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Lunar: Dragon Song / Lunar: Genesis - Nintendo DS (2006)

by Kurt Kalata - July 16, 2014

American Cover

Japanese Cover

The Lunar series never really graduated out of the 16-bit era. Beginning on the Sega CD, the original entry has seen no less than four different versions, including the PS1, GBA and PSP; the sequel was released on the Sega CD also as well as the 32-bit platforms, but outside of a spinoff for the Game Gear/Saturn, the series was never able to count to three. There was a fourth game, dubbed Lunar Genesis in native Japan and in Europe, and Lunar: Dragon Song in North America. It was from "the original creators of Lunar: Silver Star", as claimed on the packaging, which was really just the guys who developed some of the ports. It ended up being one of the worst JRPGs ever made.

Seeing as the game is a prequel, taking place 1000 years before any of the others, it's completely divorced from any of the characters that Lunar fans knew and loved, in some places contradicting lore. Lunar 2 also took place a century after the original, but it also took care to add links between the two games - Lunar DS barely does this. The English translation is sterile and boring, a particular offense considering that the original games were known for their lively localizations. Say what you will about Working Designs' occasionally inappropriate humor, but their writing was incredibly lively and largely what defined the series for English speaking gamers; Dragon Song was localized by Ubisoft, who only put in the very basics of translation work. (The GBA version of the original Lunar, Lunar Legend, was also localized by Ubisoft and suffered the same problem).

Lunar: Dragon Song

Moreover, the series was defined by its anime cutscenes, along with plenty of voice acting and some vocal songs. There's none of that here. The game doesn't even look visually reminiscent, seeing as the super deformed characters are replaced by more realistically proportioned sprites. (The PSP remake of Lunar went the same route, and isn't much better for it.) The character designer, Toshiyuki Kubooka, returns from the old days, but he was clearly having an off day when he designed these incredibly bland characters.

If being a bad Lunar game was Dragon Song's worst sin, it wouldn't be worth featuring as a kusoge, but it also suffers from a series of design decisions so insane that they seem to have been intentionally crafted in order to get somebody fired.

For starters: the battle scenes are incredibly boring. You can't pick your target, you just hit "fight" and then watch. There's barely any difference between the "manual" and "auto" functions. According to interviews this was done to speed up battles...in which case, why is the game always stopping to rotate the camera "dramatically" as we watch an enemy slowly shuffle across the field to attack then slowly shuffle back into its place? To be fair, you can speed up the animations by holding the trigger buttons, but if you're essentially required to do this all of the time unless you want standard fights to last a few minutes, why wasn't that the default speed?

Also, the standard walking speed on the map is incredibly slow. You can run...but it drains health. This was probably done so you couldn't just dash past enemies, which are visible on the field; in the 32-bit Lunar 2, you could only sporadically dash for this very reason. But this is a far worse alternative, and it has the side effect of forcing you to either waste healing items or just putter veeeerrryyyyy slooooowwwly through dungeons, for no really good reason. Also, if you dip below 1/3rd health, you can't run at all.

Furthermore, there are two "modes" which let you determine your spoils after combat. You either get experience, or you get items, which are generally sold for cash. Why not both? It is a question without a good answer. But it's yet another aspect which seems intentionally designed to make your Lunar: Dragon Song experience as tedious as possible.

The list goes on. During battle, your characters mostly stay in the foreground, but they're drawn at a lower resolution, causing them to be scaled unevenly and pixellated. Towns were apparently too difficult to design, so they've been reduced to a single map screen. The music is forgettable, with series composer mainstay Noriyuki Iwadare nowhere to be found.

There are probably JRPGs that are slightly worse than Lunar: Dragon Song. But you pretty much know what you're getting into when you expose yourself to some tripe by Idea Factory or Compile Heart; complaining about those is like eating garbage then giving the local dump a single star review on Yelp. This is far more cynical, a terrible game wrapped in the guise of a fan favorite series, fooling unwary gamers that maybe, deep within its surface, there lies some remnant of the Lunar games from ages past. There isn't.

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Lunar: Dragon Song

Lunar: Dragon Song

Lunar: Dragon Song

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