Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lunar Silver Star Story Touch [SoMoGa] - $6.99

RPG fans have a pretty wide variety of titles to choose from in the AppStore. Actually, like almost every other genre there is, there’s an abundance of them. But, again, like almost every other genre there is, there is always the group of hardcore fanatics that just can’t get enough, and are lucky to have so many titles available to them. Within this group are the gamers that have been around for a while, in their 20’s and 30’s and, in the AppStore, it’s of the few places you can find old titles ported to the iDevice. The first 3 Final Fantasy titles, Chrono Trigger, The Bard’s Tale, The Quest, Avernum: Escape From The Pit and others have all found a new home on the iOS. But one company, SoMoGa seems destined to bring over old SEGA CD titles from the early 90’s that a lot of us here in America might not have heard of. Their first port, Vay, was a pretty much unknown title here in the US. Developed in 1993 for the SEGA CD, originally released in Japan, and then translated and brought over to the US later on didn’t receive too many sales, but did wind up earning itself a few hardcore fans. Now, 4 years later, SoMoGa has finally released their second SEGA CD port, and this time, it’s one of the most famous titles released for the platform; Lunar: Silver Star Story. 

For those of you who haven’t heard of Lunar: The Silver Star, it sold nearly as many copies as SEGA CD consoles in Japan,  remaining as the best selling SEGA CD game, in Japan, to date. Once brought to English speaking countries, it was hailed as the best RPG of 1993 by GameFan, and is in EGM’s top 200 games of all time. Now, I guess the real question is, given the faults with Vay’s control/UI scheme, is Lunar Silver Star Story Touch a version that fits nicely on the touch screen of the iDevice? Well, we’ve been struggling with trying to figure that out since we got our hands on it release day. 

Lunar SSST tells the story of Alex, and his friends Ramus and Luna, along with their cat-like creature, Nall, along with other characters that will join and leave your team while you progress throughout the game, with Alex being the main character that you’ll always have in your party, as they try and follow in the footsteps of Dragonmaster Dyne. Hearing that the ice in the Ice Cave is melting away, opening a path to the White Dragon, they clinch their chance at adventure, and head off. 
Now, getting into Lunar SSST can be fairly difficult, even for veteran RPG gamers. First off, there’s not anything close to a tutorial. When you’re told you need to do something in order to progress, you’ll be faced with figuring out how to do it on your own. For instance, before you even leave the town to make your way to the Ice Cave, you’ll need to equip Alex with a weapon. You’re able to do this in the menu, after figuring out what each menu icon takes you, and the menu tree that opens from there. You’ll also need to equip Luna with a weapon, but since her weapon was given to Alex by his father, you’ll need to figure out how to give the weapon to Luna before she can equip it. Again, with no tutorial, this can take up a bit of time, leaving some gamers completely in the dark. Once you do figure out the menu’s however, they do become fairly easy to navigate and use. 

The controls in Lunar SSST are sort of hit and miss. You’re able to hold your device in both landscape and portrait modes, each having their own separate control schemes. In landscape mode, you’re able to either use a virtual joystick or tap on the map in order to move. The virtual joystick here is kind of clunky, especially when compared to other RPGs on the device, and even more so when compared to another SEGA CD favorite, Sonic CD. The touch-to-move controls are a pain as well, as there is no compensation for objects that might be in your path, and getting stuck is a common occurrence. Along with the two virtual buttons that cut off movement on part of the gameplay area, it can be very frustrating. 
In portrait mode, the gameplay area is cut in half, leaving half of the screen for the virtual controls, with the other half for the game. This can be pretty upsetting, especially on the smaller iPhone and iPod screens, as the gameplay area being about 2.5 cm wide and 3.5 cm high can leave you squinting, and struggling to make out the dialogue. Both modes also leave the time and battery bar active while in-game, though the small screen and time bar aren’t nearly as much of an issue when playing on the iPad. 

Getting into the dialogue, Lunar contains loads of cut-scenes. These cut-scenes are imperative in following along with the story, but sadly, there are no subtitles for the these, meaning that whenever you play Lunar, you’ll need to be able to have the volume up, which makes playing in loud areas, next to someone watching TV, or at night pretty much impossible without headphones. Really, I don’t mean to sound so negative, though I know I have so far. But now with all of the negative points out of the way, we can touch on all of the positives, of which there are quite a few. 

Lunar’s story is extremely well written and even if you’ve gone through stories similar, it’s hard not to care for the characters, and get drawn in while making your way through the adventure. It’s one RPG that is overflowing with charm and a story that, even though you already know how it’s going to end, keeps you locked in. The graphics are great, especially for an old-school game, and the wonderfully crafted cut-scenes definitely add to the immersion and appeal throughout the game. This is also one hell of a story, containing roughly 25+ hours of gameplay and adventure, and about another 6 or 7 hours of side-quests and extras, if you’re so inclined to explore everything you can within the game. Granted, a long game isn’t all it takes to be impressive, though when it comes to RPGs, it can be a huge plus. 

Another large factor in what makes RPGs appealing are their upgrade/equip and combat systems. Now, like many older RPGs, Lunar automatically increases your characters attributes whenever you level up. This can be considered good, or bad, depending on how much control you like to have over what stats are increased. There is a decent amount of depth in the equipment system, as you’re able to equip one weapon, clothes/armor, a shield, a band or ring, headgear and a pendant, all having an effect on the selected character’s stats. 
Most characters throughout the game are also able to use magic. The magic system is something that the game relies heavily on and that you’ll constantly be using as you make your way through the world of Lunar. Like other RPGs, the magic spells have a wide range of uses, MP consumption and number of targets they’ll effect. Various spells are learned as you make your way through the game and level up. 
The combat system in Lunar does have some extra depth added to it, being able to set where your characters start off in battle from the pause menu, arranging them like pieces on a game board, and being able to move about the battle area. You are able to set the combat to auto-play, where the game takes control, and decides all of your moves for you, or you can choose to decide each move yourself. You can choose to Attack, Defend, Use Magic, Use an Item or Run Away. Moving around the battlefield is something that you’ll need to get comfortable with, and utilize in order to make your way through the game. 

Along with the great story, cut-scenes, and magic/equip/combat systems, the music adds another level to the gameplay and immersion. With Luna being a singer and Alex an Ocarinaist, there are some great moments throughout the game where the two create some beautiful music together. The rest of the soundtrack is incredibly well done, and has been remastered for this iOS version of the game, and even though the original opening track has been replaced, there are very few RPG OSTs that can stand alongside Noriyuki Iwadare’s compositions for the game. 

Priced at $6.99, and being Universal along with GameCenter integration with 2 leaderboards, one for your End of Game Score and another for your Time to Completion and having  achievements, this version of Lunar Silver Star Story has it’s faults, but it’s also playable, enjoyable, and is definitely a game that deserves to be checked out by all RPG fans, especially ones who are more into the retro type titles. SoMoGa is listening to all of the feedback about controls and, with the recent update to Vay, adding in the control scheme from Lunar, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Lunar received an update in the near future that tweaked the virtual joystick as well as the touch controls. Now, even if they don’t tweak them, the controls are decent enough to get you through the game, and if you’re willing to sink in some time learning how to navigate the menus, and figure out how everything in the game works, you’ll be rewarded handsomely with one of the best RPG experiences available on any gaming platform. Lunar was a standout game back in the mid-90’s, and it’s held up incredibly well over the years. All of this makes Lunar very easy to recommend, even with the control issues.


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