Gather ‘round children, and listen to an old man tell a tale of a bygone age.
The year was 1993, a halcyon age, when a fresh faced Bill Clinton took the oval office, booting out a terrible Bush that we would never hear from again. Raymond Burr had left this mortal coil, but Kenny G’s Breathless was keeping us all in high spirits. And a little film called Jurassic Park made big waves at the box office with its door opening raptors and lawyer devouring lizards.
But all was not well on the homefront. The console wars raged on, and, in an effort to put Nintendo in its place, Sega had released the Sega CD, the first CD based video game system that anybody cared about. There may have been over games or systems based on CD technology, but they were too Bluthian, or too likely to eat an octorok. The Sega CD had reigned supreme for its format so far, and we’d still have a full year before the Playstation would bring us CD bliss in the form of… I guess Jumping Flash? It all kinda blends together… Er-hem. It was then that Sega CD, with the aid of Game Arts and Working Designs, brought us Lunar: The Silver Star, a JRPG that was packed to the breaking point with action, humor, and, most importantly, anime.
Yes, there was a time when “anime” was a selling point! Well before the age of flashing fluorescent loli panties, there was a time when “anime” was considered the most mature medium available stateside. After all, we had imported such high brow programming as Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z. There were rumors that these programs were even more mature in their native Land of the Rising Sun. Sailor Moon featured a couple of villains emphasizing the “couple” aspect in America, but in Japan, this hetero couple was much more homo, because that kind of thing was allowed in
children’s programming art over there. And Dragon Ball Z? We were stuck with a sanitized version, people actually DIED in Japan! Can you even imagine it? Japan allowed such weighty topics as same sex relationships and death in its shows, while all we were stuck with was Bonkers (totally nuts!). And if you were really lucky, maybe you had an older sibling who got a copy of… don’t let your parents hear I told you about this… Akira. The subtitles might distract you from the gorgeous art and horrifying story of a teenage boy dealing with gangs and giant stuffed animals. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s got nothing on Tetsuo.
Unfortunately, Sega CD may have held the CD universe captive, but it failed to captivate a good number of consumers. If you were lucky enough to have a Sega CD and Lunar, good for you! The rest of us, though, had to wallow with our Super Mario All-Stars and Secret of Mana and Kirby’s Adventure. Oh, the horror, the horror. Lunar would forever be a fleeting dream born of the pages of Gamepro.
But the dream would come true: six years later, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete was released on the Sony Playstation. First of all, congratulations Lunar, and welcome to a system that, by this time, everyone and their granny owned. I think my cat had a Playstation around then (he was looking forward to Umjammer Lammy). And another point in Lunar’s favor? Anime fever had reached a boiling point. No more was anime just something that lurked around 6 AM on Sunday morning or some Sci-Fi channel showcase, no, now the likes of shows like Pokémon (and Digimon!) and programming blocks like Toonami (err… maybe just Toonami… but it was important!) had legitimized anime like we’d never envisioned. Now even your racist uncle had stopped saying “japanimation” and was looking forward to the next Gundam movie. In a few short years, we’d be watching Cowboy Bebop, and postulating where this unbelievable medium could go next.
At this time, against all odds, anime had not penetrated video games to the point one might expect from a Japan dominated medium. Yes, there were games that featured anime cutscenes or anime inspired art assets, but, by and large, the advent of the 3-D age and Final Fantasy 7 breaking all records forever had inspired a polygonal universe that may have had big eyes and small mouths, but they were blocky and not… drawn. By contrast, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete was gorgeous.
Well, at least in its cutscenes.
Lunar’s moment to moment graphics was fairly lacking. Seriously, half the towns and dungeons in Lunar could have existed on the Super NES, and we’re not talking Chrono Trigger here, we’re talking Final Fantasy 4. The battle sprites were diminutive and barely animated, and even horrible, rotten, no-good Beyond the Beyond had done its best to pull in some hardcore graphics for its battles. But the cutscenes! Wow! There was some stunning animation and at least passable voice acting (which, admittedly, was a boon at the time), and even out of the battles, the writing was a sort of “best of anime”. Bear with me here, but there was a time when things like battling gods, silver-haired betrayers, and “hot springs” were new and novel, as opposed to “just what happens, every single time”. And, setting aside all the controversy and nonsense since, the localization was excellent, and, yeah, I was a teenager at the time, so maybe I could tolerate a Beavis and Butthead reference or seven. I’m a big fan of “play video games for the game and not the story”, but there was a long forgotten age when the craft of these stories seemed worth the price of admission alone.
