Lunar: The SIlver Star is the role-playing game that pretty much every Japanese owner of the Mega-CD (Sega CD here in the United States) also owned. It was a spectacular turn-based adventure with some interesting innovations to the RPG format, and a TV-series-style plot that differentiated it strongly from the existing titles in the genre at the time. The characters were more vulnerable, and more well-developed. We take these things for granted now, and with each new re-make of Lunar, and each new title that takes inspiration from the franchise, it's harder to remember why this was so different at the time.
To that point, there are currently 5 incarnations of Lunar: The Silver Star, not counting any of its sequels and spin-offs:
- Lunar: Silver Star Story - Mega-CD
- Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete - Playstation 1
- Lunar Legend - Gameboy Advance
- Lunar: Silver Star Harmony - Playstation Portable
- Lunar: Silver Star Story Touch - iOS
These all have strengths and weaknesses, but to me, there will never be a version of the game better than the original Mega-CD version, and I don't think that's due entirely to nostalgia.
- Lunar: The Silver Star featured an original CD-Audio soundtrack by Noriyuki Iwadare. No version of these songs has appeared in any of the later games (I've read, due to some kind of rights restriction governing the compositions themselves). The Playstation 1 version surfaced years later with entirely re-written and less inspired music -- also by Iwadare. The magic was gone and the PS1's hardware synth wasn't being used to full potential on that outing. Nothing can compare to the original soundtrack of Lunar: The Silver Star.
- Lunar: The Silver Star featured a real, full-sized explorable overworld in which battles took place. Every following version has featured some kind of miniaturized, or symbolic map with selectable locations that are used only for navigation. The sense of exploration and discovery are missing from that.
- Lunar: The Silver Star used a cool battle system in which the location of your characters mattered in relation to the enemies, and you used your location on the screen to strategize. This played a big part in battle, without turning battles into an actual "strategy" game setup.
Every new version of Lunar brings something great and modern to the mix, along with a fatal flaw:
- The Playstation 1 version brought tons and tons gorgeous, fully animated cinematics that have been versioned and used in a lot of subsequent versions. But the soundtrack was anemic and poor compared to the Mega-CD original.
- The Gameboy Advance version brought portability for the first time, but suffered from the worst translation, overly simplified graphics, and neutered battle mechanics.
- The PSP remake is a gorgeous and passionate production full of incredible sprite animation, beautiful character artwork, awesome battle effects, and great battle backgrounds. But it totally removed the exploration aspect of the game's overworld, and opted for hand-painted backgrounds in towns and dungeons, whereby collision detection was awkward and un-fun to navigate. One is always being stopped in one's tracks by something that doesn't look like it should be an impediment. Moving around these prominent locations is done in a series of fits and starts that disrupt the player's immersion.
- The iOS version of Lunar is a direct port of the Playstation 1 version of Lunar suffering from the same drawbacks as the Playstation 1 version, but also adding a lot of ugly iOS-native transition effects and an attempt at touch recognition that just isn't compatible with the original content that is being harnessed. Nobody wants to see a "peel" effect every time a battle starts, or lots of ugly, flat-colored Helvetica text all over the screens that used to have a cool conservative pixel font. This damages the nostalgic aspect and undermines the source game's art direction. I'd rather a straight port of the game's ROM coupled with an onscreen joypad (that's already there) while leaving all the visuals completely alone.
Of course, no modern version of Lunar could ever hope to recapture the glee I felt back in 1993 when I was ignoring my homework and sneaking in late-night game sessions in my darkened bedroom, hoping the volume was low enough that I wouldn't get busted by my parents. And inevitably getting busted. Wow -- this game is 21 years old. CD-ROM was cutting edge back then.
I accept that every new generation of gamers has a game that makes a special impact on them, and it's not probably ever going to be Lunar or remake of Lunar. No modern gamer could ever boot up a Mega-CD and feel the same things I felt for Lunar: The Silver Star. But to me, the game is perfect and timeless and I feel that way about it every time I play it.