Lunar: Silver Star Harmony

Game Arts' Lunar series, despite being nearly a score old, hasn't advanced much during its existence, largely consisting of two main installments, The Silver Star and its sequel Eternal Blue, and numerous remakes. Though attempts have been made to advance the franchise beyond these two installments, the first, Magic School Lunar, never saw release outside Japan, and the second, Dragon Song, largely received negative reviews. The PlayStation Portable would eventually receive yet another remake of The Silver Star, entitled Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, which proves to be the definitive version of the game.

As with prior incarnations of the game, Harmony takes place on the world of Lunar, which orbits the Blue Star. Alex, a boy from the village of Burg, dreams of becoming a Dragonmaster like his hero Dyne (with a new introductory scenario providing backstory for Dyne and the other Four Heroes), and must seek out the four dragons with his friends and battle the Magic Emperor.

Like Silver Star Story, Harmony features visible monsters wandering dungeons, and walking near them will provoke them towards Alex's party. Unlike in other RPGs with visible encounters such as EarthBound, however, monsters will always charge the player regardless of their levels, and since dashing by holding the R button is barely faster than walking, attempting to avoid battle is, in most instances, a futile effort.

Those who have played prior incarnations of The Silver Star will undoubtedly be familiar with the general battle mechanics. In the game menus, the player can set up their party of up to five characters into a formation that they take on the right side of the battlefield when entering combat, with the enemy occupying the left side of the battlefield. Players can also set up to three different "tactics" to execute in battle, consisting of specific commands that each character will perform during a round.

Commands include attacking normally, using MP-consuming magic, using an item, defending (in which case a character can move to a specific position on the battlefield), attempting to escape, or (hopefully not) allowing the A.I. to select a command for that character. After the player inputs commands for their party, they and the enemy execute their commands in a random turn order, moving around the field while doing so, with the random turn order sometimes screwing up things like trying to heal weak characters and the movement sometimes screwing up things like area-affecting magic.

Battles with many enemies can also occasionally drag out, but have decent pacing otherwise. An addition from Lunar Legend is limit breaks, with each character having a gauge that, when full, allows them to perform a powerful move that afterward empties the gauge. After each round, Nall, Alex's winged feline companion, may occasionally revive a fallen character. After battle, the player obtains experience, money, and an occasional item, with level-ups happening occasionally, increasing a character's stats. Overall, despite the faults of combat, it hardly burdens the game.

Control is near-perfect, with an easy menu system, easy shopping, a general good direction on how to advance the main storyline, and the always-welcome save-anywhere feature, alongside the PSP's built-in quicksave/pause. The only major fault is the inability to skip cutscenes.

The story is easily the high point of the game, with decent backstory and twists throughout the game and an endearing cast of characters, not to mention a solid translation job on par with Working Designs' work, which preserves some of their own lines while excising others, chiefly pop culture references. The script does err in referring to all inhabitants of Lunar not of the Vile Tribe as humans, despite the presence of beastmen, but otherwise, the plot and translation serve the game well.

Noriyuki Iwadare provides the game's soundtrack, consisting of higher-quality versions of the tracks from Silver Star Story, which sound absolutely fantastic, though the remake does err in having the music stop during all screen transitions, even if the track remains the same. The voice acting, moreover, is much better than that in Silver Star Story, with the only real bad voices being during the new prologue. Overall, Harmony is an excellent-sounding game.

Harmony is also the best-looking Lunar game to date, with character sprites containing much better anatomy, and environments looking pretty, having oblique projection akin to games such as EarthBound. Aside from NPCs only facing diagonally and the anime cutscenes brought back from Silver Star Story remaining unadjusted for the PSP's wider screen, the remake is a visual treat.

Finally, finishing the game will take at most twenty-five hours, with little to advance playing time, what with the dearth of sidequests or post-game content. Even so, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is undoubtedly the definitive version of The Silver Star, given the decent gameplay, solid control, endearing plot, polished translation, and improved music, voice acting, and graphics. Regardless of these improvements, there will undoubtedly arise many schools of thought concerning the remake, one believing previous incarnations to be superior and that anything Working Designs touched was gold, and the other acknowledging that previous versions weren't perfect and willing to play an updated version. I happen to be of the latter group, and highly recommend the game to anyone who feels the same way, not to mention those who have yet to experience The Silver Star.

The Good:
+Simple but enjoyable gameplay.
+Great story and translation.
+Solid music, voice acting, and graphics.

The Bad:
-Some hiccups in combat.
-Music stops during screen transitions.
-Not much replay value.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 9/10
Story: 10/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 6/10
Difficulty: Easy
Playing Time: 20-40 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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