If Lunar is a familiar name to your gaming vocabulary, that might be because the original Lunar: The Silver Star has been ported and remade several times on several systems since its original smash-hit release in 1992 for the Sega CD. Lead character Alex, his trusty flying companion Nall, and the sweet Luna are back again in their seemingly timeless RPG journey for 2010 in Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, courtesy of XSEED Games, for the PSP. Completely remade for Sony's portable, the game has brought both the good and bad back from the past.
In a world of adventurers, swords, magic, and travelling by foot or old-style ships, Alex is a young man from the village of Burg that dreams of becoming a Dragonmaster, a protector of the world. Alex finds inspiration in the renowned hero, Dragonmaster Dyne, yet it has been a long time since Dyne watched over the world of Lunar, as he has been assumed dead ever since he fought to protect their goddess, Athena. When Alex and his close friends, Luna and Ramus, find the mystical dragon Quark, they're set on a journey to crisscross the world to find the other mystical dragons so that Alex can become Lunar's new Dragonmaster.
Regardless that the story originates from 1992, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony's story fits into so many RPG cliches that its overarching simplicity and themes don't do much to hook players into its world or storyline. Whether it's a case of other RPGs copying elements of Lunar's story over the past 18 years or not, for new players the story likely won't feel like anything special. The story progresses slowly, bogged down and sidelined by constantly inconveniencing Alex and company with trivial tasks and quests, that while prolonging the journey, add next to nothing to the experience but a consistent test of players' patience.
Character development is on the thin side, as the leading characters remain one dimensional, and at times annoyingly predictable. They are indeed charming, and generally warm characters, but being so predictable drains that feeling considerably. A number of times throughout Lunar: Silver Star Harmony players are given the opportunity to make choices when conversing, and more or less these sequences add insult to injury. The outcome of the choices are once again predictable, yet despite choosing an option that would avert an obviously stupid course of events, the only way for the story to progress is to make the wrong choice, intentionally.
Alex travels through villages, mountains, cities, and a number of dungeons, as well as a world map. Enemies are visible in every area they populate, with battles initiating when Alex makes contact with them. If players want to avoid battles, they can try to run around enemies, but because enemies chase after Alex within a certain proximity, and many times obstruct Alex's path, many are unavoidable. Battles themselves are turn based, and menu driven. Attack, special attacks, items, and defend are the main commands Alex and company can use, but there is also a very handy auto-battle command that can be used on a per-turn basis as well. Auto-battle is great for fights players want to finish quickly, and it goes further with the availability of custom pre-set auto-battle styles depending on which characters are in the party.
Much like the story, gameplay is another test of patience. Battles are very start-and-stop, with both sides simply standing still as turns transition from one side to the other. Crossing one area within a dungeon can take quite a while when packed with enemies, and battles taking considerably longer than one would figure. On top of this, dungeons and towns are split into multiple areas, and when moving from one area to another, there's about a five to six second wait while the screen fades to black, loads the next area, then fades in, at which point Alex can move again. In dungeons it's not so bad as it takes so long to get through one area (unless players manage to run around plenty of enemies, quite possibly the most rewarding feat in the game), but in towns when players must trek from one end to the other, stopping to load areas is a bit of a headache.
Towards the beginning of the game the battle system is quite boring, yet easy to learn. As the game progresses, characters level up and gain new abilities, and enemies get harder, thus bringing in the very important 'fun' component of the system, strategy. Boss battles are especially fun as much of the time Alex and company are within two attacks of dying, and unloading all kinds of special abilities is great after conserving the necessary magic points to use them.
While much of the wait times and predictable storyline were brought with Lunar from the 90s, the graphics however were not. Lunar looks great on the PSP, with well animated 2D sprites that actually fit the system's screen perfectly. While one might assume that would be a no-brainer, so many games are notorious for having stretched out, pixelated, poorly animated sprites, that it's a relief to see Lunar's graphical quality. Town and dungeon backdrops are made up of detailed art, with vibrant colours, and alive with people, or crawling with monsters in the case of dungeons. Sound design, voice acting, and music is also high caliber, although some sound effects can get quite repetitive. There are even frequent, yet concise, anime-style cutscenes to enjoy.
For patient players that can overlook the pace and style the story uses to develop, and the battle system uses to function, there is certainly fun gameplay and story to be had. Alex and Luna are very much endeared to one another, and while pretty much a staple of stories since the beginning of story-telling, their relationship makes players care about the challenges and plot twists they suffer through. Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is a decent game for those with plenty of patience, even worth replaying, but for those looking for good pacing and engaging battle systems, tread with caution.