Skankin' Garbage's Review of Lunar: Dragon Song
Email the author: Skankin' Garbage
Lunar: Dragon Song is the fourth installment in the Lunar series, a series that doesn't have a lot of popularity, but is almost unanimously popular amongst those that have experienced it. In late September, this game was released; the first installment to the series after almost a decade of remakes. Unfortunately, we will probably have to wait another decade before a new one comes out, considering how poor this one was.
Before I tear this game's flaws apart, let me start out with what's good about it, cos to say this game was a complete failure would simply be false.
For starters, the graphics are excellent. The character designs were done by the original character designer of the Lunar games, and they look great. The style of the graphics really fits the music and the story well. When you talk to people in villages, they are represented by various drawings of his, so you get to see it a lot. The other graphics are excellent, too. The new, isometric look when exploring dungeons is exactly what I expected from a 'new generation' Lunar game, and the battles look something reminiscent of Grandia (After all, they're made by the same company, and Lunar's combat system was really just a turn-based Grandia, anyways). I have absolutely no complaints about the graphics.
Contrary to what most people might think, Lunar has had about four different composers, but it's true to say that there is one main composer that gave an original sound to the series, and that man is Noriyuki Iwadare. Unfortunately, Iwadare did not write the music for Dragon Song. While this dissapointed me at first, I quickly changed my attitude after hearing the music. It captures the Lunar feel perfectly, and is very well-done. The main theme of the game is very reminiscent of the first Lunar, and is pleasant to hear. In fact, I can think of almost no bad songs in this game. After beating the game, I discovered that the main composer of the game was Yoshiyaka Kubodera, one of the original four composers of the first Lunar game; this would probably explain why a great deal as to why the music came out so Lunar-ish. Overall, the musical score is excellent.
Sounds good so far, right? Lunar: Dragon Song is a very aesthetically pleasing game; however, it falls apart in terms of gameplay and storyline.
Let's start with the gameplay...normally, I save the gameplay for last, as I think it's usually the most important, but anyone who has played the previous Lunar games realizes that the gameplay took a back seat to the story and dialogue; it was never all that innovative, anyways. "Whoa! You have to walk up to the enemies to attack them!" Whatever. It's not bad, but it didn't make the games. Anyways...
This game has a lot of strange innovations. I had read a lot of reviews before I played the game, and I think they attacks almost every innovation, as if it ruined the game. Well, the gameplay IS bad, but I think that a lot of the new features in the game weren't the problem.
Let's go down the list:
This game isn't ruined by the fact that dashing takes HP to do, because after you get to about Level 10 or so, you almost never notice it again.
This game isn't ruined by the fact that there is a separate combat mode for getting items/combat cards (Combat Mode) and getting experience (Virtue Mode), because it's possible to go through the game almost primarily using one or the other; since enemies level up with you, using Virtue Mode primarily can make the game very hard, whereas combat cards are very powerful, and can help out a lot if you know how to balance using the two modes of combat.
This game isn't ruined by the fact that some enemies steal items and some enemies break equipment, because enemies don't steal important items, and you're likely to find better equipment in dungeons than what you had on anyways; you'll probably even find a lot of money, too. Added to that, defense hardly even matters until you get to the very end of the game, and there's almost no enemies at the end of the game that break equipment.
This game isn't ruined by the fact that you don't get money by fighting battles, making Gad's Express (main character Jian's job) sidequests the only way to earn money beyond selling stuff. This is because you get enough money by selling stuff that you never need to do a job. I beat Lunar: Dragon Song without doing a single Gad's Express job.
No, none of that stuff matters. The gameplay is ruined by one very, very simple thing: You cannot target enemies. Let me repeat that; You canNOT target enemies. If you choose to attack, your character will choose a random target to attack. Every attack spell in the game hits all enemies, and almost every healing/status spell affects all enemies, too. Your only choice in targeting in the ENTIRE GAME is if you cast the single target healing spell...but there's a healing spell that heals everyone, also, allowing you to supercede even THAT choice. Why is this a drag? Well, there's a lot of strategy that can be implemented in this game. Characters deal less damage to enemies farther away from them horizontally (it has to be the farthest row away). There is an entire top row of flying enemies that only come down to the ground if the enemy below them is defeated. Some enemies actually hit harder when they're flying. Flora, a character which uses bows, can attack the top row. Some enemies steal items. some enemies break equipment. Certain enemies are weak to certain elements, or can deal damage using elemental attacks. Some enemies can even induce status effects. As you can see, there's a pretty fair amount of things to take into account when strategizing in battle...EXCEPT! You can't strategize at all. If that wasn't enough, one of the characters in your party is completely deadweight; if you've ever played Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete (and you probably have if you're playing this game), think of Nash. Completely unnecesary.
This does, however, accentuate two particular poor flaws in the game design, though: This being the poor dungeon design and arbitrary diffuculty. The poor dungeon design makes you FEEL every frickin' fight, and the diffuculty in this game exists in the form of enduring several dungeons at a time. Ridiculous.
Lastly, the story is mediocre in content, and awful in its execution. The story and characters are very typical of Lunar, but the dialogue is done terribly, in translation and in style. The dialogue between characters is there, but a bit sparse. The characters are fairly well-developed, but a lot of things just seem to happen haphazardly; like, the entire first two hours or so of the game seem to be completely pointless, as Jian, the main character, just seems to fatefully go to a place where the plot really begins. Sometimes, you know to go to a certain place simply because it's the only dungeon you can go to next, and Jian and co. will talk about it as if they had heard that it was a good idea to go there next. Some characters are simply developed badly, such as Rufus and the main villain, Ignatius. Lastly, almost nothing interesting happens while travelling. This might not sound like a big deal, but this is what made, say, Lunar 2, very fun. If you went somewhere, something would always happen. In Lunar: Dragon Song, travelling seems to be more like a chore. Lastly, since the town exploration has been reduced to simply a few buildings and no outside area, the amount of NPC interaction is minimal. It's not like it would have been enjoyable, anyways; the grammar is bad, the names are inconsistent, and the humour is just not very funny (Lunar is not the same without Working Designs).
To conclude, I'm shocked. Even Lunar Magic School, a game revered as atrocious (So bad that Working Designs wouldn't port it), was light years ahead of this game. I was severely dissapointed. This game is not only bad in comparison to the other Lunar games, but it's hardly even playable. I finished this game in 18 hours...But I guaruntee you, it'll feel like you played twice as long as you actually did...if you're crazy enough to play it, that is.