In this post, I'm going to review three of the games Working Designs localized for the Sega-CD! It's got spoilers for some games that are almost two decades old, so reader beware and all that. This will be your final warning.
I covered covered Popful Mail in an earlier post, so I'll skip it over here. Suffice it to say, it was awesome and hilarious. Life is like a box of fish indeed!
Vay is a fairly run-of-the-mill turned based RPG with a neat twist. It's pronounced Vye, by the way. A thousand years ago, some high-tech power armor crashed to earth and went on a rampage until the world's five greatest sorcerers lack away its power and seal it in five McGuffins scattered across the world. Other than that, it's really pretty generic. An evil empire to fight, some stuff to find, new spells to learn, and random encounters to fight every three steps. The Evil Empire reverse engineered technology from the power armor, but I had already played Final Fantasy 3 (FF6 for you purists) by this point and I think they handled the idea better in that game.
One thing it did handle extremely well was that it discouraged backtracking, and the dialogue gave a real sense that things were changing in the game world as a result of your actions. "Oh, we' know who you are! You shut down the Empire's military base on the peninsula? Because of that, X, Y and Z happened."
Later in the game, you're fighting your way through a submarine. The ship's captain is observing your progress and taunting you over the loudspeaker every few minutes. Her name is Betty June, where most of the characters in the game have weird pseudo-medeviel names. The main character is called Sandor, for example. The fight to the bridge is kind of a slog, but I laughed when I finally got there and had this exchange.
Sandor: And now we fight! But first I have a question. Betty June. Is that your real name?
Betty June: What's wrong with my name, San-dork?
Overall, it's pretty standard. I enjoyed it at the time, but the plot isn't good enough to let me overlook the tedium of the dungeons and the random encounters. Interestingly, it's been released as a download for the i-Phone. That's kind of cool.
LUNAR: THE SILVER STAR
Lunar was awesome. I played it when I was working nights and before I met Jen, which was just a strange time in my life. I'm much happier now than I was then, but part of me misses being able to spend fifteen hours a day working through a video game. I remember renting Final Fantasy II for the SNES. Tim said "That needs at least 36 hours of play time and the rental only lasts for two days. You're never going to finish it in one try" and I said "That sounds like a challenge!" Lunar used actual speech in the cut scenes and I had the volume turned low because I was playing at 3 AM on my day off and then a cut scene begins and Ghaleon starts mumbling, "My apprentice Nash speaks well of you" and I had to run to the TV to hear what he was saying. Speak up, dude! You're the Premier of the Magic Academy! Do you mumble like that during graduations?!
I was looking through old posts to see if I had mentioned Lunar before, and I had forgotten this, and when she was really little, Lily was sitting in her little pink chair and I was singing to her. I was taking Fur Elise, the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth, and Ode to Joy, and singing "La" for each of the notes. She was smiling broadly at each of these, but what really made her laugh was when I "sang" her the song from an old video game. I think Tim is the only one who'll know the song I'm talking about, but it's the La La La song from Lunar: The Silver Star, which really does have "La" in the place of the notes. It's a catchy little tune and she laughed out loud at this. That was her first laugh.
I figured out two of the big revelations in Lunar pretty. I had just finished up another game called Lufia and the Fortress of Doom and it had the same plot twist, which is an element of Asian folklore that goes back to the Princess and the Cowherd, that of a goddess falling in love with a human and choosing to live out a mortal life with him. In each Lunar and Lufia, the amnesiac blue-haired girl is a fallen goddess who falls in love with the main character, recovers her memory but renounces her divinity to be with him.
The other plot twist in Lunar that Ghaleon, the Premier of the magic academy was a bad guy. If you watch the opening cinema, he's practically twirling his mustache and that gave it away. I'm not sure if knowing that diminished my enjoyment or not. It certainly provided a different experience than I would have had otherwise. It's a great game. The gist is that the world is in trouble, you have to save it, blah-blah, crying cakes, and that the people who saved the world the last time are the parents or the mentors to this generation.
Ghaleon is the one who drives the plot. He's probably my favorite video game villain of all time. He saved the world, but then ten years after that, he and his best friend had to save it again. He hates the goddess that empowered his friend for turning away from him. He hates himself for being unable to save the world.
