Lunar: Dragon Song

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Lunar: Dragon Song (known as Lunar Genesis in Japan and Europe) is a role-playing game in the Lunar series, developed by Japan Art Media (taking over from original developers Game Arts) for the Nintendo DS and released in 2005. The fourth game in the series and the first original series entry in ten years, it is a prequel taking place 1000 years before the first game, Lunar: The Silver Star.

Plot

Like the rest of the Lunar series, the game is set in a world transformed from a barren wasteland by the goddess Althena and protected by four dragons. At this time, relations between the humans and beastmen are strained, the former living in quiet rural areas and the latter in magnificent cities. The main character is Jian Campbell, an aspiring martial artist who works as a courier for Gad's Express in the small village of Port Searis. He and his friend Lucia end up attracting the attention of the beastmen in their adventures, and eventually find themselves in conflict with the corrupted Dragonmaster Ignatius, who seeks to take Althena's power for himself.

Why It Sucks

  1. Numerous strange and illogical mechanics are introduced, which only serve to make the game more frustrating. As the game is only about 20 hours long on average, very short by JRPG standards, it's hard not to conclude that these were only there to pad the time. Some of these include...
  2. Running drains your HP, at the rate of around 1 point every couple of seconds and stopping when anyone in the party is below 1/3 of their max HP - and it doesn't turn off in towns, either. It doesn't help that your party's walking speed is teeth-grindingly slow.
  3. You can't pick which enemies to target in battle. The target of basic attacks is determined at random, any other offensive skills target all enemies, and neither of the party's casters (Lucia and Flora) learns any offensive magic. This removes any real strategy from the battles, and you can basically play through the whole game with the auto-battle function on.
  4. You have to choose to get either experience points ("Virtue Mode") or item drops ("Combat Mode") from battles, not both like in any other RPG.
  5. Opening the blue chests in dungeon maps, which usually contain equipment or other powerful items, requires defeating all the enemies in an area in Virtue Mode, with a timer restarting in between battles. If you don't defeat another enemy before the timer runs out, an enemy will respawn. Not only does the game not tell you where the enemies are, but they can also wander into areas the party can't access or be obscured by the scenery. (This is also the only real reason to fight in Virtue Mode, given that enemies scale with your level.)
  6. Party members other than Jian are nearly useless. Jian's basic attack is a three-hit combo which can kill most standard enemies in one attack, and later in the game, he learns offensive magic that can clear out an entire group of enemies in one go. Meanwhile, Lucia and Flora start with such poor MP pools that they can barely cast any of their spells before needing to replenish their MP (and MP-restoring items are rare and not buyable from shops), and the physical fighters (Gabryel and Rufus) can barely do scratch damage next to Jian. As a result, the sizable segment where Jian is cursed and can only do one attack is an absolute slog.
  7. Battles use the two screens of the DS as one huge vertical screen, which often results in enemy sprites being cut in half by the gap between them.
  8. You run away from random battles by blowing into the DS microphone. Not only is this odd, but it can be triggered by ambient sound.
  9. Certain monsters can break your equipment or steal items from you. There's no way to repair broken equipment, and the gear from shops is often too expensive to be affordable.
  10. The game's economy as a whole is atrocious. Enemies don't drop money, the sundry items they drop in Combat Mode are practically worthless, and there are less than ten chests in the entire game that hold money. The only way to reliably make money is by accepting courier jobs from Gad's Express.
  11. The Gad's Express jobs are all nothing but fetch quests where you have to deliver a certain amount of items to someone. Not only is this tedious, but the item drops from enemies are often rare, which can result in hours of repetitive grinding just to get what you need. There is a shop later in the game where you can buy some of the necessary items, but it doesn't cover everything.
  12. Rather than actually getting to explore towns, you select locations to go to with the stylus.
  13. The original character designer Toshiyuki Kubooka returns, but the game isn't particularly nice to look at overall: the backgrounds are beyond unmemorable, the game lacks the iconic super-deformed look of the earlier games and replaces it with generic-looking sprites, character portraits for NPCs get recycled with palette swaps constantly, and the scaling of your characters in battle is poor.
  14. As generic a JRPG storyline as you can find, basically retreading The Silver Star (right down to one party member secretly being Althena) without the depth of character that made it work there. This is not helped by...
  15. A dry and spiritless English translation, which is a far cry from the well-written and humorous localisations by Working Designs that were a big draw for The Silver Star and Eternal Blue. Moreover, it still has typos left in it, and inconsistent names at times (e.g. Raiban becomes Laban).
  16. For a game meant to introduce newcomers to the Lunar series, it does a poor job of explaining things introduced in the earlier games (like what exactly a Dragonmaster is and does), and is full of continuity errors regarding the established timeline (for example, at the point where Dragon Song is supposed to take place, the relationship between humans and beastmen was nothing like what is depicted here). The magic city of Vane, one of the series' most iconic setpieces, also makes no appearance.
  17. You don't even get to have a proper confrontation with Ignatius at the end of the game. The final boss fight is with his minion Gideon, after which Ignatius falls off a cliff, followed by an unsatisfying and rushed ending cutscene.

Redeeming Qualities

  1. The monster card system (enemies drop cards which act as special abilities, of which you can only carry one of a particular monster at a time, and you can use these in battle a certain number of times) is quite unique.
  2. Even though series composer Noriyuki Iwadare doesn't return, the soundtrack is quite decent.
  3. Despite the lack of the fully-voiced anime-style cutscenes that defined the first two games, the still images accompanying dialogue are at least well-drawn.
  4. The ability to speed up battles with the L or R buttons is appreciated, especially given how slow they usually are.
  5. You can save anywhere in the game immediately - no save points necessary.

Reception

Lunar: Dragon Song received mixed reviews from professional critics, with a 59 on Metacritic, and suffered from poor sales, selling only 24,673 copies in Japan. It was almost universally negatively received by franchise fans, both for its frustrating gameplay and not feeling like a Lunar game. Because of this and ongoing legal issues regarding the franchise, it is likely that a proper sequel to The Silver Star and Eternal Blue will not be developed.

Trivia

  • Lunar: Dragon Song was the first Japanese role-playing game released for the Nintendo DS.
  • The title Dragon Song was voted on by fans for the North American title (partly for the "DS" abbreviation). Other possible titles included Ashen Dawn and Dark Skies.

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