reviews\ Jan 3, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Lunar Legend - GBA - Review

Lunar Legend is the continuation of the RPG saga originally popularized by Working Designs’ Lunar: The Silver Star on the Sega CD nearly ten years ago. Some suggest that the game single-handedly saved the underpowered/overpriced 16-bit cd-rom add-on system, though most agree that it merely prolonged the inevitable.  Either way, it was a great game, and Lunar Legend’s roots are deep within it.  Fans of Silver Star (and the eventual Lunar: Eternal Blue) will be glad to know that those game’s inclusion of hand drawn anime cut scenes were a consideration when developing this game and were included to a minimal extent.  But even if you were to take away all the trademark attention-grabber aspects of the Lunar universe that Legend is laden with, you’d still be left with a fully cohesive, interesting, entertaining, and endearing old-school RPG.  And at the end of the day, isn’t that what really matters?


The story of Lunar Legend is not unlike that of other great RPGs from over the years, it is firmly grounded in a world of magic, wonder, and the desire to attain one’s dream and/or destiny.  Which in the case of the game’s protagonist, Alex, is to become a Dragonmaster.  In Lunar a Dragonmaster is not only a rare accomplishment, but one that only one other person in history has achieved, his name was Dyne and he is who Alex holds in the most high regard.  The story begins in Burg village, where both Alex and Dyne were born and raised.  Alex is visited by Nash, an elite and egotistical wizard from the magic city of Vane, who is also interested in becoming a Dragonmaster.  Nash came all the way from the sophisticated city of Vane to the bumpkin village of Burg in search of the White Dragon Shrine, where the first of four Dragon’s trials awaits.  Alex agrees to accompany him, expecting too to undergo the trial.  Thus, the adventure begins.


Those familiar with the past Lunar games, early Final Fantasy games, or even the excellent GBA RPG Golden Sun, will immediately feel right at home with Lunar Legend.  Like those games you’ll be required to continually move around from location to location completing various objectives.  At its core it can be easily split up into two key dynamics: exploration and combat.  The exploration facet is, as expected, a focal point throughout the whole game.  But there are also two basic types of exploration.  The first is when you visit towns and villages, where exploration comes in the form of chatting it up with townsfolk and finding your way around the various shops, houses, and other key locations.  The other form of exploration is when you are actually out in the wild and navigating your way through forests, dungeons, and other not-so-friendly environments.  Either way, the action takes place from a strict isometric perspective wherein your surroundings move around the character you control.


The turn-based combat system isn’t particularly innovative or original but it is satisfyingly solid and deep with plenty of offensive and defensive options at your disposal, especially for a handheld game.  Aside from the obligatory hit, run, and defend options you’ll also be able to perform a wide variety of spells, though some characters are more adept than others at this technique.  The myriad foes that you’ll come across all look great, arguably rivaling the quality of enemies in terms of sheer assortment, range of animations, and overall uniqueness of the American version of Final Fantasy II.  In fact, now that I think about it Lunar Legend has quite a bit in common with FFII.  Like that game, spells are consistently acquired as your characters level up, it uses the age-old random encounter method for combat – heck, the first dragon you come across looks suspiciously familiar to the Mist Dragon that you encounter early on in FFII.  But I digress.


While Lunar Legend may have its roots in the trappings of old-school RPGS, the convenience of refinement was not lost on it.  One of the best features of Lunar is in its ability to save your progress anywhere in the game at any time, making pick-up-and-play sessions a snap.  And to further enhance the classic RPG formula you are given the option to select auto-battle during confrontations to let the computer handle the grunt work in the instances where the common enemies of an area offer no real challenge.  Not to mention the fact that you can instantly restart a battle should you unexpectedly die.  Actually, the developers may have gone a little too far to make sure that nobody gets frustrated with the game due to difficult combat encounters.  Maybe ultra-challenging RPGs are a thing of the past, but where I come from long sessions of leveling up your party is requisite.  Defeating that one particularly atrocious boss after working for hours to ensure you are capable is something that really makes those moments satisfying, but who am I to complain?


Visually, Lunar Legend looks pretty snappy.  When viewing the game from the over-the-top exploration perspective, things are pretty much business as usual in contrast to other similar 16-bit RPGs.  But the action really heats up when you are thrown into a random battle, while not as graphically stellar as Golden Sun with its pseudo-3D trickery, it does look great in terms of detailed character sprites, fluid animation sequences for how the characters and enemies act and react and various kinds of magic spells.  Most of the bosses, particularly the towering dragons, have received an enormous amount of attention to detail.  As you meet new key characters in the game they’ll introduce themselves via a full-screen digitized illustration in the same anime style as the past Lunar games, and can be later viewed at your leisure by selecting the art gallery option when you first turn the game on.


The audio presentation isn’t lacking in any considerable way, but it isn’t particularly impressive, either.  The music tends to lean towards lighthearted medium-tempo rhythms, sometimes giving the impression of simple ocarina or otherwise-flute ditties.  The sound effects are pretty much exactly what you would expect in a game like this, which is to say that they are your standard run-of-the-mill bleeps and bloops sufficiently representing the on-screen action and are mostly evident in battle sequences.  The game’s aural arrangement reaches its crescendo with cool digitized clips of actual singing complete with real vocals.


Overall, traditional RPGs don’t get much better than this on a handheld platform.  Expect around 20 hours of solid game time, not too long and not too short.  There is also a nifty little card collecting aspect where you and a friend can trade, there are upwards of 150 unique cards, but it is unlikely that you’ll want to hunt down every single one of’em since there is no real incentive to do so outside of the mild novelty of knowing you did.  But even so, Lunar Legend offers up some of the best times an RPG gamer on the go could hope for.



Gameplay: 8.2
The exploration, combat, buying, selling, and slew of other available options that are almost always found in RPGs are laid out in a manner that should be both immediately familiar and intuitive to anyone who is familiar with the genre.  Not particularly innovative but soundly executed.


Graphics: 8.4
A hair better than the best looking RPGs found on Nintendo’s 16-bit console from the golden days of yore.  Maybe Chrono Trigger looked a little better, but not by much.  The digitized character and environment illustrations add quite a lot to the enjoyability of the experience and also look exceptional in the process.


Sound: 7.7
There is definitely room for improvement in this category, which isn’t to say that Legend’s audio presentation is necessarily lacking in any particular way, but it doesn’t really stand out.  The digitized singing elements are surprisingly cool, though.


Difficulty: Easy
What is the opposite of hard?  Oh, yes, easy.  That’s what this game is.  For the younger generation of gamers that might be a good thing, but for RPG veterans who have slain Sephiroth with their hands tied behind their collective backs Lunar Legend might come off as a revamped Pokemon blue, or orange, or tangerine incandescent, or whatever.


Concept: 8.2
By “concept” I’m going to assume that the story is the most applicable facet of the game.  And in those terms Lunar does a pretty good job, sure it’s the age-old plot involving a boy and his dreams, but it’s an idea that has not yet run its course.  Plus the various characters and enemies you’ll come across are pretty memorable.


Overall: 8.6
C’mon, whaddaya want from me?  Lunar Legend rocks – a godsend for RPG fans, and especially Lunar fans.  It’s a completely new story, and you can play it while your taking care of bid-ness, what more could you ask for? 


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