Five Things: Lunar: Silver Star Harmony

Lunar is another one of those series I never actually got around to playing when it was actually released.  Thankfully, though, Sony seems to have decided that nostalgia is an awesome market to be tapped, and between the PSP re-releases of things I either never played in the first place (Lunar, the original Persona) or am willing to re-buy (the Final Fantasy ports, Persona 3) and the plethora of titles on PSN that fall into the same categories (Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil for the former and Final Fantasy VII and VIII for the latter… are we sensing a trend here?), they are getting an awful lot of money out of big dumb consumer whores like me who can’t help feeling like they missed out the first time around.  Where was I going with this?  Oh right, Lunar.  The reason I don’t really have a problem with Sony’s business model here is that a lot of these games are quite good, and are super-tough to find outside of the ported versions.  Try, for example, going to Amazon or eBay and looking up the PS1 versions of Lunar and Persona.  Ouch.  Now, if you really want to feel phantom pain in your wallet, check out the sequels.  Now click on buy on that sealed copy of Persona 2.  Now put in your credit card number.  Now ship it to our P.O. Box….. er, anyway, LUNAR.  It’s a very good game, and it’s a pain in the ass to find without a port, so the port is a good thing.  That’s what I was going for there.

1. Not So Random– Is there anyone who actually enjoys random encounters in games?  I really can’t imagine that there is.  Personally, I try to fight as many enemies as I can throughout the normal course of events in these sorts of games just so that I’m not stuck level-grinding later on, but it’s admittedly nice to have the option to skip around a fight or two, particularly when you’re on a mission of some sort or just don’t want to deal with a particularly difficult type of monster.  Lunar falls into the yes-you-can-see-your-enemies camp, which I love; as I mentioned, I do frequently enjoy scouring the map to clear it of all its outstanding vermin (even knowing that they’ll be back if I change screens enough times), but that’s the point: you can make PROGRESS, and know that there are a certain amount of fights you’ll have to win in order to have caught them all.  I guess that’s just me being a weirdo completionist again.  I do think, though, that being brought up on games where any step could potentially dissolve into monsters who were invisible a moment before but now seriously want to snack on your face has contributed to making me kind of jumpy and high-strung.  I mean, really.  How do you not notice that you’re walking straight into a Behemoth?  You notice!

2. Vaguely Creepy– I guess it’s not really a surprise when a JRPG is a little bit creepy about its female characters.  JRPGs are strongly related to anime, after all, and although I don’t have much experience with anime, I have enough to know that schoolgirls are frequently involved.  So to speak.  Don’t get me wrong; I really like the ladies in this game, particularly Jessica, who may have been my favorite character (She hits things with a big fucking hammer!  *I* want a big fucking hammer!).  However, they do have boobs, which leads to a few kind of creepy situations.  For instance, there are cards you can find during the course of the game which can be equipped as accessories by the male character associated with each girl (Alex gets Luna’s, Kyle gets Jessica’s, and Nash gets Mia’s).  At best, the cards provide minor stat boosts, and so aren’t particularly useful in that way.  However, if you select to view them in your inventory, you find that each card displays a picture of the girl in question in some sort of suggestive (usually an “oops, you found me and I don’t even know you’re taking my picture” style) pose.  The collector’s edition of the PSP port even came with physical versions of the cards.  What’s more, there’s an optional bathhouse scene you can unlock where you are treated to a video of the ladies splashing merrily in the buff.  To be fair, though, there’s also a male version of that particular scene.

3. La Di Da– It’s been a while since I finished this game, and I’m currently playing Arc Rise Fantasia (which, if my current habits continue, I should get around to reviewing sometime in 2012…), which greatly resembles it in many aspects, so I think that’s what brings me to this topic.  I’m not at all against the use of music as a weapon against evil in games, but have you ever noticed that the task generally seems to fall to singing girls?  I’m not trying to point an OMGSEXIST  finger at this or anything, but I do find the character of the plucky-but-physically-fragile-songstress an interesting one, because it’s an unusual place to center what generally turns out to be some pretty formidable power.  Luna, after all, is the reincarnation of a goddess, and drawing the line from there to Arc Rise, Ryfia is treated as royalty in her land due to her abilities.  These ladies are far from powerless, but they can’t do much just by hitting things, either.  I think this is why I liked Jessica so much; she has magical abilities, which aren’t as extreme as Luna’s (or Mia’s, for that matter), but she can still kick some ass.  Regardless, I’m not quite sure what I think about the whole songstress thing, but this is making me want to write a more general article on video game women.  We’ll see.

4. Giving and Taking Away- It’s always irked me when a game puts a character in your party and makes you think that this person will be with you for a long time, then snaps them back out again, sometimes taking your hard-earned equipment (and at the very least taking the time you spent leveling them) along.  I think this is why I’ve always held such a grudge against Aeris; why make me waste my time with her if she’s just gonna get stabbed at the end of disc 1?  I don’t have a problem with guest characters, nor do I mind when characters are rotated in and out of the party, as is frequently the case here, but I do like to know when someone’s not going to be around for very long.  I’m thinking of Ramus here; he’s not exactly up to par with Luna and Alex, combat-wise, but the way he’s presented in the beginning, when he’s a permanent fixture in your party, makes you think that he’ll be around until the end.  Or, well, that’s what it made *me* think, anyway.  It’s not that big a deal, but it would have at least been nice if the amount of time you spent with Ramus would have translated into something else, like discounts at the shop he eventually opens or some sort of special item, perhaps.  Luna herself poses an even bigger problem; she doesn’t exactly turn into your enemy, but she’s definitely not on your side after a certain point, and since you’ve invested quite a bit more time into her than Ramus by the time you lose her, this can be pretty frustrating.

5. Morphin’ Time– I can’t think of another game that has undergone quite as much editing and change between different versions as this one seems to have.  Sure, the Final Fantasy titles, particularly the early ones, exist in roughly half a million forms across multiple platforms, but the actual storyline tends to remain pretty much the same.  Lunar, by contrast,  has gone through no fewer than four iterations in English alone, each of which has massively altered some aspect of the game.  I won’t go into the details here, because I haven’t played any except the PSP version, so I can’t speak firsthand about how these changes affect the gameplay or the overall feel of the story; what I will say is that I don’t think I like the idea of spreading these kinds of changes out like they did.  Wouldn’t it make any kind of meaningful dialogue more difficult if one person played a version with a completely different ending than another?  Then again, I loved Heavy Rain, so who can say for sure?  I guess it’s all in how they’re connected….maybe I’ll have to track down another version and see for myself.

Next time I’ll stick with the PSP and blab about Half-Minute Hero!

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