Retrograding Advance 01.23.03

Well, people, a little comment as I get emails about this. My columns are not put up as soon as I write them. I give them to Chris, and when he has time, they go up. So yes, you WILL notice me talking about things over email to you that may seem different from what you get in the columns. Example is that HellNight has arrived while in the mailbag I state I’m still waiting for it. Little things like that. Nothing big, but I’ve gotten a few confused emails about the subject.

Sunday, my fiancee and I went to a British Toys R us. We both picked up a Pocket Pikachu Color for 5 Pounds each. They’re neat and a good distraction at work. Even better is the BIG Pokemon deal they are doing over here. For 19.99, you get a copy of Pokemon Gold, Silver, and the trading card game. That’s roughly $10USD a game! UK gamers, GET THIS DEAL! I also picked up Pokemon Puzzle Challenge for the GBC for 10 ppunds as well, but Elisa seems to be playing it more than I, as I was busy preparing for this review and playing Pokemon Ruby.

As you probably saw in my little quick news update, the latest Shining Force game comes out in England on Valentine’s Day. Shining Soul is finally going to be mine. And I’ll be doing a review for everyone in the States, as you guys might not even be getting it. People, if there was EVER a game to import, it’s this one. It’s 26 Quid/40$ and it’s Shining Force! SHINING FORCE!!! And it’s going to be in English. For a lot of you, this may be your only experience to the best fantasy RPG series ever unless you have the Sega Smash pack or a Sega Genesis. And I’ll be reviewing it a few days after the release to let you know if it deserves the hype and praise the other games in the series received.

Quick notes: Thanks to Bebito for my award. Really cute idea and column. We’re working out some weird ideas between us. Hopefully one will come to fruition. Also thanks to the rest of the staff for always saying such lovely things about me. Geez people. I’m gonna have an ego that dwarves HHH’s soon!

This week, we go back to some game reviews. This week, it’s the much requested (and finally arrived) Lunar Legend. I have to admit, this is the hardest review I’ve ever had to write. It’s Ubi Soft instead of Working Designs doing the translation, the story has changed in a way that it seems both new and surreally familiar. Lunar is the Tenchi Muyo! Of the VG world. Lunar had some big and small changes as it went from the Sega-CD to the Saturn/PSX. And now in GBA version, it’s changed yet again. And like the third version in the Tenchi animes, I’m strangely drawn to and repulsed by this version at the same time. To put it bluntly, I have no idea how I really feel about this game, but hopefully as I write this review, we’ll figure it out together. Man, applying the Socratic method to GBA reviews. Cthulhu bless ancient philosophy.

Here’s the plot. Don’t stop me if you’ve heard it before, because nearly every video game since the first lunar has attempted to take this plot and disguise it as their own. You’ve got Alex (No relation) who dreams of leaving his small town and having an adventure. He hails from the same down as the last Dragonmaster, a man named Dyne. The Dragonmaster is the direct servant of the goddess Althena who can harness the power of the 4 dragons. Alex lives with his parents, and a girl named Luna who was adopted as a babe by Alex’s parents. Alex and Luna were raised as brother and sister, yet struggle with feelings that are stronger than mere familiar affection. (Cue up the Deliverance music boys).

And this is actually where the Lunar Legends story changes greatly from the first two versions of this game. In LL, A young mage in training named Nash (not Big Daddy Cool) comes to their hamlet to find the White Dragon Quark and take the first of the Dragonmaster trials. Alex sees a chance for his first taste of adventure, and he, Luna, and their morbidly obese greedy friend Ramus become Nash’s guides and together the four look for the Dragon.

In the original, Nash joins your team, but is nowhere near the beginning of the game. It’s a neat twist and a way to have a full team at the beginning, but it seems odd to me. Alex in the first two games was young and impetuous and went to Quark on his own initiative. Having Alex only start to follow his dreams because someone else got up the drive and determination to first makes Alex a weaker and more flawed character than he is in the other games, and dramatically less heroic. Granted this is good, because Lunar games humanize their characters better than any other fantasy RPG. But Alex is already flawed in the other games, and this almost wussy tagalong aspect he’s given at the start of the game puts you off him a bit. And it makes the Dragon trial test Quark puts Alex and Nash through have both greater relevance, but also makes it lack credibility. Quark looks into both their hearts. Quark sees Nash is a cocky egotistical bastard, and sees Alex has pure and good motives to becoming a Dragonmaster. Yet Alex lacked the true desire to search for Quark on his own, meaning his motivation and will are weak. So either you can take this version of Alex in one of two ways: The first is that Quark sees Alex needs to grow up. He’s only 15. And by letting him pass the first trial, Quark gives Alex the confidence and determination he had lacked up until then. He saw Alex suffered from the Small Town boy scenario, where one talks and dreams of leaving for the big city, but never does, and changed all that for him. Or you can look at it, that the translation team screwed the pooch with the dialogue making Alex a big whiny loser. And truth be told, I don’t know which way I look at it.
As I said, Luna Legends gives me this weird feeling of Deja vu. It’s as if |Ubi Soft went out and tried to be Working Designs. It feels like one of their games, but there are some differences. And again, I don’t know if that means we’ve all been overrating the WD translation team, or if Ubi Soft was scared to death to try and be closer to the Japanese storyline in fear of losing the US Lunar fans.

