Tuesday, 11 April 2006 00:00

Lunar: Eternal Blue (SegaCD, 1994)

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Overview

I'm not sure what it was that first turned me onto the Lunar series. I picked the first one up cheap when I was looking for a copy of Popful Mail, I think, and it was the only Working Designs title at the local FuncoLand. I'd always been a fan of RPGs, and when Silver Star was recommended to me, I decided to give it a shot and see what it was like. When I stopped back in the next week and found that they had a copy of a second game, subtitled Eternal Blue, I immediately snatched it, looking forward to a return to the admittedly cartoony world. As it turned out, I was in for a rare, and special treat - Lunar: Eternal Blue was of that rarest breed: A sequel not only as good as, but impressively superior to the original in every possible way. This is something you almost never see, especially in this day and age of 'Wham, Bam, Ship'em Man' sequels where the goal is more to ride on the popularity of the first than it is to improved upon it. Eternal Blue takes place not directly after Silver Star, but instead a thousand years later, long past the day and age of Dragonmaster Alex and Luna, and the world shows a vast amount of change for it. For one thing, just as an example, it appears that the Frontier and Vile Tribe were finally assimilated into the rest of the world, hence the world map is a good four times larger than Silver Star's was.

Review

As you'll remember from my review of Silver Star, Lunar takes place on a world that orbits 'the Blue Star', a planet that is perhaps blatantly meant to be Earth. Long, long in the past, a massive cataclysm occurred that forced Althena, goddess of song and beauty, to use her power to turn the once lifeless Lunar into a world of unparalleled beauty and life, and with the help of her four dragons and the Dragonmaster, bring the surviving humans there so that they could await the revival of the Blue Star. From there Silver Star went on to tell the tale of life as it was on Lunar itself, following the adventures of admittedly generic characters. Eternal Blue diverges from this idea - much has changed in the years since Dragonmaster Alex, perhaps most noticeably the image of Althena herself. The denizens of Lunar have all but forgotten her, save for the Cult of Althena, a group of religious fanatics who do much in her name that anybody familiar with the first game will realize is, well... against her name. The story opens on an ice-locked, wind-swept plain with a massive tower in the foreground. The camera - incidentally, Eternal Blue, like Silver Star, has scattered FMV anime sequences - takes us into the tower, and toward a crystal floating at the center of a screen, with a (barbie-doll, unfortunately) nude girl suspended within. She wakes up due to a very nasty dream, emerges from the crystal, and you realize, as she reaches a balcony and looks skyward that you're on the Blue Star, with Lunar visible in the sky.

From there we move on to meet the game's main hero, a young man named... er... Hiro. Said Hiro is hanging upside down over a dragon's head statue, and we discover this as a reddish-pink flying cat drops down to remind him that the time is almost up on the trap he's sprung. We're treated to a nice, fourth-wall breaking monologue as he and Ruby run for their lives to escape the results of the trap. Hiro loves nothing more than exploring the mysteries of the past, even dreams of having legendary adventures of his own some day as they reach the exit just in time to avoid an Indiana Jones sized boulder. This is where the game proper starts, and once you get back to Hiro's home, the plot kicks into high gear. Where the story of Silver Star managed to be decent, but cliche, Eternal Blue was a remarkably original story for its time, and unlike the first game, never quite slips into a neutral position - the storyline is always moving. Of course, both Lunar's came before the advent of truly non-linear RPG's, so if you're looking for offshoots to the main story, don't hold your breath - they're worked directly into the plot as you reach them. This having been said, Lunar: Eternal Blue ALSO has one of the first (and only) appearances of a real epilogue! After you finish the main plot, you'll be able to start a secondary story with the characters you just finished that expands upon the ending.

The characters in Eternal Blue are also much better rounded than their Silver Star counterparts. Hiro proves to be actually gifted with the power of speech, for instance, and in a nice touch on his character, he shows his youth and inexperience by a rather unique method - for the first half of the game or so, he actually levels up at half the pace of the other characters. This is offset by Lucia, the girl you saw in the opening. While she is a completely computer controlled character, her level is directly linked to Hiro's, so as he improves, so does she - and even at lower levels, her spells are remarkably powerful, once she starts casting them. Then there's Ronfar, your healer - who decides to join you on a roll of the dice. Fans of Setzer from Final Fantasy 6 will probably like Ronfar. Eternal Blue's heavy-hitter character is Jean, a dancer you meet fairly early on. Though she has some of the most interesting development through the story, she is also admittedly the most cliche of the cast - but that having been said, the game on the whole is, as I said, one of the least cliche I've played, so take that with a grain of salt. Rounding out the lineup you have Lemina Ausa, the descendant of Nash and Mia from the first game, as your main magic user, and Leo, who's story is tied together with Ronfar.

