When I flip over my Game Boy Advance review stack, I have to admit I try to look for the more entertaining titles because more often than not, titles on this platform are a rehash of something old or something outdated. There's very little in the way of original content. So when confronted with a slate of console RPG titles, I like to take a quick cursory look at the screenshots and I can tell you off the bat that
Lunar Legend was the prettiest of the bunch. There is, apparently, some truth to men and visual stimulation.
Lunar, however, turned out to be as prosaic in its setup and implementation as attractive women. It's predictable. It can potentially get formulaic. And you might even get bored, but it never really ceases to look good. That's probably what will keep you going through Lunar.
Certainly, it won't be the story. The protagonist, Alex, and the rest of the world pay homage to this one hero who became a martyr ridding the world of its evil foes. So in this hero's absence, another threat looms large, a new hero must rise to restore hope for the status quo. Tagging along with him are Dickensian stereotypical characters: priests (read: healers), thieves, so on and so forth.
The game isn't much different from other Lunar titles, or for that matter, other RPGs on the Game Boy Advance. You move from your starter village to another, strike up a few conversations to get some quests going and venture into neighboring dungeons to clear them. The dungeons are blessed (or plagued) with the random encounter syndrome. While the story makes an effort to develop the characters, this is RPG on a console (albeit handheld) machine. This means character choices, skills-based advancement and a free will type of RPG universe, readily demonstrated by the recent Morrowind par excellence, are completely missing. Instead, much of the action will rest with acquiring new spells, gaining enough money to outfit new weapons and the classic
levelling up strategy.
If you're not into that type of gameplay, at least Lunar makes all the environs look a lot prettier than what we've seen before on Nintendo's handheld though, even outstripping titles like Breath of Fire. That's because Lunar was actually released on CD-driven consoles; Saturn and PSOne being the primary ones people have enjoyed Lunar on. So when Ubi Soft claims that things have been reworked for Lunar on the Game Boy
Advance, one might think the only tailoring done here is to replace the cinematic sequences with still pictures and ditch the Redbook soundtracks of yesteryear. Of course, a good marketer wouldn't say stripped down, they'd say reworked or newly customized. Newcomers, however, won't mind because the stand-in material is still on par with the gameplay offered.
Despite the prosaic setup and run of the mill RPG methodology, Lunar makes up for it in charm. The colorful graphics and audio effects are a step up from some of the other yesteryear compilations we've seen (Phantasy Star, Breath of Fire, et al). Though it is mired by translation problems typical of this genre, it doesn't mitigate the fact that this is a good-looking RPG on a handheld.
Speaking of translation problems, we have a staff member on our team who is more than fluent in Japanese. When I swing overseas material to him, I never get any of the translation ambiguities that I often see in these RPGs. So I'll just chalk up the problems in Lunar to laziness and lack of thoroughness, rather than difficulty of material.
Still, that wasn't enough to dissuade me from tackling the game. Even with the random fighting, Lunar isn't terribly punishing in combat.
Most of the game is divided into specific zones, but by completing the quests assigned in a zone, you'll most likely achieve the level required to move on so this isn't a title where you find yourself simply levelling up to get on with the plot.
There's no doubt that the very term RPG is experiencing massive change these days. With the onset of online titles, and ones based on motifs beyond the traditional fantasy setting, the very definition of an RPG is constantly being questioned and challenged by today's developers. Simply look at Phantasy Star Online. Some people say it's a vapid tribute to that namesake and is a product that has nothing to do with Phantasy Star. Others, critics among them, hail it as a revolutionary milestone. Lunar may not spark any revolutions these days, but it is definitely enjoyable material. Surely, something that has been created and recreated for nearly a decade has its merits.