After a seemingly inexhaustible series of delays, Working Designs has finally redelivered the game that put them on the map. Originally released in Japan more than two years ago on the Sega Saturn, Lunar Complete is extremely dated but still delivers where it's important - gameplay.
Alex was but a boy in the isolated village of Burg, a boy who dreamed of one day being like his lifelong hero, Dragonmaster Dyne. As the typical RPG would have it, Alex's dream comes true as he's swept into an adventure to save the world from a great evil, save his woman, and enter manhood. While Lunar Complete retains the overall story and theme of the Sega CD original, a number of the game's individual events are different. For example, a number of the trivial problems facing Alex on the road to adventure, such as the broken bridge and lighthouse, have been eliminated completely, while the entire ending of the game has been reworked. Additionally, GameArts chose to add three new female accomplices to the ranks of evil. Fortunately, all these changes are for the better - the end result is an adventure that's more epic, satisfying, and generally cooler than the original while retaining the emphasis on character development that earned Lunar its lofty reputation in the first place.
Like the story, Lunar's gameplay has been tweaked and refined, but largely remains the same. Lunar is a traditional, old-school RPG in every way, even though it is one of exceptional quality. The excellent battle engine from the original is still in place. Unlike most RPGs, Lunar's battle system takes character movement into account, letting you position your characters and set up more elaborate attacks. Once characters earn multiple attacks through level advancement, this becomes especially useful. You will no longer encounter enemies in the overworld, however, and you can see approaching monsters in the dungeons. While the move to remove monsters from the overworld altogether is somewhat questionable, the ability to see monsters in the dungeons is a blessing, letting you run from or prepare for battles before they begin. On a more unfortunate note, Alex can no longer command magic and relies on virtually the same sword techniques that Lunar 2's Hiro does, ultimately hurting some of the game's strategic elements. As a result, boss battles generally boil down to Alex repeatedly using his Sword Dance until the battle's done, while the other characters support him with healing and attack magic. A minor flaw, and an unnecessary change, nonetheless.
As stated before, Lunar is a truly dated game - with the exceptions of the voice and FMV, the game portions of Lunar could be faithfully re-created on a Super Nintendo. However, the game's colorful graphics and visual design are still attractive, even seen through such a low-tech window - not a single polygon can be found on Lunar's dual CDs. The 2D simplicity of Lunar's world is greatly enhanced through the use of exquisitely produced anime cutscenes, used for everything from simple character introductions to brilliant destruction. Unfortunately, GameArts took away one of the Sega CD's coolest features, the lack of the RPG staple color-swapped enemies. Never in the Sega CD original did one see the same enemy, only sporting a different color scheme. Lunar: Complete not only brings pallette-swapping back in full force but mostly contains monsters from Lunar 2's bestiary. Lunar's sound is quite good, but much of the game's new music, such as the battle theme, doesn't compare with the original's.
Working Designs has had plenty of time to work on Lunar's translation, and fortunately it shows. The text is for the most part excellent and doesn't rely too heavily on Working Designs' traditionally puerile humor. The voices are also of excellent quality, truly bringing the characters to life in both the 2D world and the cutscenes. Working Designs' extras are nice touches, although the Making of Lunar video is ridiculously overwrought with tales of the game's translation instead of its creation.
So, it's finally here. Lunar: Complete is a must-buy for fans of the series, as well as an excellent introduction to this landmark RPG series. Lunar may not have modern aesthetics, but its gameplay and story are among the best of any RPG of any era.