Fans of the first game will note that the graphics in Eternal Blue are a marked improvement in all areas - the sprites look much better, the enemies each have their own animations and multiple 'stances' (something I'll come back to later), and the world of Lunar overall looks much cleaner and well made. Like Silver Star, the world map of Eternal Blue isn't obviously tile based, but instead full of curves and twisting edges, giving it a far more realistic appearance than, say, Final Fantasy. It gives a pseudo-3d feel to walking around, an effect ahead of its time considering that this was on the SegaCD. Beyond that, some of the dungeons in Eternal Blue qualify as some of the most beautiful stages for my tastes, such as the crystalline floor of Black Dragon's cave. The anime cut scenes are also infinitely better than Silver Star's. While they're still not equal to what you'd have found on, say, the average anime tv show of the day, they've also surpassed the original's level of glorified animated gif's, and contain movement and surprisingly good voice syncing. There are also quite a few more to enjoy, not the least of which includes the special bonus to be found at the end of the epilogue's credits, if you wait a couple minutes - just over five minutes worth of very funny outtakes from the voice actors.

Music is improved on all fronts. All but gone are the semi-ambient dirges found in the dungeons of the first game - though a remixed version shows up in a couple places, the soundtrack on the whole is much more enjoyable and suitable for the scene. The voice acting is better as well, though of course it has the usual iffiness of dubs from this era. Unfortunately, unlike the first game, the bulk of the soundtrack and voice clips are in a PCM format stored in the game's data files, so you can't snag them by playing them in a normal CD player. This is alright though - the major reason for this is because there's about four times as much music as was in Silver Star. As luck would have it, there are two CD based songs to be found, though - the two vocal themes, both of which are quite enjoyable.

I remarked upon this for Silver Star, and so I'd like to do a follow up to detail the improvement that was made in Eternal Blue. Like the first game, you have the option of letting the game control your character's actions for battles using the 'AI' command. Useful for general leveling, this command is now available from the very top level menu, allowing you to use a single button press to set all four-five characters on AI, rather than having to choose it individually for each character as in Silver Star. A second addition is the 'Tact' command, which allows you to choose from one of three pre-arranged sets of commands. These can be anything from basic attacks to magic to items, to even bringing up a command prompt just for specific characters as needed! This, combined with what I believe to be the first instance of a game using different enemy 'stances' - that is, displaying a different version of the sprite - to give you a hint as to what the enemy is going to do allows for an unheard of - at the time - ability to tailor your tactics to the situation. Instead of having to waste, say, precious MP on an attack, you can look at the appearance of the enemy and know that they'll be invulnerable for that turn and that you have a chance to heal. More games need to do this! Perhaps not to the extent of Eternal Blue, but I dare you to tell me that it's not irritating as hell to burn your Attack Of All Major Enemy Death That Took Forty Turns To Power Up on an enemy that picks THAT turn to pull some trick out of its behind and turn it on you.

Overall

Like the first game in the series, perhaps the biggest draw of Eternal Blue is that it takes place in a plausible world - someday, that could very well be US out there, looking up to see the Blue Star of Earth hanging overhead on a terraformed moon. Yet where Silver Star admittedly fell short of being anything but an average game otherwise, Eternal Blue has a strong story, solid and interesting characters, an expanded and at times familiar world, and perhaps most importantly, continuity. You see, something that is all too often forgotten in sequels is that things have indeed gone before, and all too often you'll see shifts in established facts that throw off the storyline of the first game, or similar problems. In Eternal Blue, though, you get to see an expanded Lunar - yet you also find familiar sights. It's no surprise, for instance, that you find yourself walking the streets of Meribia once again, and that the locations are familiar if you've played the first game. The Grindery is pretty much just where it was left - and though the insides have changed, there's also familiar places within that'll make you smile. Hiro's adventures start with a fascination of the past, so perhaps it's appropriate that so much attention was paid to the details of keeping continuity with the events of the first game - and let me assure you, you'll appreciate that attention as you follow the storyline and meet the surprises waiting for you. In many ways, Eternal Blue was made for those that had played the first game - it does stand on its own very well for those that haven't, but those that have will understand just how carefully it was planned out. I have to call Lunar: Eternal Blue for the SegaCD a must play game - or even the Playstation remake, which was infinitely faithful to the original, with only minor re-translations made. If you're a fan of RPG's, then this is highly, highly recommended.

Additional Info

  • Title: Lunar: Eternal Blue
  • Genre: RPG, Fantasy
  • Artist: Toshiyuki Kubooka
  • Composer: Noriyuki Iwadare
  • Platform: Sega CD
  • Developer: Game Arts, Studio Alex
  • Publisher: Game Arts, Working Designs
  • Writing: Groovy (+5)
  • Pacing: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Graphics: Good (+2)
  • Controls: Very Good (+3)
  • Voice Acting: Average (0)
  • Soundtrack: Very Good (+3)
  • Replay Value: Very Good (+3)
Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2012 22:40

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