This is what we refer to as the Pre-Xenogears Era, incidentally.
Unfortunately, the good times couldn’t last forever. Anime took a turn for the… bad… somewhere along the line. It’s not the lolis or panty shots or incest or whatever else is being turned into an image macro as we speak, it’s more or less that anime has become a nonstop parade of the exact same tropes, over and over into infinity. And the worst part is that the medium seems to celebrate this routine, if the narrator excitedly announcing the next episode involving a hot spring is anything to go by. Oh, gosh, I wonder if these two female characters are going to get into a battle over breast size!
It was into this world that Lunar Silver Star Harmony was released in 2010, eleven years after its predecessor, and it flopped harder than Land of the Lost. First of all, yeah, it was released on the PSP, a losing proposition to begin with, and at the end of the PSP’s lifespan to boot, which, really, why bother? Then again, Lunar kind of seems drawn to failing systems (there was a Saturn version in Japan), so maybe that’s just par for the course. I guess we were just never meant to have a Lunar game on the DS (I guess we were just never meant to have a Lunar game on the DS, we clear on that?). But, dire system aside, an anime inspired JRPG “now” happens about every seventeen seconds, and half of those games are a minefield, as, without some research, you don’t know if you’re buying a game that’s any good or just a dating sim with a battle system duct taped on (and I’m being generous with that description). Lunar Silver Star Harmony was doomed practically from birth, bromide trading cards or no.
It’s a shame, too, as Lunar Silver Star Harmony is easily the best version of the game. The cutscenes of the PSX version are retained, but the remaining graphics are completely fresh, so now battles and towns and “sprites” all look like they’re out of game that was designed slightly later than 1992. The battle system even acquired some additional nuances and “super moves” that dramatically increase the utility of certain elf girls. And you can (briefly) play as the original legendary four heroes! It’s everything I dreamed of when I played the game back in ’99.
But, even though our parties desire it, it will never be 1999 again. Anime has settled into the same position as our dumb western television, 98% crap and 2% something actually worth seeing, and the idea of an “anime game” setting the world on fire is just as ludicrous as a licensed Hannibal 3DS game being worth our time. Sometimes games get better, but the world around them gets worse. I guess that’s why we’ll all have to move to the moon…
FGC #16 Lunar Silver Star Harmony
- System: Lunar is the Triple Goddess of video games. Lunar Silver Star for Sega CD is the crone, the origin, but too old and feeble for anyone to look at her. Lunar Silver Star Complete for Playstation is the mother, the one everyone imagines and looks for and is generally well remembered. And Lunar Silver Star Harmony for the PSP is the maiden, because ain’t nobody has touched that one.
- Number of Players: One across the board. Come to think of it, kinda surprised they didn’t try for some weird wireless mode on Lunar Silver Star Harmony like every other PSP game.
- Favorite character: Either Kyle or Jessica, as they’re kind of a duo. Jessica might win just a little bit for being a violent white mage, but Kyle is such an… idiot that he’s hard not to like.
- Not Ghaleon? No, not Ghaleon… Magic Emperor Ghaleon!
- Complete release history of Lunar Silver Star and you’re not even going to mention its randomly remade sequel? Nah. Probably because Working Designs decided to release that game, to my recollection, well after the sun turned into a blackhole and destroyed all of humanity, I often think of Lunar Eternal Blue as entirely its own entity. Though I still have and occasionally wear the medallion that came with that game, as I am an incredible nerd.
- Did you know? I want to say this is the first game I ever played with a “Rememberizer”, which, in game, is just a shortcut to rewatching all of the cutscenes at your leisure. This was a revelation in the days of tiny memory cards and a complete lack of youtubes. That… seems really absurd now.
- Would I play again? Man, what’s a guy got to do to make a game come out on the Vita download service? Portable is definitely the way to go with this game, and I’d be all about it if it didn’t require busting out the ol’ PSP. It makes the weirdest grinding noises!
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dick Tracy for the NES. Get ready, gumshoe, we’re gonna dust some knuckles! Or something! Please look forward to it!