Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

I have a confession to make. I have done a terrible.. terrible thing. I am one of those individuals that has played a games sequel knowingly. I pose a question though. Are you a jaded gamer? Tired of brooding and dark lead characters? Want to smirk at the cheeky fun you can have with a world that is while simplistically black and white? A game where you give a crap about not only your party, but even the local weapons peddler forces you to give a damn about them beyond those extra pointy swords they are selling. As a child I remember walking through my local EB Games, it was 1999, and I was perusing the shelves for the next casualty in my personal war on pixels. Before this salient moment in my life I had never placed much merit in the purchase of a collector’s edition of a game –Mostly because my weekly allowance was split somewhere between pokemon cards or that shiny new video game.I found this black box on the top shelf that was three times as thick as any other playstation games and that is considering the multiple four disk set games I had already owned. In this thick reflective blue lettering the word  “Lunar” was scrolled across the lower left of the box. I was drawn in by the blue haired women on the cover. Her expression on the box is one I will have seen a thousand times across hundreds of animes over the course of my life yet this one still stays etched in my memory.

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Pretty…. I mean the artwork.

Shrugging off the smug smirking hero, I mean Hiro. Yeah…his name is punfully Hiro…I pulled the box down from the top shelf just barely and turned it over in my hands and impulsively needed it.  Knowing nothing of the shoulders this game stood on or the body of other notable projects by Working Design, the now sadly defunct gaming studio that brought us  the Arc of Lad and Growlanser Sagas. I was forced to ask my father for the game and after much pleading and opting to forgo many a week’s allowance I was the proud owner of not only my first Collector’s Edition of a game, but the playstation port of Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete. The game had been previously released on Sega CD in 1994 but was updated and ported over a few years later. Due to minor changes most fans of the series love the original over its reincarnation on the playstation.This being said i stand strongly by the the playstation version.  When I got home I opened the box carefully to remove the trove of items that came with the game.

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The Glorious Loot

Most notably was this hunk of metal that was gold plated with this little black upturned crescent. At this point I will admit without shame that I actually wore it from time to time. I checked out the rest of the schwag, thumbed through the map, and carefully cracked open the jewel case to get to the four disc set inside.

At this point I was neither new to rpgs or anime, or the other titles that had previously combined the mediums to create something that is unique even to this day; The Grandia sage comes to mind. But Lunar 2’s use of voice acting, fully hand animated cutscenes and musical score, done by the composer Noriyuki Iwadare, possesses a level of  immersion that even as a child I realized one rarely encounters. Rpg’s have always struck a chord with me. Let it be the rich storytelling elements, the diverse and (sometimes) fully actualized characters,  turn or active timed battle systems, or collecting the multitude of items some sadistic game developer decided to put into a game for the completionists out there (thinking of you Donkey Kong 64 and your damn colored collectables). I would spend hours tweaking and tightening up the characters so I could righteously annihilate my foes. But for me Lunar 2 and consequently Lunar 1 holds what one could describe as a tender spot in the heart. It made you care about the characters almost immediately. Each character had their own voice, literally. At this point in gaming I had yet to come across a game who had done it so often let alone in the manner in which it was delivered; Adding to the dramatic and emotional moments of the game, deepening just how much I cared about this world.

The story of Lunar Eternal Blue takes place on the Silver Star, a once uninhabitable wasteland now populated by the descendants of a people brought over from the Blue Star by the goddess Althena. The game opened on a beat that set the tone for the entire game. This goofy young hero named Hiro that goes Indiana Croft’ing through dungeons with nothing but a boomerang and his talking flying cat friend named Ruby.Hiro comes across as both confident and charismatic yet fully out of his depth at nearly every turn.

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Who brings a boomerang to a dungeon!? Honestly?! 

The game’s comical and unique manner of introducing the character to you instantly makes you feel sorry for Ruby, yes the cat..dragon thing. Even as a dog person I found myself hard pressed  not to feel bad for the creature because of its pairing with this unlikely hero. He dangles above a chasm over this carved dragon head with sapphires set in it.

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He chose… poorly

Nevertheless hilarity ensues with a series of tropes that are wonderfully familiar to anyone that has watched Raiders. We find ourselves with our hero in the overworld, in all its 16-bit 2D top down glory, and  are allowed to find out more about this world and the protagonist.  It won’t be until after I went all OCD in the next dungeon we come across, trying to get that little extra leg up by boomeranging anything in sight, before we learn anything about the mysterious blue haired girl on the cover.

