially the new title song travesty – the Working Designs lyrics were so far removed from the literal translation as to broadcast a completely different, and much more interesting, sentiment.
By aiming for more of a direct translation (and without Vic Irelandin charge), we have less personality in the characters and a few awkward phrases like, “He can see through you like good glass!” Instead of the casual banter (Hookers! Wheaties! Cows!) of the WD version, XSEED’s characters are just so much more… formal. People don’t use the word “shall” in real life conversations; it feels very stilted when they do in the game.
However, the core of the game is timeless. RPG tropes become cliche and overused because they work. When this game first came out, Lunar‘s animated cutscenes and spoken dialogue forced the entire genre’s storytelling capabilities forward. Embracing the CD format and what appeared to be a limitless storage capacity, Lunar was the future of RPG’s. Now, next to Final Fantasy XIII, it seems so simple by comparison. It is, but in a good way.
One of Lunar‘s biggest strengths is that it’s so terrifically paced. There’s no grinding, the storyline is completely serviceable with a bevy of incredibly memorable characters and the usual litany of back-stabbing double-crosses, and you’re always moving forward, even if that means going through a dungeon to hit a switch to find the entrance to a second dungeon where the dragon sleeps.
You may have missed it, so let me reiterate: there is no grinding. For an old-school RPG, that is an incredible feat. You’ll fight the enemies you can see on the field (Not random? WEIRD!), and that’s all you’ll need to do. The battles are fast-paced and tight; the only strange part is that there is no “speed” stat, meaning you can never be sure exactly which character will attack first. Whatev. They added an “Arts Gauge System,” too, that lets you fill up a gauge and use a special attack every once in awhile (much like a FF7 Limit Break), but many of them are just too effective to be allowed.
The characters and their development, however, are immaculate. Instead of the forced love stories prevalent in many JRPG’s, Lunar‘s tale of star-crossed lovers unfolds gradually and naturally, and the bond isn’t recognized as “love” until a good deal into the story. By the end, you might even care about your characters. No way?! Yes way. Even the secondary characters have plenty of opportunities to steal your heart, and the new half-screen portraits during conversations allow plenty of personality to shine through.
Still, it’s not perfect. Despite the new coat of paint and an extra story scene featuring the old heroes, the game is the same. If you’ve played the others to death, then a less interesting translation, easier (and ultimately more boring) boss fights, some still-annoying dungeons with respawning enemies, and the fact that it’s portable won’t sell it to you again. Oh, and it keeps the original SEGA CD cutscenes, but they are the only part of the game that’s not widescreen (jarring), and the new voice actors are passable, but – almost without exception – inferior. Nall actually sounds like a boy now, but it really just makes me miss the old Nall voice…
It’s nice to see that XSEED put a lot of effort into this remake… but couldn’t they have just put the PlayStation version of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete in the PSOne classics section on PSN for $10? Instead, you can spend that extra $10 on the Limited Edition of the game that comes packaged with a soundtrack CD and bromide cards. In the end, XSEED’s Limited Edition perks are analogous to the actual game: they tried, and Lunar will always be great… but they’re no Working Designs. Luckily, a game’s pedigree will always shine through, and even though it still contains many of the same flaws from over fifteen years ago, Lunar is one of the best RPG’s on the PSP.
XSEED put a huge amount of love and effort into this completely new remake, but the "not as good as Working Designs" translation often falls flat, and the otherwise incredible storytelling and characterization suffer as a result. Pretty, though.
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Retro RPG all the way... and it still hasn't gotten old.
Despite the awkwardly localized title song, the music in the game is still as memorable and dynamic as ever, and the audio compression prowess of the PSP means that it sounds better than ever. However... come on, voice actors! For reals, you can do better.
About 30 hours start to finish - long enough to tell a satisfying story, but short enough to keep from dragging. No sidequests or exploration, however (the world map is gone), means zero replay value.
Not the definitive Lunar update, but the timelessness of the gameplay, story, and music wrapped up in a shiny new package make it easy to see why Lunar is widely regarded as one of the greatest RPG's of all time.