Imagine that you are at a flea market, and someone sets up a stall. They have bags of shit, literally shit, sitting upon the table for sale. It's somehow understood that if these bags of shit sell, that the next time the merchant comes and sets up a stall, maybe there'll be diamonds for sale instead. But he will have found that shit sells, so he will continue to sell shit. No matter how much his shoppers hope for diamonds, he will continue to sell shit.
Little green men
The shit for sale is Lunar: Dragon Song, and the shoppers are Lunar fans. I don't say this lightly. This game, honestly, contains so many otherwise good ideas that clash with each other that it renders the game very nearly unenjoyable. It seems that when Working Designs folded, the Japanese studio that made the first two games in the series decided to give up as well. The first thing that went with Working Designs' demise was the possibility that the games would get a good translation. When Ubisoft took over, not only were their English translations void of most of the humour the older games had, but this game in particular contained so many typos that it seemed like no one even tried to proof-read the English script. It is a sad day when you are supposedly fluent in both English and Japanese, and yet can't spell. I would expect such a thing from someone involved with numbers, not words.
People Say I Look Like A Bad Game. That's Not True. Bad Games Look Like Me.
But speaking of numbers, I have always found that including certain spells or effects that always deal an exact amount or exact percentage of damage each time was a boring design choice in any game I've played. Case in point: in this game, certain cards will help you determine exactly how much HP a boss has by dealing poison damage to him, and so you will be able to predict when you'll be able to forget about healing your nearly dead party and just go ahead and slaughter the enemy. As such, using cards makes the game entirely easy to beat, if not for the tough random enemies you have to face on your way to the boss. The random enemies seem to level up with you, which means you will almost never get the upper hand against them. It's the only way I can explain why you can almost never seem to kill enemies faster by leveling up a few times. The only way you'll ever be able to increase your damage versus anything would be to equip more powerful weapons and armour.
And speaking of weapons and armour, guess what happens when an enemy gets lucky with a hit? A piece of equipment breaks! If the game wasn't hard enough already in between the boss fights, I might've let this feature slide. But it just makes playing the game even more frustrating because by the time you get back to town, you might've lost half your equipment and you'll need to somehow come up with enough money to purchase your armour again. It doesn't help, later in the game, when an enemy takes out a piece of equipment that was providing a significant boost to your stats, and now you must waste lots of magic and items on keeping this character alive.
Money itself is very hard to come by, especially since enemies only drop experience and items, and even then you can only choose one or the other, you can't receive both experience and items from the same battle. It may have been an unrealistic trope to always have enemies carrying around big bags of money wherever they went, but at least it made games somewhat playable. In Lunar: Dragon Song, you can only get money from selling items and making deliveries. Deliveries require you to take a job from someone and then bring items or packages to someone in a different town (which also requires you to go all the way through a monster-infested forest or two over and over and over). What makes this method exceptionally cruel is that often times, you must hunt down this material yourself, and in some cases it was hard to find, since you have to fight many monsters that drop many random items before they'll drop the one you need. Then once you've found it, you have to go and deliver it halfway across the world map.
Wandering around the world of Lunar this time around wouldn't have been bad if the music had at least been good. Instead, it sounds like someone tried to mimic Iwadare's style from the first two games and failed. I wouldn't have minded, since running everywhere would've shortened the amount of time I'd spend listening to each piece... except that I wasn't allowed to run, or else I'd lose HP. The option was there, but it was like giving someone chocolate flavoured rat poison. It tastes good, but you'll lose health and possibly die if you eat it. If I'm going to be told I'm not allowed to run, I'd better be allowed to enjoy the walk, or else I'm not going to want to take the journey.
I swear, this is an actual example of the kind of work put into the game.
Speaking of death, here's a spoiler for you: one of the characters dies, and the other characters hardly react in any way during or after the scene. It makes me wonder if the translation team dropped the ball on the entire scene, or if the original writers were the ones who didn't know enough to give our hero time to grieve his fallen comrade. If this is what it means to be in the Dragonmaster's party, then I want out, now. I know there was a battle right after your comrade's Heroic Sacrifice, but after the battle...
Battles themselves were also rather annoying. When fighting, you could only choose what action you wanted to take. It was as if the team who made the game didn't know how to make your characters target enemies on the DS, because your actions were always taken against random enemies. All battle strategy, therefore, went out the window. You no longer could count on eliminating your enemy in a well planned out manner. Instead, sheer luck determined who lived and died in battle. It was an awful system of game play that somehow fit right in with an awful game.
Battles, and especially boss fights, take up both screens. Unfortunately, and this is a design choice I hate in DS games, the two screens are meant to be seen as one during these battles. A boss will naturally appear on both screens with a gap in the middle where his top half is supposed to join up to his bottom half. And sometimes a random enemy will slightly overlap onto the other screen. It's more of a peeve than an actual design flaw, but it's one that I will complain about in DS games when applicable.
Now not all of these flaws are bad. Forbidding a character to run might've been a good idea if it was implemented in a game that made you want to explore your surroundings. Instead, it draws the game out and is another example of a poorly designed way to keep you playing the game for longer than you wanted to. Breaking a character's equipment might've worked in a Final Fantasy game where everything, including money, is easier to come by and yet it would happen with enough frequency that you'd have to decide whether you want to buy a couple extra weapons or a few extra potions with your last gil. Even the choice between items and experience might've been better in a game where your enemies didn't automatically match your own level.
Should you play this game?
Wow, even the characters don't want you to. That's just awful.
Wow, even the characters don't want you to. That's just awful.
...Because The Future Can Take It All Away From You
In the end, all of these features, combined with the shoddy translation and already horrible music, combined to form a bag of complete shit called Lunar: Dragon Song, and if you ask me, this isn't a good way for such a glorious series to end. It feels like they took their beloved pet out back and shot him, then tossed him to the pigs to eat. Bag of shit indeed.
Actually, there was one diamond waiting for me at the bottom of my bag: the end credits rolled and I didn't have to play the game any more.
Images stolen from LunarNET