After coming across some half lion half man creatures with a james bond like vehicle called the “Dragonship Destiny”. This.. craft. is the size of a cruise ship and can travel by land or sea, stocked by a full crew of soldiers and has freak’n lasers. So perhaps Bond villain?

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I don’t know what it is but I want it

After the brief run in with the Lion man,Leo .(The originality in names is just danker than dank).

Hiro must make it back to his grandfather’s home through a Desert which is our first introduction to the dungeon roaming and battle system that is implemented. Mob sprites appear grey on the map and chase after you if they see you. Their audio cues are robust enough to let you know when you are standing in something’s way and when one should get the hell out of said baddies path. The game allows you to sprint for three second intervals with another three second cool down to maintain a sense of reality. At times this is a rather inconvenient mechanic but…When you run into a monster or the mob touches the character as he sprints about you are thrown into a turn based strategy esque battle system. The battle music is engaging and hypes you up while our brave tomb robber fends off polygonal terrors with a variety of magic abilities, weapon skills, and the occasional flame thrower from our plucky pinkish-red dragon/cat friend.

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The fuego cat circa Sega CD

Upon reaching Gwyn’s home, the grandfather’s house, we come across Leo and his Ship once again and find that he is in the area and seeking the help of our hero’s grandfather to destroy the Blue Spire and the terrible Destroyer who calls the Blue Spire its home. After climbing up a ladder as instructed by Gwyn we find a large blue tower structure in the distance. The sky lights up with a vortex of blues and purples over the tower. A red light descends from the sky and disappears into the top of the tower while leaving Gwyn and Hiro with a decision. 

After deciding to head to the tower to investigate the light ,Gwyn gives our young hero a right and proper…dagger! To go with our trusty boomerang!.. Gwyn gives us a opal eye similar to the one we “found” earlier in the beginning of the game, with the dragon head statue,before joining us as we head for the tower. As we come upon the towers entrance we notice the four large snake like statues and are informed by Gwyn that they are the spires guardians. Instead of waiting around Gwyn puts the opal eye into the dragon head statue and Hiro places the blue sapphire eye we acquired earlier in the left eye socket and the door to the Blue Spire opens. It is at this point that we enter a tight and confined corridors that make the idea of dodging around your enemies rather difficult. We emerge from the dilapidated catacomb to the Blue spires real entrance with another Guardian Statue…We pass into a garden like area and come across a statue of the Goddess Althena which heals and restores mp, these little boons are placed throughout the world and are a dungeon divers best friend. We are given a beautiful cinematic of the tower and the moon above before we dash into the spire proper.

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That is poe sword technique

After fighting through six floors, six floors…Needless to say I spent probably my next two hours running from floor to floor slaying one mob after the next before resetting the floor and doing it all again in anticipation of those four guardians that were spotted outside. If not for Gwyn’s ability to heal this probably would have been a hellish first-ish dungeon.The sixth floor is an open silent area where the moon hangs overhead. The change in atmosphere gives the player pause regardless of how hard you’ve been grinding and how many mobs you’ve sent to their pixel cloud in the sky up to this point. The next floor helps alleviate that anxiety with its upbeat and light musical score where Gwyn starts to investigate the artwork on the walls. After exploring we come to a golden pentagram on the floor with an image of the planet projected above it. Once Hiro steps onto the platform we are thrown into a dark and eerily lit room and a blueish green crystal spinning atop a set of steps. At this point we expect to fight some big baddy that will threaten to consume the world with its unlimited power and thirst for blood, or some such nonsense. 

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Hi, creepy girl in a crystal… don’t hurt me!

The cinematic starts and the crystal starts to  pulse with green light, prompting our hero to fall right on his ass. The small dragon ruby flies to our fallen friend and clutches to him in terror. The image of a female takes form from within the crystal, fluctuating between clothing and nude for some reason…Out steps the blue haired red cloak wearing beauty that caught my attention on the box. Is this the destroyer? Is this softly spoken blue haired women warning of danger the devourer of worlds we expect? Hiro falls immediately in love with the women,naturally. Ruby even reminds us that this woman isn’t even human, but love shall overcome!

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It was at this point…Hiro realized he done fucked up

She informs us that she is looking for Althena to warn her of the coming danger, an entity called Zophar. After talking to Lucia she demonstrates to us just one of the powers she has by warping us back to Hiro’s grandfather who warns us of Leo’s plan to find and kill the Destroyer or whoever it is that has come to the blue Spire under the request of his goddess Althena. We start to climb down the spire and immediately Lucia is surprised by the appearance of monsters in the tower. We are thrown into a battle and are unable to control Lucia,  which is upsetting seeing as how she is quite the badass. Hell she doesn’t even have a level, full on god mode. At this point I believe this was the first game I had played where I can clearly remember that the game gave me unlimited power at such an early point and made me realize that all the grinding I had just done for hours had amounted to nothing. I was amazed by her abilities and steam rolled my way to the first floor, planning to annihilate the guardians with Lucia, my new goddess.  

