Way back in the December of 1992, developer Game Arts created a magnificent RPG for the not-so-popular Sega CD called Lunar: Silver Star. The game offered unique features for the time such as real anime cut-scenes and CD quality in-game music. While the Sega CD might not have been the best platform for this little gem to debut on, it was definitely a success and was later re-released for the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. In December of 1994 Game Arts developed a sequel to Silver Star titled Eternal Blue, which also saw re-releases on Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation and Nintendoâ€™s Game Boy Advance. Now, almost 11 years later, Game Arts has developed a new Lunar game for the Nintendo DS, appropriately named Dragon Song.
Lunar: Dragon Song takes place one thousand years before Silver Star. In the game, the goddess Althena created the world of Lunar, home to two species: the beastmen and the humans. The humans are the smarter race, while the beastmen are stronger. A tense undercurrent flows between the beastmen and humans, prompting Jian, the main character, to prove that both races are equal. Jian ultimately makes the two forces join to fight a new threat, the Vile Tribe. The leader of the Vile Tribe, Ignatius, wants to enslave Althena and dominate the world of Lunar.
Dragon Song is full of references to the other two Lunar games, like beastmen, the Vile Tribe and dragons. One of the strong points of the Lunar series has always been the deep story and lengthy quests, which both lack a bit in this installment. The story is less engaging in Dragon Song, due in part by the amount of detail spent on the stories of the previous two Lunar games.
Jian is joined by a girl named Lucia, who he works with at a courier service called Gadâ€™s Express. Jianâ€™s main â€˜weaponâ€™ is his shoes, which he inflicts damage with via acrobatic moves. New shoes can be bought throughout the game to upgrade Jianâ€™s attack power. Lucia has an umbrella which she can smack enemies with, but she can also cast powerful spells to defeat the forces of evil. Jian eventually gets the ability to cast spells by using special rings. Later in the game, Jian and Lucia are joined by three more allies, two of which are beastmen. Beastmen can perform powerful melee attacks, and each has one special attack that strikes all the enemies on the screen.
As in the previous two games, Dragon Songâ€™s battle system is turn-based, with three members of your party fighting up to seven enemies. Battles are initiated by bumping into enemies, which can be seen while walking. Annoyingly, avoiding these enemies is quite a task so players will find themselves in a lot of battles. Sprinting makes it easier to avoid enemies, but Jianâ€™s stamina will eventually drain, forcing him to walk at a normal pace until his stamina is replenished. Limited sprinting can be a bit annoying when traveling long distances, but it does add some realism to the game. If the limited sprinting wasnâ€™t enough, the penalty for sprinting is a costly oneâ€”your hit points decrease while sprinting, even in towns where there are no enemies. Players are forced not to sprint this way, making the already lengthy journey progress at a snailâ€™s pace.
In Dragon Song there are two battle modes: Combat Mode and Virtue Mode. In combat mode, players get various items from defeating enemies instead of experience points, and vice-versa with virtue mode. After a battle is successfully completed in virtue mode, a countdown timer appears. As soon as the timer runs out, enemies start to respawn, although the timer can be extended by defeating more enemies before it runs out. If an entire area is cleared without the timer running out, players will be rewarded with better stats and a blue chest containing useful items. The decision to have two battle modes is pretty unclear, since almost all RPGs can handle experience and items in one battle system.
A big flaw in the battle system is the lack of targeting. Your party will randomly attack enemies, which can be highly frustrating when weaker enemies are attacked automatically while a powerful enemy keeps nailing your characters. Whether it was an oversight or an intended â€˜feature,â€™ it was a poor judgment call and certainly makes battling needlessly frustrating.
An addition to the Lunar series is card collecting. Players can collect cards after they defeat a certain enemy, with the card representing the fallen enemy. These cards can later be used in or out of battle, inflicting damage on enemies or boosting playersâ€™ stats. Some of the cards replenish hit points or magic points, while others canâ€™t be used at all and are just for collecting purposes.
Lunar: Dragon Song doesnâ€™t make good use of the DSâ€™s unique features. The touch screen can be used to navigate through the menu or move characters, actions that can just as easily be done with the d-pad. You can use the microphone for escaping battles, but this doesnâ€™t do much other than make the player look silly.
One of the best features of the first two games was the animation in cut-scenes. Dragon Song has static cut-scenes with text, as opposed to the animated cinemas replete with voice acting from the older titles. This takes a lot away from the Lunar feel, since animated cut-scenes and voice acting were key features that helped define the series. The graphical style of Lunar: Dragon Song holds true to the traditional Lunar feel, which isnâ€™t mind blowing, but certainly harkens back to the first two gamesâ€™ distinctive aesthetic.
Lunar: Dragon Song is a noble attempt to bring the Lunar universe back to the fore, but the lack of features that made the series popular and the dated, old-school visual style take too much away from the game. Dragon Song is still a very lengthy RPG and will most likely keep RPG fans entertained, but casual gamers new to the Lunar series would be better off passing Dragon Song by.