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Lunar: Silver Star Harmony
Score: 88%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Game Arts
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is the PSP remake of one of the 32-bit era's most beloved role-playing games. Lunar: The Silver Star originally appeared on Sega's red-headed stepchild (the CD, not the Saturn), but also saw enhanced releases on the PlayStation and Game Boy Advance. I'm a longtime (and admittedly jaded) fan of Japanese RPGs, but for reasons that are neither understandable nor acceptable, I never got my hands on Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. Of course, this isn't the part where I explain why I haven't played it until now; rather, it's the part where I advise any fans of classic turn-based role-playing games to go pick up a copy of Silver Star Harmony.

Silver Star Harmony's visuals straddle minimalism and extravagance. That's part of why it's such an attractive game. It speaks to the hardcore, while not shirking its obligations to look current-gen. Character models and animations look clean and natural, and the artistry of the full motion videos (including the quasi-3D ones) is consistently outstanding. Special abilities are unleashed with dazzling special effects, and environments are distinct enough to provide the grand sense of scale that all RPGs strive to achieve. The only downside is that the load times are occasionally on the long side. This is made worse by the fact that some areas are, for lack of better words, pointless. It's frustrating to load for ten seconds to get into a room containing nothing except a door to the next room, which will initiate another ten seconds of loading when you approach it. Something tells me that a data install option might have rectified this problem, but for some reason, there is none.

I have never played a remake that only boasted revamped visuals. Thankfully, Silver Star Harmony doesn't buck the trend. The soundtrack is excellent, and it especially shines if you've got a pair of high-definition headphones or earbuds. Without the fantastic battle theme, the unavoidable grinding would become hard to tolerate. The voicework is about half as good as the music. Yes, Silver Star Harmony is a story of personal growth and coming of age, but a few characters are incredibly annoying from the outset. Despite the average J-RPG's tendency to revert to a grab bag of clichés, you will still wonder if they are even remotely capable of growing up a little.

Alex is a boy with a dream. It's a simple dream that goes through the mind of pretty much every young male -- at least before they go through adolescence and realize that the world really doesn't work that way. The world of Lunar (which has a moon that is too Earth-like to be a coincidence) is different, however. The object of Alex's idolatry is Dragonmaster Dyne, the legendary adventurer and protector of Althena, a Goddess who protects the inhabitants of Lunar. A lucky coincidence allows Alex and his hometown friends (including pet cat-dragon-thing Nall, adoptive sister Luna, and portly friend Ramus) to access the White Dragon Cave. There, they awaken Quark, an ancient White Dragon. After completing a special trial, they receive a Dragon Diamond (which Quark insinuates is far less glamorous than it sounds). Ramus, being the son of Burg's wealthy chief, is quick to suggest that they sell the thing and score a ridiculously early retirement. That's how the adventure begins, but this is a J-RPG. Naturally, the fate of the world comes into play, and young Alex must become its defender. There are some twists and turns along the way, but I saw many of them coming even before the narrative started dropping hints. Still, the smartly-written dialogue and (mostly) endearing characters will keep you invested through the whole yarn. If you're a fantasy fan with a keen eye, you might catch one of the game's several clever pop culture references. For example, within my first three hours of playing, I caught two: the first being a line that was directly ripped from Star Wars: Episode IV, the other an underhanded homage to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Just make sure you talk to everyone at least twice.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is about as traditional as a Japanese role-playing game can get. The story shuttles you from one wondrous locale to another, allowing you to learn about the world and the characters that inhabit it. In between these jaunts, you'll slay monsters, earn experience, level up, and eventually become an international problem-solver. It's standard fare for traditional J-RPGs, but since Silver Star Harmony is one of the quintessential traditional J-RPGs, this isn't a problem. If it tried to be anything else, it would be in deep trouble.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is one of those games that has a universally static difficulty level. A good strategy will help you fell your enemies more quickly, but grinding is almost always a guaranteed fix for any problem areas. However, since you'll be forced to grind so much, you probably won't need to do much in order to overcome any particularly tough areas. Silver Star Harmony is on the easy side, but that's only if you've had experience with more modern RPGs (the challenging Lost Odyssey comes to mind).

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is best experienced in quick bursts. It's great to take your time and soak in the sights before moving on, and playing it in this fashion lengthens the experience significantly. And, let's not forget that we're talking about a role-playing game that you can sink a good number of hours into.

Game Mechanics:
If you're a fan of role-playing games and get stumped with Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, perhaps you should rethink how much of an RPG fan you are. This game's battle system is turn-based simplicity to the core, and should be readily accessible to anyone who's played a Final Fantasy game -- and by that, I mean one of the installments that preceded Final Fantasy XII.

Solving problems is Alex and company's standard operating procedure, and you'll settle into a groove not long after starting the game. You'll arrive at an interesting new part of the world, just in time to either witness or be part of a potentially bad situation. Asses are kicked, experience is earned, lessons are learned, and the world of Lunar becomes a better place. And, as I pointed out earlier, you'll want to speak to everyone at least twice. The denizens of Lunar have some important things to say (well, most of them anyway), and you'll want to hear them out before walking blind into the unknown.

I suspect that my only significant qualm with Silver Star Harmony will be shared by everyone else who plays it. Old-school archaisms aside, it is almost impossible to avoid combat. This makes the game much longer than it should be, and it hampers the excitement of character progression in some ways. For example, enemies can be spotted in the field, but they are so quick to pursue you that you'll rarely have any choice but to engage them in battle. It doesn't even matter if they're wimpy enemies who offer no substantial rewards for defeating them. This is aggravated by the fact that all enemies respawn the second you leave the area. Sure, you can flee from each fight, but the time it takes for you to get all of your party members safely off the battlefield is about equal to the time it would take to just wipe the beasts out. This could have been fixed with an EarthBound-style "automatic win" system that skips fights with low-level monsters.

Whether you're a hardcore Lunar fan or someone who misses the RPG Golden Age, this is the game for you. Some parts of the formula haven't aged as well as I hoped they would, and there is some frustration to be had, but Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is a blast from the past that presses nearly all the right buttons.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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