Lunar: Dragon Song Review

Those of us who have been playing RPGs for a good while remember with great fondness the name Lunar.  Lunar originally was a pair of games on the Sega CD and later the Playstation that gave gamers a very good RPG experience with voice, animation and the whole nine yards.  When it first came out, it was incredibly polished.  While the PSX version suffered slightly, it was still a highly entertaining experience.

Years pass and now the DS is the platform of choice as Lunar rises again, this time with Lunar: Dragon Song.  This game takes place thousands of years after Lunar: Eternal Blue and covers the story of a young girl named Lucia and a young boy (the hero) named Jian and their adventures.  The question is, can Game Arts follow the success of the other two games with this portable following or will gamers’ memories hold the game up on a pedestal that Lunar: Dragon Song cannot fly up to reach?

The graphics in Lunar: Dragon Song are above average for the DS, the colors bright and easily distinguished.  While the characters are somewhat small on the main and battle screen, there are numerous anime-esque cut-scenes, which show a larger amount of detail on the characters.  These are quite nice and you can definitely get a feel for the characters and their emotions from these little scenes. 

While the graphics in no way truly push the DS to its limit, there are some nice touches.  One of these is the battles, which cover both screens.  Monsters that fly are on the top, and others are at the bottom.  Your character can seamlessly move from bottom to top and monsters from top to bottom, which is a nice touch.

The music in Lunar:  Dragon Song is nice, light-hearted fare.  There’s nothing really that sticks out about the music as being wrong, but likewise, there’s nothing that reaches out to grab you.  People won’t want the soundtrack like they do Final Fantasy games or even We Love Katamari.  The music is just there to take you through the game and does a passable job at that.

While there are no voices in the game, the sound effects do a good job of conveying what is going on in the world, although they can feel a bit childish at times.  Combat sounds are also nice for the most part.  All in all, the sound is slightly above average, but nothing to rant or rave about.

Being the first major RPG for the DS, one might expect a whole lot of technological innovations to be used in Lunar: Dragon Song.  One would be mistaken.  While the microphone is used to escape battle by blowing into it, the touch screen is almost not used at all.  You can select menu options or travel around the area maps by using the stylus, but there’s really not any reason to do so, as the D-pad works just fine.  To be honest, I never took the stylus out of its holder while playing this game.

Outside of that, the controls are basically normal for an RPG.  The A button confirms, examines items and talks to people.  The B button is used to cancel, dash or cancel auto battle during combat.  X is used to show or hide the menu and show monster names in battles.  Y is used for talking to other party members.  Start is used to open the Adventure Guidebook while L changes the character in the menu and shops while doubling the enemy attack animation speed in battle.  Finally, the R button does the same that the L button except it triples the animation speed instead of doubling, and it also switches between Combat and Virtue mode.

Lunar: Dragon Song takes place a very long time after Althena made the world liveable (Lunar: Eternal Blue, again).  Since that time, a race of beast-men (strong, quick reactions and great endurance) and the race of humans both evolved.  The beast-men preferred to live near the center of the lands while the humans preferred the outskirts.  With these contrasting choices, the two races were able to live in peace.

The main story, however, is that of a young man named Jian Campbell who makes his living as a courier.  A year ago, he met a young lady named Lucia Collins who is now a partner in his business.  The story starts with what would seem to be a simple task of taking a package from their home of Port Searis to the village of Perit nearby.

With all of the love behind the Lunar name and with good graphics and sound, one would pretty much expect the gameplay to follow, right? 

Unfortunately, in this case, you’d be sadly mistaken.  For some reason, either gameplay design or possibly even merely a difference in the Japanese and American audiences, Lunar: Dragon Song is essentially a boring game.  So boring, in fact, that this reviewer walked away from his DS while a battle was on-going. 

First off, you can run around areas and towns, but it drains your hit points to do so.  In towns, this isn’t an issue due to the statues of Althena, which allow you to heal.  Outside though, especially early on, it’s nearly deadly to run for any length of time, especially if you end up in battle at the end of a run.  Unfortunately, walking is extremely slow by comparison and can be needlessly frustrating.  As far as the towns go, you don’t wander around a town, talking to people, you go to pre-designated areas on the city map, which are all nicely laid out for you. 

This method of frustration and confusion continues onto the combat system.  First off, unlike in just about every other RPG, you cannot just fight monsters for experience and items.  You can either be in combat mode and gain items, along with monster cards, or you can be in Virtue mode which allows you to lock monsters out of an area if you’re able to clear them in a certain amount of time and gains you experience, called Althena Conduct points. 

Then there’s the inventory system, where items are broken into what seems like an insurmountable number of categories (about eight).  Some of the icons are self-explanatory, some are completely unknown until you manage to figure out what the little boxes on the screen actually mean.  It makes dealing with the inventory both frustrating and perplexing.

If those weren’t enough, then there’s the combat system, which is almost too simple by comparison.  When you run into a monster in the area, you’re given a choice between Auto-Combat and Manual Combat.  Once you’re into combat, your choices are attack, special (magic or skill attacks) or items.  Once the choices are made for each character, combat begins.  Yes, this means that you cannot select what monster you attack, which removes any strategy from the combat at all.  Beyond that, combat is somewhat easy if you’re decently equipped, and this is why this reviewer was able to walk away from the DS mid-combat, leaving it in auto mode and knowing that the monsters would eventually be dead.  The last RPG that seemed this simple was Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest for the SNES.

The only real reason to spend many hours in this game is collecting all of the monster cards.  And, honestly, as frustrating as the gameplay is, there’s no reason to do that.  To be honest, there’s no reason to spend more than a few hours in this game, if at all.  The only value to the title is if you’re a die-hard RPG or Lunar fan, and it’s almost a crime to force a Lunar fan to play this title.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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