Serious fans of console role-playing games know the Lunar series, which debuted on the old Sega CD system and was one of the only compelling reasons to own it. Now a new entry in the series, Lunar Legend, is available for the Game Boy Advance, and it should please both fans of the series or anyone looking for a solid RPG for Nintendo's portable system. The game expects no previous knowledge of the series on your part and offers most all the stuff you'd expect from an RPG: a good story, interesting characters, plenty of stuff to find, and plenty of random encounters with monsters to slog through. Experienced gamers will nonetheless have little trouble questing all the way to the bitter end of Lunar Legend, but they will still enjoy the journey.
Lunar Legend bears the look and style of an anime series. It takes place in your typical fantasy world beset with problems. Fortunately, guys like the game's main character, Alex, are around and have the ambition, the strength, and the courage to save the land from evil. The story of Lunar Legend is typical, but you get to know all its characters well, and their various motivations and relationships with each other come across clearly through all the dialogue. This makes the characters universally endearing, which is the main strength of Lunar Legend. For instance, you'll quickly dislike the snobbish magic-user Nash within minutes of meeting him, yet you'll gradually grow to like him more as he starts to change his tune, having journeyed alongside Alex and his friends for long enough. You'll be genuinely intrigued and impressed by Laike, a venerable yet good-natured wandering swordsman who mysteriously shows up to your aid on occasion.
The characters are represented as colorful, meticulously animated 2D sprites during battle sequences and with larger portraits during dialogue, and both do a good job of showing off these characters' emotions. The game's audio doesn't fare as well, as the generic battle sounds and forgettable music don't leave much of an impression. The one exception is that you'll occasionally hear faint digitized singing, with actual vocals. The translation of the dialogue in Lunar Legend is decent and tries to come off as very casual, occasionally with awkward results. At any rate, it reads much like a typical anime episode sounds, so it's fine.
Most console RPGs follow a pretty strict formula, and Lunar Legend doesn't deviate from it. You'll travel from one key location to the next, speaking to every villager you come across, finding or buying new and improved equipment for all your characters, and then venturing into mazelike dungeons or other perilous areas where you'll run into random encounters with enemies every few steps. Likewise, the combat in Lunar Legend is a familiar turn-based system much like what you'd find in the Final Fantasy games. Your various characters can be ordered to fight hand to hand, use magic, or occasionally use powerful special moves. The combat looks great, as both your characters and their foes are cleanly drawn, colorful, and well animated, but there's little real strategy and little challenge. It's not long before Alex becomes a powerful fighter, and he'll remain very strong throughout the adventure. Meanwhile, you'll virtually always have access to highly effective healing spells that can keep all your allies in good shape even during protracted battles with boss monsters.
The random encounters can get pretty boring at times, especially since you'll fight only a few different types of creatures in any one area. Still, battles can be resolved quickly, and your characters will gain experience levels and heightened powers often, making the incessant fighting relatively enjoyable. Also, it's easy to flee an encounter if you're just trying to get from point A to point B as soon as possible. Other conveniences include the ability to save your progress anywhere in the game and even an option to restart a battle should you happen to be defeated. However, defeat won't come often, as the designers perhaps went a bit too far out of their way to make sure the game isn't difficult or frustrating. Part of the reason the random encounters can become such a nuisance is that so many of them are so pointlessly easy. Many of the fights against the game's supposedly powerful boss monsters are simple, too. This isn't a serious drawback, however, as being able to defeat most enemies without much trouble simply means that you'll move through the game's story briskly. The plot has a number of twists, and there's plenty of comic relief to go around, so you'll often find yourself wanting to know what's going to happen next.
Partly due to its low level of difficulty, Lunar Legend won't take you too long to finish--it's about 15 hours long. There are some unlockable extras that might keep you busy afterward, such as art galleries and trying to find about 150 different collectible "cards" scattered throughout the game, representing all the characters and monsters you'll meet. So it adds up to a good value, and all in all, Lunar Legend is a fun and engaging role-playing game to play either on the go or wherever.