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touching a sore spot

Lunar: Dragon Song

Lunar: Dragon Song (called in Japan and Europe) is a console role-playing game for the Nintendo DS developed by Japan Art Media and published by Marvelous Interactive and Ubisoft in 2005. In addition to being the first game in the Lunar series for the DS, it is also the first original game in the series since Lunar: Walking School in 1995, and the first new Lunar title (excluding remakes) released in North America since Lunar: Eternal Blue for the Sega CD.

As the first traditional CRPG for the system, Lunar: Dragon Song set the standard for the genre on the new hardware, including the use of the mic to issue commands, combat that is set across two screens, and the separation of menus and actual gameplay. It is also the second game in the series not to be translated by Working Designs.

Story

Even though Lunar: Dragon Song is the latest game in its series, it actually takes place 1000 years before Lunar: The Silver Star, making it the first game chronologically. The game opens with an explanation of the Lunar lore and how the Goddess Althena created a habitable place out of a barren wasteland and sent four powerful dragons to protect it. During the time of this game, Humans and Beastmen are still at odds with one another, and live in opposing towns across the world.

The game stars a delivery boy named Jian Campbell who works in the busy port town of Searis delivering parcels and packages to anyone he is assigned. His best friend and partner, Lucia, often joins him in his excursions and helps him defeat monsters that litter the land. Along their journey, they get caught up in the legend of the dragons and, eventually, must put an end to an evil Dragonmaster who seeks to use their power to rule the world.

Gameplay

The game makes use of Nintendo's new hardware in several interesting ways. First and most noticeable is the inclusion of a second screen assigned for showing the menu. It is here, through either manual selection or by using the touch screen, that a character's stats, item usage, and game settings are accessed. In combat, both screens contain the action, and commands can be issued either by selecting them with the D-pad, touching them, or (in the case of running) using the built-in microphone.

The combat itself is different from most Lunar games, with the characters remaining stationary while they attack instead of moving about the battlefield. No individual enemy can be selected, and the characters merely attack whichever one is closest or has the least resistance to their particular attack. A combination of physical attacks, magic, and heal spells are still present, with different characters taking on different group roles. At max, a party can consist of three characters, each one joining Jian at different points in the story, with no way to switch between them.

Before going into combat, the player must choose between Virtue Mode or Combat Mode; both modes play identically, but when the player wins a battle in Virtue Mode they receive experience points (called "Althena Conduct"), while victory in Combat Mode yields items. No monsters in the game directly drop money, and it must be earned either through selling the items gained by defeating them in Combat Mode or by completing deliveries, which can be assigned to the player at any time. Because of the two modes, players must choose whether they want Althena Conduct or items as a reward for victory, but not both. The mode is changeable at any time out of battle in the menu.

In order to discourage making the characters run everywhere, as well as save the ability for avoiding potential enemy encounters, running for an extended period of time will actually cause all party members to lose hit points. Once any character's hit points drop below a certain percentage (1/3 to be precise), they lose the ability to run until they are replenished. This prevents the player from literally running the party to death.

Battle Card system

If the player chooses to get items from combat, enemies will sometimes drop monster cards that can be used in or out of a battle for a variety of effects, or they can be sold to vendors. Some cards can be used as curative spells, others change certain rules in battle, like disallowing the enemy to steal the party's items. Due to the power and rarity of these cards, they should be saved for high-pressure battle situations.

Scratch Game

The Scratch Battle card game is a special two-player feature of Lunar: Dragon Song that takes advantage of the Nintendo DS's link-up capabilities and is accessed through the "Coliseum" option on the title screen. Assuming both players have copy of the game, they can play against each other in a card game that includes monster cards collected from one of each of their game saves.

Both players compete by "scratching" a selected card placed face down, thus flipping it. They are then able to use that particular card's special abilities to damage their opponent's cards' vitality, which is measured in hit points. The game ends when one player has no more cards available to scratch. Winning this game has no effect on the actual story, nor does it yield any sort of reward.

