Lunar 2: Eternal Blue is the second in the Lunar series of RPGs, and it's also the second of Working Designs' repackaging of the two classic games. Both Lunar games premiered on the Sega CD and then were remade in the mid-'90s for the Japanese Saturn. Working Designs owes a lot of its fan base to the Lunar games, and so it took to porting these Saturn remakes to the PlayStation for an American release. After a lot of ballyhoo and a lot of delays, Lunar: Silver Star Story came out in 1998, wrapped in the extravagant packaging and production that Working Designs is known for. After similar delay, the company has finally given us Eternal Blue, and it's every bit as lavishly produced as its predecessor.
Some RPG sequels are that in name only - they construct an entirely new world and entirely new characters for each iteration. However, Lunar 2 picks up roughly where the original Lunar left off, in the world shaped by the events of the first game. Its hero is Hiro (pun perhaps intended), the prototypical plucky young lad who seeks nothing more than adventure and discovery. Ruby, the sarcastic flying cat, is his constant companion. Yes, the pair is awfully similar to Lunar's Alex and Nall. Lunar 2's requisite mysterious female comes in the form of Lucia, a blue-haired enigma whom Hiro discovers at the top of an ancient tower near his house. Lucia has come on behalf of the goddess Althena to save the world from the evil Zophar, a god of destruction. Althena's elite guard, however, has a different idea: they claim that Lucia is actually a destroyer bent on ravaging the planet. Hiro, smitten with Lucia's beauty, naturally decides to help her escape the guard and accompany her on a journey to find Althena's human representation. Hiro and Lucia will encounter the usual assortment of do-gooders and rogues in their quest, not to mention quite a few connections to the cast of the original Lunar. If you're a fan of the first game, get ready for some storyline surprises.
Eternal Blue is the spitting image of Silver Star Story, and both games are no-frills RPGs in the classic sense. Magic spells, equipment menus, experience points - they're all here. Lunar 2's combat is also typically menu driven and turn based, though it gains an extra element of strategy from its emphasis on the placement of characters on the battlefield. Unlike some recent RPGs, in which characters all perform the same battle functions, Lunar 2's characters are very distinctive - some are clear-cut as magic users, others specialize in fighting, and a few can do both effectively. Both of the Lunar remakes vary from their Sega CD originals in fairly minor ways. You'll experience no random enemy encounters while moving your party around the overworld. In dungeons, the monsters are visible, and they can often be avoided with a little strategy. Purists may gripe, but for anyone tired of random battles in RPGs, this change is welcome.
When critiquing a Working Designs game, it's impossible to overlook the significant changes that the company makes to most of its domestic releases. Lunar 2's translation is unusually divergent from the original source, which is par for the course for Working Designs; consequently, it's far livelier than most English RPG texts. Lunar 2's characters are made endearing by their words, and though many would criticize the company for taking such brazen creative liberty, the textual changes are truly effective in the end. Unfortunately, the game's voice acting is effective only in turning stomachs. Though some of Eternal Blue's spoken dialogue is of passable quality, most of it is markedly amateurish, and most accomplishes nothing so much as reminding you that you're playing a video game. Finally, Working Designs has tweaked the difficulty of Lunar 2 quite a bit, though it would be more appropriate to say that Working Designs has unduly raised the game's difficulty. As RPGs go, it's a very difficult game, one that you may find yourself shutting off in frustration. Few RPGs have the audacity to kill you off after the third battle. To the game's credit, though, you'll keep coming back a few minutes later for another stab at that seemingly impossible boss. Just make good use of the game's "save anywhere" feature, and you'll be set.
Of course, a large portion of Eternal Blue's potential audience will be those who enjoyed the game the first time around on Sega CD and hope to revisit the classic today. For these players, the greatest consideration won't be story or play mechanics so much as the quality of GameArts' remake and Working Designs' port. Unfortunately, the newest Lunar really shows its age. There's no getting around that the game looks as if it were released in 1995 rather than 2000. Adding insult to injury, many of the game's backgrounds cause a ridiculous amount of slowdown, both in character movement and menu navigation. Some other minor graphical glitches are a further reminder of the game's age and origin on a system other than the PlayStation. The overall experience isn't impacted drastically by these technical flaws, but they can be annoying.
Packaging isn't usually a legitimate concern when rating a game, but Working Designs likes to make it one. The company's game boxes, manuals, and other extras are consistently among the best in the business, and Eternal Blue is no exception. The game's manual is a 118-page hardbound epic that even contains interviews with the design team. Additionally, Eternal Blue gives you a soundtrack CD, making-of movie, game map, cardboard character stand-ups, and an actual pendant like the one worn by Lucia in the game. Such extras may seem unnecessary to the casual gamer, and they probably double the game's price, but if you're a Lunar 2 fan, you'll never find a more complete package.
The question that hangs over Eternal Blue is "Can a port of a remake of such an old game remain relevant to contemporary gaming so many years later?" In short, yes and no. While Lunar 2 stands alongside its forebear as a solid RPG, Working Designs hasn't proved beyond a doubt that everything old is new again. This final repackaging of the classic game serves as a testament to its deserved place in video game history, but forward-minded gamers will probably want to look toward newer games for their RPG fix. Those with a tolerance or desire for older games and the nostalgia inherent in them will definitely want to give Lunar 2 a shot, though. The Lunar series sits alongside Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy in the pantheon of role playing, and Eternal Blue is Lunar 2's final and best incarnation.