I think every one of us have what I call a “floating franchise”. It floats around in the back of your mind, ‘til somebody somewhere conjures up a memory that catapults it straight to the surface. Our Retro Roundtable from the end of April brought forth a wave of nostalgia that sent one particular game crashing down in its wake…and the desire to play Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete began to gnaw away at me. Unfortunately, the asking price (http://www NULL.ebay NULL.com/sch/i NULL.html?_sacat=0&_nkw=lunar+2+eternal+blue+complete&_frs=1) for this game is something most would consider to be entirely too high. But damn it, I shelled out the cash. I thought I’d regret it… I thought that playing through this game with my nostalgia glasses off would expose its flaws, and leave me bitterly disappointed.
I love it when I’m wrong.
A bit of background for you all: The Lunar franchise consists of a game that’s been remade to (http://www NULL.lunarsilverstarharmony NULL.com/) death at this point (https://itunes NULL.apple NULL.com/us/app/lunar-silver-star-story-touch/id492598036?mt=8), this second entry, and a DS follow-up that makes most fans miserable (http://www NULL.metacritic NULL.com/game/ds/lunar-dragon-song). That’s right: developers/publishers have been willing to put Lunar: Silver Star Story on a few different platforms, but its sequel has yet to be ported anywhere relevant since 2000. Sad times, indeed. Experiencing the first Lunar game isn’t absolutely necessary to fully enjoy Lunar 2, but familiarity with the first adventure helps to make Lunar 2 a more meaningful experience.
Now that you know this, I can move forward discussing the game’s story. Lunar 2 takes place a thousand years after the first game. At least one of its main characters is a descendant of a main character from the first game, and returning players can and will expect plenty of allusions (both implicit or smack-you-across-the-face obvious) to the first adventure. But knowing what these allusions are isn’t dependent upon your enjoyment of the game. The story of Lunar 2 does a good job of setting itself apart from the first game, but still knowing how and when it’s appropriate to call back to it.
So, you play as Hiro, a young man who longs for adventure. While climbing a mysterious tower with your archaeologist grandfather, you meet a mysterious girl named Lucia who hails from another world. The two of you team up to fight an ancient evil, and your adventures with Lucia (and three or four other misfits) is heavily rooted in Lucia discovering the world of Lunar, its culture, and the “latent power of humanity”. This game is absolutely filled with the common tropes of a fantasy game (dragons, goddesses, characters with pointy ears and horns), so the predictable nature of its plot may turn some folks off.
But, don’t judge a book by its cover. These characters are absolutely amazing. I’ve drawn comparisons between the Lunar franchise and Final Fantasy IX more than once, because: despite the predictability of its plot, the characters are truly what saves it. But, this game goes above and beyond what I remember, and what I was expecting from it, in terms of dialogue. The localization of this game is practically without peer in my eyes. I was genuinely laughing at some of what the script had to offer. Its humor was very much targeted towards adult-gamers… and yet, I remember some of that subtext passing right over my head when I was a kid back in 2000. That’s brilliance. And you can tell the game’s voice cast was truly sympathetic towards their characters, too. (Nothing, in my opinion, makes this more evident than the outtake reel present at the very end of the game, after the credits.)
The game’s overall presentation works to the predictable story’s benefit. Graphics were superior for their time, and age well. The game is filled with fully animated cut-scenes that are inspired by anime, so fans of Ni No Kuni, Wild Arms, or games of that ilk should feel right at home. The soundtrack is damn near peerless as well. Noriyuki Iwadare (of Grandia fame, with some notoriety in the Ace Attorney franchise as well) pulls off truly epic orchestrations that push the PS1’s limits when conveying somber moments, high tension, or truly epic boss battle themes.
Here’s where I may lose some of you: the game was created in the era of 90’s RPGs, so expect that kind of gameplay. Battles aren’t randomly generated, but the enemies you walk into to initiate a fight are numerous. Characters move around a small field of battle to approach enemies and whack them, or attack with magic from afar. Expect plenty of grinding, and reasonably balanced difficulty throughout. Each main character has his or her own unique use. One of Lunar 2’s most unique features is that Lucia, a character who remains in your party for almost the entire game, is completely controlled by AI. Lucia’s AI does a decent job of supporting you throughout your journey. She’s AI controlled, but she has limitless magical power (so that ought to explain why). Besides Lucia, the use of magic is plentiful, means to heal your characters outside of battle are frequent and forgiving, but the rationing of items is encouraged. All of the game’s bosses provide a decent challenge (there are no pushovers, even in the beginning). The last leg of the game features one of the most famously brutal final bosses in all of gaming, and the dungeon in which you prepare to face him is painful, to say the least. I suspect newcomers will feel comfortable up to the very end, then weep as the ancient evil plays with their party like dolls.
Magic, skills—they’re all extremely versatile. Characters undergo (mental) transformations that unlock latent abilities. Buff up your weapons and armor in every town; learn to use unique Crests and accessories that grant various abilities/magic/stat buffs in battle. All the charm of your typical 90’s RPG is present in Lunar 2. Whether or not you consider this a flaw (gameplay got quite aggravating to me, at times) is entirely subjective.
One final note, regarding replay factor: there’s no new game plus to be found, but after the game’s credits roll, an entire epilogue whose length and difficulty rivals the full game to come before it is unlocked. The epilogue features a bonus bit of story, and tons of extra goodies for diligent explorers to discover. The main story does a good job of wrapping things up, but this epilogue offers the proper send-off to the world of Lunar, for sure.
It’s good, but is it $50 good?
Retro throwbacks aren’t very hard to come by in today’s heavily populated RPG library. There are a good handful of games I could recommend on the DS or on PSN that evoke similar feelings to the ones folks get when playing through a game like Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete. But, I’m going to level with you guys: there is not another game quite like this one out there. Plenty of similar plot arcs and characters can be found no matter where you look, but the localization is what truly sets this game apart from its peers and those to come after it. I’m not quite sure what lightning struck the folks at Working Designs back in 2000 when this game came out…and given that the studio has dissolved, I can safely bet that lightning won’t strike twice… but man. I was ready to knock this game down a peg or two, and offer “it’s good, but it’s not worth the asking price”.
I love it when I’m wrong, you guys. Lunar 2: Eternal Blue was worth every penny I paid for it. And even if the game is remade for the PSP or Vita eventually, following the suit of Silver Star Harmony, I know… it’ll never be the same.
Review copy purchased by Author