The story is what sticks in my head a lot. The massive pop culture jokes are gone from LL that were put in by LL, but without the comedy, Lunar seems very somber and it makes me feel melancholy while playing it. Maybe that’s because I know the plot and what’s to come, or maybe I just miss wacky jokes. That’s not to say comedy still isn’t present. Kyle is still in drag, and Diamonds are still revealed to be Dragon turds. Yet there’s something when reading the text that strikes me as funny. Again, maybe this is because I know the other two Lunar games by heart and when something is dramatically or even a little bit different, I notice it and feel…odd. But then again, I didn’t feel this way when playing the PSX version for the first time, even though I noticed the changes from the Sega CD version. I guess the best way to put it is that I’m constantly finding my self jarred by the plot. I know what’s coming, yet I don’t. I’ve been here with the same characters before, yet they are all so different. Everything old is new is old again. Have I lost everyone here yet? It’s just such a weird surreal feeling I get from Lunar Legends story wise that I honestly can’t say whether or not I like Ubi Soft’s translation or not, or even the flow of the game.

Okay, I’ve just rambled for an entire page about how hard it is to compare the game’s plot to the other Lunar games. So let’s get off that before people assume I’m on drugs or completely nuts. Let’s go to the actual gameplay and what’s different here.

First up is the fact Lunar has taken a page from King of Fighters. Any game that does SNK tributes rocks my world. They’ve added a super gauge bar to your characters. After you have attacked so many times, the bar is filled. This allows your characters to perform a super special attack without using Magic points. It’s a neat idea, but the bar fills up quickly and the abilities are too powerful. Luna’s for example fills everyone’s Hit Points and Magic Points back to their max. Alex has a super damaging attack that hits all enemies. Stuff like that. To counter this, you can only fill it by using normal attacks. Not magic or special attacks. It’s an ATTEMPT to balance, but not much of one.

Also changed is the lack of psuedo-tactics from the Lunar Games. You could move characters around and position mattered in terms of attacks and damage and defence. But now combat’s gone the lame way of Final Fantasy. You have villains on one side, good guys on the other and they just stand there until you attack with them. No Strategy. Just mindless killing. A definite minus to the battle engine.

Speaking of that, I swear the game is a lot easier. The Sega CD Lunar was just a bastard. The PSX/Saturn one had an incredible idea where the bosses levelled up with you. So if you cheesed and ran around getting your characters up to super levels’the bosses had gained in power as well, always making sure battles were tough and challenging for players/ Truly a hardcore idea, ala the Sega CD, “Use your Magic XP if you want to save the game thing”, just not as vile and profanity inducing. Here the game just seems a lot easier battle wise. Your characters can’t die. They merely faint and then wake up at the end of the battle. And Nall revives them anyway so the battles are THAT much easier.

There’s also the plain fact everything is just weaker. You can beat Ghaleon at level 40 in Lunar Legends, whereas in the other games, you had to be pretty high to outlast him. In SSSC, all my guys were roughly 70-80 and Ghaleon was still a bastard with only Alex and Jessica standing at the end of the battle. This time I breezed through him like he was a jobber. I understand it’s because GBA games are supposed to be shorter and easier due to the travel nature of the system. But look at Robotech and Ogre tactics. Damn hard games for the GBA. Maybe I’ve just gotten so used to Lunar battles it was really easy for me this time, but I still think the battles have been dumbed down.

Another big change are the graphics. And here’s the kicker. They’re beautiful. Although the animation is missing, You still get some cut scenes from the PSX/Saturn versions of the animations. And they are just as good quality wise as the consoles, proving the GBA can handle 32 bit games. The characters, villages, graphics and battles are just so upgraded it’s hard to look at even the old PSX version without wishing it looked as good as the GBA one. This really is the best looking RPG for the Game Boy Advance right now. It blows EOTB, Ogre Battle, Advance Wars, and Pokemon out of the water with colour, detail and design. I know there are gamers out there who like little story and lots of graphics, and play control be damned. Well, LL has a gripping story, super play control and is one of the best looking games I’ve seen for the GBA ever. It really is 32-bit quality.