As part of his plan, he feebleminds one of the former heroes, turns another to stone, butchers the dragons he was sworn to defend, enslaves a goddess and uses her power to blast a floating continent from the sky. And yet, there's this bit at the end... As you're fighting your way through the final levels of his fortress, where the most powerful monsters in the game are hurling themselves against you, there is this level where peaceful music plays and gentle pixies flit around in an idyllic garden. The faeries will talk to you and it's clear they have no idea of the things Ghaleon has done. It's like he's trying to convince himself that he's not a monster. They believe him a kind, gentle man. And he was, once upon a time. One of the characters remembers how he used to take here on long walks when she was a little girl and wonders what must have broken inside him to make the monster he has become.
LUNAR: ETERNAL BLUE
As good as Lunar:TSS was, the sequel was even more awesome. It was the last game I did without easy access to a walkthrough and Jen bought it for my birthday when we were first dating, so it's special in that way too. It's set a thousand years later and the broad outline of the plot is pretty similar at first. You rescue a mysterious girl named Lucia, and run all over the place, assembling a ragtag band and eluding the White Knight Leo, who pursues you like Javert across the country. While fleeing him, your team arrives at an ancient temple where a recording shows you the events of the last game. As it's showing the defeat of Ghaleon it's suddenly interrupted by Ghaleon himself, somehow back from the dead.
It's worth noting that I was thinking it was great game and the only thing that could possibly make it better would be an appearance by Ghaleon.
Part of the game is to become the heroes out of legend, the Dragonmaster, the White Knight, etc, only to discover that...those roles are already filled. And Ghaleon, the traitor from the first game is their leader.
The game had so many scenes that I loved. You know how in these kind of games, you're always running against a clock before the the villain takes over/destroys the world, but nobody on the team has any problem stopping to get a kitten out of a tree. When you get to one village, Lucia, who was raised away from humans, says "Fuck this noise," and quits the party when you delay the main quest for yet another humanitarian mission.
When traveling through a Sherwood Forest type area, "We're close to Taben's Peak, everyone. Keep your eyes peeled and your hands on your valuables. Ronfar! Get your hands out of your pants!"
Lunar:EB has a lot of the tropes of that era of game, and one of them is that the main character has stats that are significantly better than those of the secondary characters. Leo is a special exception, as he has stats that match the main character's precisely. There's a bit where you've just finished a punishing boss battle and Leo catches up to you. One of the cultists shrugs and activates the runes that summon the boss again, and Leo and Hiro team up to smack it down.
Leo was pursuing you because he believed that Lucia was really the Destroyer, but he was starting to have doubts. When he asks you if you really think that Lucia is the destroyer, you have the option of answering "Only once a month". Heh.
The characters are awesome. I mentioned Ronfar, the lovable rogue who had been a priest, but who fell into despair and all manner of vices because he was unable to save Mauri, his beloved and Leo's sister.
There's Jean, who was raised as an assassin, but who found peace as a dancer, who is fleeing from her former mentor, Master Lunn. He is one of the four false heroes, and she has to defeat him in single combat. Everything about the game feels epic.
Leo was another great character. There's a scene where he realizes that he's been played and that he's been serving a false goddess all this time, and he faces up to the consequences.
It has the best scene ever in a video game. Zophar, the dark god that had been impersonating the goddess Althena, Lucia, the mysterious blue-haired girl whom you had rescued absorbs Althena's power into herself to destroy Zophar, thereby eliminating all magic in the world. Zophar then reveals that such power would destroy the world of Lunar as well. She hesitates, beat...beat...beat...each accompanied by a party member's face, and then she does it, "Althena's light shine forth!" unleashing the forces that will destroy a world.
She hesitated too long to actually do, and Zophar siphons her power, but she still has enough to teleport our heroes to safety. Cut to a town where Hiro is absolutely crushed by despair. Ghaleon shows up and threatens to kill everyone in the town unless you can stop him.
When you do, he reveals to Hiro that he allowed Zophar to revive him so that he could atone for his actions in the first game, but because Zophar could withdraw his power at any time, he could never overtly aid the heroes. And now that he has betrayed his master openly in order to rekindle Hiro's spirit, he will return to the grave once more.
At the very end, Lucia returns to her duties in a spire on the moon and the heroes go back to their lives. There's an ending song and a montage showing the fates of the main characters, and then it goes back to the title screen, where you have the option for a fully playable epilogue! It's not just a tacked on thing, but a full scale trek as Hiro gets the band back together and you get to see the outcome of all the good you've done as you search for a way to be with your beloved. At the end of it, you find Lucia, and the game ends while together they watch the Earth arm in arm.