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Lunar: Dragon Song (DS) artwork

Lunar: Dragon Song (DS) review

"If an RPG strongly encourages a player to engage in twice as many battles as should be necessary, then it better possess an engaging fighting scheme. Lunar: Dragon Song does not. Its limited turn-based system might as well be on autopilot, which is thankfully a prominent selection preceding every encounter. "

If an RPG strongly encourages a player to engage in twice as many battles as should be necessary, then it better possess an engaging fighting scheme. Lunar: Dragon Song does not. Its limited turn-based system might as well be on autopilot, which is thankfully a prominent selection preceding every encounter.

That feature isn’t particularly strange, but it’s so appropriate here. In Dragon Song, battle options follow the three routine staples: attack, magic, and item use. That’s where the choices end; you have no influence over which enemy is targeted. The instruction manual indicates that the most appropriate monster is always attacked, but that statement carries no real meaning since each character possesses only one basic move. In practice clear threats are not identified; your fighting force is just as likely to gang up on a moth that sprinkles pollen on their heads as it is to take out an ogre waiting to bash someone’s skull in with a giant mace. That is, if they don’t waste time by attacking separate enemies altogether.

The narrow attack selection ensures that the battles aren’t just excruciating to fight, they’re also boring to watch. Characters retain the same skill throughout the entire game, be it the hero’s roundhouse kicks – he’s exclusively a pedalian pugilist – or the heroine’s umbrella swatting antics. In lieu of magic, physically oriented characters have a similarly restricted reservoir of one special move that can potentially obliterate everything on the screen(s). Meanwhile, spellcasters possess no offensive incantations to augment their pitiful weapons, so they’re limited to healing and status effects. The latter of those won’t be used on a regular basis because you’re provided with a plentiful supply of special cards that perform the same duty, and these can be used by any member and target everything – even boss characters.

Here’s the clincher: Dragon Song boasts two modes of battle, which sounds intriguing until it’s revealed that there’s no difference in the mechanics. Instead, only the reward changes. Soldier forward in Virtue Mode, and you will cleanse a monster’s spirit, earning valuable experience points in exchange. Reclaiming all the souls within a particular area will also unlock treasure chests that contain beefed-up weapons and armor. You won’t, however, earn any money, and currency is desperately needed once your superior equipment breaks down – an event that can occur at any time.

For cash you must bait enemies in regular Combat Mode. Rather than simply dropping gold coins, though, the defeated will surrender items like expensive plates, hugging pillows, and amazing frying pans. Despite the impressive names, these objects fetch only a pittance on their own. Since our hero moonlights as a courier for Gad’s Express, though, he can take a job at any of its convenient locations, bundle together the required assortment of goods and deliver them for an exorbitant markup.

This is an incredibly annoying process. First, items are carried by specific enemies in specific locations, an advantage unless you don’t know where to find the necessary cargo. If you don’t, prepare to waste time scouring the forest paths and linear caves that make up the game’s dungeons. Even with that knowledge, the spoils of victory are random, and it may take a very long stretch to collect the mountain of loot you need. Of course, if you get fed up, you can always quit the gig... for a percentage of the fee. These tasks can take hours, and the benefit is proportionally meager.

Still, all these faults could be endured for the Lunar series’ engrossing characters, engaging dialogue, and full animation sequences that convey touching tales. So in way it works out perfectly, because none of that is present here. In fact, Dragon Song is set one-thousand years before any other story spun in the Lunar universe; without a heaping helping of the Goddess Althena, this game wouldn’t have sufficient reason to claim the franchise name.

The story we get revolves around puny human Jian Campbell, a delivery boy who naturally longs for adventure. Even more, he wants to prove to the mentally and physically superior race of beast-men that his species is worthy of respect and equal standing. At least he claims a noble goal, and all he needs is a chance to grow stronger and a stage on which to show his mettle. Fortunately for him, someone’s decided to take over the world, and he’s the common (beast)man’s last best hope.

Fortunately for everyone else, Jian is actually quite strong from the very beginning; he’s consistently twice as powerful as his other party members(another cloying aspect of battle, Jian has to help kill just about anything). Granted, he’s chosen to travel mostly with females: the sympathetic beast-girl Gabryel, absentminded archer Flora, and his honey-bunny Lucia(of the vengeful umbrella). Occasionally, Jian will grudgingly earn his desired respect, or the tiniest hints of a sappy crush polygon will emerge. Mostly everyone just wants to throw around the sentiment of friendship, at least in the limited time not spent giving directions to the next obstacle.

These destinations naturally include bustling towns, thriving forests, and ancient temples; and they all receive adequate two-dimensional representation, though it can be sparse with details and increasingly repetitive over similar types of locations. It becomes more intricate in combat; the scene spans across both screens and provides a closer look at the character sprites. At least from the side, since the camera is always behind them. Lunar:DS almost manages to impress during boss encounters. A giant dragon towers through the top display, bellowing fire down at your cowering party on the bottom, while a fast-paced tune does its best to speed up your blood flow. All the exotic ambient music is well done throughout; it makes me wish Jian was leading a band of wandering minstrels instead of mediocre warriors.

While the DS speakers perform well, another component of its hardware is ineffectively used. When you’re traversing the overworld map, the touch panel functions as a persistent menu screen that doesn’t exactly enhance the experience. It does contain arrows along each edge that can be used to control Jian, but these are clumsy compared to the d-pad, especially since precise and immediate cornering is needed to avoid the on-screen enemy icons that lead to battle. Plus, you can only run by holding down the ‘B’ button, so you would need some dexterity in your left hand. Unless absolutely determined, you won’t be needing the stylus here.

Likewise with your midbrain, prefrontal cortex, and limbic system. The battle system keeps you uninvolved, and the story refuses to delve into any interesting subplots or character development, yet it still demands a 20-30 hour investment to complete. Mute this inferior cacophony. Pass.

+ Denounces prejudice with a message of tolerance and understanding.

- Is itself intolerable to play.

woodhouse's avatar
Community review by woodhouse (June 25, 2006)

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