The final change I’m going to talk about is the map system. Before you walked everywhere. Now you just go to a map and click on where you want to g. no real journey. Just point and click. A minor change, but when you think about it, it really can be a big one. This was obviously to save time for the player on the go. Still not sure if I like this or not, something I feel towards most of Lunar Legends.

I would like to take this moment to point out all the rumours and lies on a lot of message board about people who have supposedly played this game can be proven false with the following statements: BROMIDES ARE IN THE GAME. I’d occasionally go to boards for chuckles and see people saying Bromides weren’t in Lunar legends and that they’d beaten the game months before it was out. Well, they obviously were full of more crap that a backed up toilet. Everytime you meet a new major character in the game, you get a bromide of them. You can view them under the options screen, then clicking on gallery. It’s a lot easier to get them than in the other versions of the game, but they are there nonetheless.

Now. I’ve probably scared some of you off by repeatedly saying I can’t really tell how I feel about this game yet. I know most reviewers, including myself, usually have a hard opinion on a game and throw it to the reader. But I really confused as to whether I really like this game or if it’s just nostalgia creeping in. At least I’m being honest, unlike 90% of reviewers who don’t beat a game before they review it. And the newly added “Card collecting” ability is one of those things that makes the issue clouded.

Okay, You randomly can get a card of an opponent you beat if it’s a minor monster. You automatically get a boss card, and you can buy various action cards of the main characters, such as Mia sleeping, Kyle as a trannie or Luna singing. The cards are crap looking, they do nothing (except the action cards) and it’s obviously put in to just a) keep you buy and b) to do SOMETHING to horde in on the collecting craze spawned by Pokemon. It’s also super easy to get the random cards. You pull one almost every battle, sometimes 2 or 3. But here’s the thing: I really enjoy getting them. Well, mainly the action ones. Maybe because I’m a Pokemon addict, but the trading card houses rock. Here’s how it works. You pay 100 silver pieces to get a chance at a card. You don’t know what you will get until after you pay. Then after you do fork the cash over, you are given 3 choices and can pick one of the cards to keep. It’s simple and neat and yet to get all the action cards takes a little energon and a lotta luck. It reminds me of baseball card collecting as a kid, a sport I really lost the love for when Mike Schmidt retired. Yeah, THAT long ago. It was another weird Deja vu thing where Lunar Legends makes Nostalgia come alive. Again, it’s so stupid and pointless, yet I enjoy trying to get some new cards. If I only had someone in England to trade cards with. I so need Mia #1!

Okay, we’ve covered what’s changed and what’s new. So what’s the same is probably the question you have left. Well, aside from a gripping story and the same control scheme/battle layout, not much. But that makes the truth sound less impressive than it really is. Obviously the engine of a game is super SUPER important and what in the end makes or breaks a game. And the story, well, that’s almost on par with the engine for importance with me. And Lunar’s story is one of the best. I’ve told you the changes to the opening, but the heart of the story remains untouched. It’s the story of a boy growing into a man. Learning to follow his heart, his love, and most of all, his destiny. It debates of whether man or Gods determine fate, it shows how Good is always tinged with darkness, and that absolute evil is an impossibility. The heroes have negative aspects to their personalities, and the villains are sometimes admirable and pitiable. Dyne is not the super hero he is made out to be at the beginning of the game, and Ghaleon is not actually evil, but a good man unable to see the path he has embarked about is actually one of folly and malice. Ghaleon truly believes he is good and doing what is best for the world, the gods and himself and that conviction is what makes him dangerous. Evil for the sake of evil not only ruins many a good character, but is so far from being possible that a character just being a genocidal maniac because he can be ruins the credibility of any plot they come into. Villains needs reasons and motivation the same as heroes. In fact, villains usually need MORE character development simply due to their nature as the antagonist. Whew! Sorry about that mini-rant. Just Alex stating the importance of characterization.
Needless to say, I love the plot of the Lunar games, no matter what tweeks and changes they make because it is the same world, same characters and same heart of the beast.

Now of course comes the problem of rating this game. As this is a column and not typical reviews for 411games, I have kinda broken the usual standard of doing these, with long commentaries followed by quick ratings. But this game is rather hard for me to rate. This is because I’m confused between whether I’m feeling Nostalgia, enjoyment or disappointment. Whether I like the new translation of Lunar or not. Whether the game is an improvement, merely a parallel to an already classic series, or if it’s the black sheep of the family by being almost TOO different from the other two versions of Silver Star Story that came before it. So let’s just do the ratings and I’ll talk some more about the game, which is why you read me anyways right? For the long babbling tangents instead of quick and dry commentary.