Characters

Playable characters

  • Human, age 15

A delivery boy who works for Gad's Delivery Service, making sure all packages reach their destination on time. As a work hazard, he must often travel through monster-infested lands to make his runs, so he trained himself in hand-to-hand combat. He is an expert gymnast and brawler, and often thinks best when standing on his head. Rather unusual among RPG characters, Jian equips shoes as weapons, since his attacks are a variety of kicks. He has a hidden soft spot for Lucia which is slightly visible in the middle of the game.

  • Human, age 14

Jian's best friend who also works with him at Gad's. Though she has a tendency to be bossy, she cares a good deal for Jian and helps him in combat by using healing spells. Her weapon of choice is a folded umbrella. She shares the same name as the heroine in Lunar 2: Eternal Blue.

  • Beast-woman, age 15

A free-thinking young beast-woman who longs to prove that Humans and Beastmen are equals. An excellent fighter, Gabyrel (or "Gabi" for short) prefers to use hand-mounted claws in battle, and utilizes a wide a variety of martial arts techniques and magic dances. She is the daughter of the beast king, Zethos.

  • Human, age 13

A young girl who lives with her brother, Peres, on the outskirts of the Frontier, a barren place that resembles what the world of Lunar looked like before the Goddess' blessing and current home of the sinister Vile Tribe. She is a skilled marksman and uses a bow and arrow in combat, along with an assortment of healing spells.

  • Beast-man, age unknown (about 17-19)

An adolescent Beast-man who serves as the general of its primary army. Like most Beast-men, he retains the idea that they are superior to humans in every way, and often fights with Jian, who he sees as a worthy opponent. His weapon of choice is a broad sword. You only keep him until you meet a demon in the castle near the Canyon.

Other characters

  • Human, age unknown

Manager and owner of Gad's Delivery Service, where Jian and Lucia are employed as couriers. As a stern businessman, Gad expects the very best work from his clients and doesn't appreciate Jian's constant lateness due to sleeping in.

  • Beastman, age unknown

The leader of the Beastmen and strongest of their warriors, putting him in contention for strongest fighter in the world.

  • Vile Tribe, age unknown

The leader of the villainous Vile Tribe who, in some way or another, has obtained the sacred title of Dragonmaster - the protector of the Goddess Althena and master of the forces that guide and sustain the planet. He is dark magician who longs to bring the Vile Tribe to the seat of power of the world.

Reception

Lunar: Dragon Song has received less-than-favorable reviews from several leading game industry publications. GameSpot gave it a score of 6.1 out of a possible ten, labeling the game as "fair" under their grading system . Likewise, Game Rankings, averaging scores from various online game review sources like GameSpy and IGN, gave it a 61% rating. The majority of the game's criticism came from the battle system. Many critics complained that the lack of targeting made battles tedious. They also complained about the need to choose between earning only items or experience as it needlessly drew out what should have been a simple task. The penalty for running was also not well received. Not all reviews were negative - GameSpy gave the game 4 out of 5 stars, though it too noted the same shortcomings. Fan reviews also found the game rather lackluster. RPGfan's reviewer gave the game a score of 68%.

The English translation is also a sore spot for long-time fans of the series, who have come to rely on the wit and humor usually displayed in the Lunar series by the now defunct Working Designs. The current translation job, done by Ubisoft, is seen as inferior in both quality and enjoyability, and numerous glaring typos and translation mistakes appear in the final version game, such as removing the word "The" from nearly every instance of The Cathedral of Althena, and listing Rufus's race as human in the instruction manual.

The game sold poorly, to the disappointment of series fans who had hoped good sales of even a mediocre Lunar title could revive the series.

References

  1. Greg Mueller. " Lunar Dragon Song for DS Review". GameSpot Sep 28, 2005. Last accessed Oct. 19, 2005.
  2. " Lunar: Dragon Song Reviews". Game Rankings 2005. Last accessed Oct. 21, 2005.
  3. " Gamespy Review of Lunar: Dragon Song 2005. Last accessed Oct. 1, 2006
  4. " RPGfan Review of Lunar: Dragon Song 2005. Last accessed Oct. 1, 2006

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