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She makes it rain

Once out of the tower and in the garden area where we came across the statue of Althea our brief run as bystanders in this rain of magical destruction by our new godly love comes to an end. Lucia tries to sense out Althea by her goddess aura or some such plot device. After saying she can feel her power but its blocked, the voice of the creature Zophar speaks to Lucia, taunting our new friend. She calls upon her the true brunt of her powers, clearly she was keeping something in the pocket that the mobs thus far have not merited. But she ends up being stripped of her powers and having her very soul cursed by this sinister unseen voice. Lucia is forceding to 1 hp/mp. 

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Over 9000?!

This leaves Gwyn and Hiro to take on the single Guardian before the catacombs and considering how weak Lucia,  I was left thinking of this as a test of my abilities thus far. I came into the white tiled room and saw the grey statue had been replaced by a green and purple monstrosity with a weapon larger than all four of my characters.

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Get rekt lizard man!

After deftly handling the guardian his flail back to it for breakfast I dug in and launched myself in the direction of my real test. I questioned how well I had leveled myself up, and considering how tough the first Guardian was I dreaded the task ahead.. I dove in and realized that it was hopeless from the start. The party falls beneath the assault of these half snake half angry green rage monster with a flail. The last character falls to the floor with stars whirling about them when a blue dragon headed laser beam shoots across the screen, annihilating the guardians before they can land the fatal blow.

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I’m sorry, I take it all back… please pleaaaaasssseeee!

Sadly Hiro and his grandfather are forced to lie to our Savior Leo to help our new and now deathly ill friend escape the cultist like fervor that Leo displayed earlier when we spoke to him in Gwyn’s home. We escape back to Gwyn’s home in time for our blue haired beauty to collapse for some much needed rest after being sapped of her strength by this mysterious evil figure. 

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-pets- you’ve done good pig, you’ve done good

The story explodes from this point, nudging you towards the wider world. You are compelled to cure her of her curse, get her to Althea and help her learn about Humanity. You come across a roguish ex-priests with gambling addictions like Ronfan or my other favorite Jene with her kung fu fists of butterfly furry. Oh she is also a dancer in a carnival, part time, naturally.

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Drunk, gambling, excommunicated priest….Spirit animal?

We are faced with the notion of what happens when a religion grows out of control and the evil individuals that can come to power within such an institution. Its up to Hiro and Lucia to uncover the mystery around Althea and the dark mysterious force that has sealed the power of the four dragons and able to subvert the powers of our female protagonist.  

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The map of the world as provided in the Collectors Edition

We have to save magical cities, awaken ancient dragons, fight demi-god like beings, and try and win the heart of this blue haired women. I sank hours upon hours into the game to reach level 99 and the secret dungeon in the post game. Yes there is even a post game to this little gem. The entire main story culminates on a rather tragic note which threw me into a rage. But what came next was probably the singular most rewarding story caveat that I had experience to this day. If you are persistent enough to reach the end of this game you will understand why the game plays with your heart strings throughout its entire length. 

At its core this story to save the world is a story about love and life. About growing with people and learning how to overcome obstacles together to grow as individuals as well as a group.The game never takes itself too seriously and stays light and joking most of the time. In spite of this or because of this perhaps the player can’t help but become invested in even the most annoying of the characters. Lunar : Eternal Blue has one of the most well developed epic and consistent story lines not only for its generation but of the stories I’ve seen or read to this day. Even with how grand the story is at times the player never loses focus of the characters and the great emotional depths to which the game takes us. It is this tool that has solidified this game’s place in my heart and mind for the better part of twenty years.  

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The original Lunar by itself is a masterpiece and one I will visit in a future piece but my advice is to play the second one first. You don’t need to know the previous story because of how fluid and streamlined the story presents everything. The updated graphics should be enough to pull even the more hesitant 16 bit gamers among us and hopefully by playing Lunar 2 you’ll have the same loving experience I had exploring the first game through the eyes of the second one. Lunar one, by comparison is a better game. Yet because of playing its sequel I went into the game with a love for the underlying story deeply embedded in me. While I may have spoiled the first.. Hour of the game for you the truly best parts of the game are still hidden in the many anime cutscenes between dungeon diving and mashing mobs.  

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