Gameplay: 9.0
Graphics: 10.0
Sound: 7.0
Fun Factor: 8.0/10.0 (see below)
Overall: 8.5/9.0 (see below)

Now I have to justify these ratings as they were all based on gut reactions. Gameplay is the simplest as it’s an RPG which means exceptionally tight control, except for two nagging things, each of which brought the game down a half point. The first is the fact the game is automatically set up for AI battles, instead of manual ones which is a pain. The second is that the controls are hairtight, which means if you even graze the D pad, your character could be running or defending instead of attacking. These annoy me, but you get used to them a couple hours into the game.

Graphics, well’they rock. Next.

Sound. Okay, and this is what throws me. See, THEY HAVE WORKING DESIGNS VOICE ACTING IN THIS GAME! I dunno how they got permission or what or why or anything, but Luna is the voice actress from Working Designs’ PSX version, singing as she did in their version of the game. And that’s eerie, because it’s NOT a WD game. But it is so. That freaks me out every time I hear it.

Now, the music is good for a GBA, catchy tunes, especially if you know the Lunar series, voice acting, which I think is a first for a GBA game, for sure for a GBA RPG, (Although it’s just one voice singing the same song over and over again…). So why did I give it only a 7.0? Well, because music is a huge part of the Lunar games. Luna and Althena use song for magic and the games have used Luna’s singing for important plot points in the priori versions. Instead of a good VG song with animation in the GBA game, we just get a non-FMV shot of Luna sitting in a crow’s nest singing. No words, no emotion, just a simple scene. And it’s one of the most important bits of the other versions of this game. I was wondering how they were handling Luna is this game, and now I know. They said “Bugger all” to her singing and that’s a big void in the game for me. I’m so used to song being integral to Silver Star that not having it…shocks me.

Now for the fun factor. See, there’s a reason for the dual rating. I couldn’t give it a ten outright as something about the game nags on me. But it does deserve one. So I’ve given it a separate rating. The 10.0 is for people who have never played a Lunar game before. If you have never played one, Please, PLEASE get this game. I am on bended knee beseeching you to play this game for story value alone. It’s incredible. It’s LUNAR! But, at the same time I want to give it a lower rating because of the weird “I’m in Silent Hill” feeling this game gives me. Maybe it’s just because I’ve played two other versions of this story with it’s own changes and distinct flow. And thus the 8.0 is for people who have played one or both of the prior Silver Star games who may get the same feeling of Deja vu while playing this game, expecting one thing and getting another. A plot that is familiar and yet different. A game you have and yet haven’t played before. Damn,I should write the plot for the next Survival-terror game!

In a nutshell, previous LUNAR fans may really like this new storytelling or they may dislike it being used to the old and familiar version. Regardless, those that have played a previous Lunar game will have a decidedly different feeling to this game simply because of a different translation team in addition to a different plot. Thus I have a feeling the fun factor will be lessened for those simply because they have something set in their mind as to how Lunar should be, and this game will surprise them. Thus an 8.0 for longtime Lunar fans, a 10.0 for those who haven’t enjoyed Lunar before.

THE 411:
Only Eye of the Beholder and Robotech got me this into a GBA game so far. Advance Wars, Pokemon, Bust a Move, and Ogre Tactics were all good, but they weren’t something that I wanted to keep playing and playing. They didn’t give me something familiar and loved and yet change it enough to make it wholly original and surprising. Seriously people, this is a game I can’t put into words that will actually define my emotions and feelings towards it. It’s a feeling of either unsettling familiarity or warm nostalgia I get with Lunar Legends. Maybe it’s both. This is one time where I have to impress upon you that my opinion here is biased towards previous experiences and expectations and thus maybe I can’t give you a 100% neutral review. But I can say that after all this writing and commentary that I really do love Lunar Legends. It’s a game I will play again and again and will always consider one of the best VG purchases I have made. And in that respect, it’s no different from any of the other Lunar games after all. Don’t worry, Alex isn’t doing a Sean Shannon.

Okay, I’m expecting a lot of, “Alex has finally written a shitty column” for this one, and I welcome it. It is far off the track from what I normally write, but it was a review I had to write. I really do want to see your commentary on this column. And as always the place is (BTW, before I go, this is my 12th column/14th article for 411 games in the month I’ve been here. Doesn’t it feel like longer?)