Role playing games are a dime a dozen, but a good role playing game only comes along once in a great while. It seems a lot of the classic RPGs get remade countless times, usually touting better graphics, more monsters and quests, smoother gameplay, and richer music. Lunar: The Silver Star is one such game that has been remade several times. From its heyday on the Sega CD in the early ‘90s to the subsequent PlayStation port in 1998, the Lunar series has been met with mixed reception, but in general, JRPG fans have awaited each release with great anticipation. With a remake of the Sega CD version hitting the PlayStation Portable, Xseed Games and Game Arts have taken everything enjoyable about the game and have given it a fresh coat of glittery paint. However, with the remake comes some of the frustrating moments from earlier version.
Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is a turn-based JRPG. While it’s a remake of the original Sega CD, it’s heavily in-line with the PlayStation and Sega Saturn versions of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete in regards to graphics. As expected, the PSP version, given the power behind Sony’s handheld device, comes equipped with some impressive visuals, decent voice-overs and music, and a very easy-to-use combat interface. If you are familiar with the Lunar series, you’ll enjoy your trip back through the world of wannabe Dragonmasters and weird blob enemies. If you are new to the series, Silver Star Harmony is a great introduction and a very solid role-playing game in its own right.
The story behind the game is pretty typical for a RPG, with the world thrown into chaos after the Goddess Althena – who is responsible for maintaining peace and tranquillity throughout the land – vanishes. In a little village called Burg lives a young guy named Alex, who idolizes Dyne, a Dragonmaster and defender of Goddess Althena. Alex and his flying companion Nall are joined by friends Ramus and Luna as they search the Dragon’s Cave in search of a rare diamond. They finally meet Quark, an old dragon, who sends them off on a task. After completing Quark’s request, he urges Alex to seek out other dragons to become a Dragonmaster. There’s a wonderful prologue in the game that helps explain some of the background; this is a welcome addition if you are new to the series.
The graphics in Silver Star Harmony are quite impressive. The characters are very detailed and look proportional to the buildings in towns – which, for a JRPG is quite an accomplishment. The cut scenes appear artfully hand drawn, in lush anime-style, like the originals. Everything is redrawn, giving the game a beautiful presentation. We especially liked the new isometric layout of the towns. Overall, the graphics are the best in the series, and some of the nicest we’ve seen out of JRPGs on the PSP.
The audio is also very nice, especially the orchestral layout of the original soundtrack. As for the voice over and dialogue, it’s a bit of give and take. At times, the characters say some pretty funny things and provide an entertaining take on serious topics. But, you’ll get a fair share of boring and tired voice work. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, the voice over and dialogue are adequate enough to enjoy. The UMD version of the game (which we used for review purposes) provided some pretty lengthy load times, which, unfortunately, do tend to distract from the action and story.
Silver Star Harmony, like past entries, features a simple, yet relatively unique approach to its turn-based combat and strategy. For starters, where your character is positioned on screen will have an impact on the battle. If you tell a character to attack an enemy, and that enemy is too far away, your character’s turn will be spent moving closer. Of course, if the enemy moves in for an attack it will have to wait for an attack as well. Battles vary from requiring great strategy (usually only for boss fights) to mindless grinding.
That brings us to our first frustration in Silver Star Harmony – the inevitable long grinding sessions. There is absolutely nothing wrong in needing/wanting to level up your characters, but the way battle maps are laid out, combat becomes boring. Going from one zone to another reveals an assortment of enemies to battle, all roaming in little patterns around the screen. You’ll have to run into the enemies to launch a battle sequence. Moving back and forth between zone screens regenerates all the enemies you’ve just finished killing.
The good news is that the actual combat can be pretty simple and quick, depending on how involved you want to be with your characters’ actions. There are options to have individual characters controlled by the AI, or you can even have one full turn controlled by AI. That means that you can plough through dungeons of random monsters pretty quickly, simply clicking the group AI to speed up the whole process. As expected, doing this too much makes combat pretty monotonous, but after countless hours of repetitive battles, having the AI take over for a while is a well deserved break.
In true RPG-style, you’ll explore dungeons, meet interesting NPCs, venture on a world map (albeit a pretty lame world map), acquire new items, and gain levels and experience. The one downside about leveling is that you have no control over what happens when your characters level – you can’t put points into combat, magic, strength, dexterity, etc. Instead, the game automatically adds attributes points to enhance your characters. Maybe we are being a bit finicky, but we tend to prefer RPG games that allow us to build our characters as we see fit.
Silver Star Harmony will give a great deal of enjoyment for fans of the series. It’ll also feel familiar to RPG fans as it sticks closely to well-established gaming principles. The story is nothing unique, and the combat is quite repetitive and often too frequent – meaning you’ll fight the same monsters over and over again in the same dungeon. However, if you are looking for an RPG on the PSP that has some killer graphics, many hours of gameplay, and a lightly comical take on the traditional RPG, you’ll find all of that, and much more in Lunar: Silver Star Harmony.