Lunar The Silver Star, released in 1992 by Japanese game studio Game Arts, was one of the first predominantly anime JRPGs to feature full anime cutscenes and voice overs to the extent of authentically feeling like an actual anime series. It didn’t reach too many players, however, being a niche game on a console that few people owned, the Sega CD, during a time when the JRPG had not yet begun to appeal to mainstream gamers on a significant level. The Sega CD had few eye-catching games to offer, and the console faded into obscurity after just a couple of years.
Lunar, however, had not yet reached its final form. In 1996, Lunar Silver Star Story, an enhanced version of the game debuted on the Sega Saturn in Japan. It featured updated visuals, higher quality (and more) anime scenes, and a few new songs to really solidify the anime feel and aesthetic found within. The gameplay and soundtrack had also been revamped substantially, and parts of the story changed. It was essentially a complete remake of the original game.
In Japan, this met with success. Lunar the Silver Star Story even received a further enhanced version the following year that replaced the anime scenes in the game with higher quality MPEG video, the drawback being that a somewhat pricey MPEG card addon for the Saturn used for playing VCDs and other media was needed for the game to even boot.
While this was good news for Japan, the Sega Saturn was not doing quite as well in other markets. Working Designs, the often troubled studio that localized the original Lunar for Sega CD opted to chase other ventures on the Saturn with their limited resources, such as the Magic Knight Rayearth game, and Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean. Thus, the Saturn release of Lunar Silver Star Story never saw the light of day in English.
Fortunately, Lunar Silver Star Story was set to be ported to the Sony Playstation as well.
Lunar on the Playstation, and Localization
In May 1998, the Playstation release of Lunar Silver Star Story was released. Although it didn’t feature quite the same quality of visuals, especially in cut scenes, that the Saturn version did, it was a mostly identical port. Exactly one year after the Japanese release, Working Designs released a localized version of the Playstation port under the title Lunar Silver Star Story Complete.
Lunar follows the adventures of a young man named Alex, who yearns to become a great adventurer like the legendary Dragonmaster Dyne, who is able to harness the power of mythical elemental dragons. Over the course of his journey, Alex must assume the role of Dragonmaster when the world is threatened by a tyrant wizard, Ghaeleon, who seeks to use the power of the dragons to become the Magic Emperor and rule as he pleases. The story in the 32-bit generation remake of the game is a fair bit more developed than the original, offering additional characters, and more backstory.
With the localization, Lunar was set to gain more recognition in the West. Working Designs hired a full cast of voice actors to give the title the proper care it deserved. This level of attention was still uncommon for the localization of games in the West, as voice acting was (and still is, although the industry of the artform in the US has increased substantially over the last few decades) considered a much more serious endeavor in Japan. They even rewrote and rerecorded English language versions of the songs that appear in the game.
The localization of Lunar Silver Star Story was a huge asset to the North American JRPG scene and overall net positive, but nonetheless, it did not come without some controversy. While Working Designs was known for releasing quality products and was one of the originators of the idea of releasing games with fancy packaging and extra premium bonus items such as Art Booklets and Soundtrack CDs (a practice quite common among game releases in modern times) they were also known for overstepping their bounds and taking too many creative liberties that affected the game in negative ways.
In the case of Lunar Silver Star Story, the script was reworked in many places to add the corny, often mocked, Working Design ‘charm.’ Jokes that reference pop culture were added to the game, feeling extremely out of place and uncomfortable.
The game was also given various difficulty tweaks, such as enemies dealing more damage and giving out less EXP and currency to make it more grindy and artificially boost the time required to beat the game. Less significant changes were made en masse, such as some item locations were tweaked for odd reasons, and a puzzle being altered to not include the hint required to clear it, making it completely trial and error.
Additional Ports of Lunar
Lunar Silver Star Story was only the first of several revamps of Lunar the Silver Star to surface over the years.
In 2002, Lunar Legend was released for the Gameboy Advance. It features different content, and more backstory to the world of Lunar, including backstory surrounding character relationships, history, and motives. The localization this time was handled by Ubisoft, with Working Designs working on Playstation 2 titles and slowly going out of business.
Another handheld console release, Lunar Silver Star Harmony, was released in 2009 for the Playstation Portable. This PSP port was like the Playstation version of the game, with some added gameplay additions, including a new prologue story featuring the original Dragonmaster and his companions for even more backstory. A new soundtrack was included, and a third English localization provided by Xseed Games.
With the success that Lunar had as a genre-defining anime JRPG, Lunar: Eternal Blue, the sequel to Lunar the Silver Star followed suit, originally on the Sega CD, and then to the Sega Saturn and Playstation (complete with its own localization). Game Arts went on to create their next big JRPG franchise, Grandia.
Since the story of Lunar mostly completed itself in the two original games, with various addenda and tidbits being added through the occasional spinoff and remake, there was never a reason to produce a third main Lunar title. Grandia ended up being a more open-ended endeavor, leading to the opportunity for many standalone sequels under the same franchise. Though Game Arts eventually disappeared like many game studios prominent in the 80s and 90s, Grandia has since been remastered and re-released for modern platforms.
Perhaps some day soon we will see a Lunar collection for the Switch, if we are lucky enough.