"I have many games from my past. "
I have many games from my past.
Games that I’ve called epic, others I’ve called completely worthless. Games that have ruined a genre, ones that have re-defined it. I’ve even played games that influenced me to buy a new controller, a new system or even a new television.
But rarely has one been so memorable, so brilliant that it inspired me to play nearly every other game of its kind, in hopes of seeing even a glimpse of the magic the first created. In fact, there have only been three: Shining Force, Silent Hill and Lunar: Eternal Blue.
Of all those, Eternal stands a bit taller than the rest, both for defining the RPG genre, and making every aspect of it flawless.
Battles, at first, played like a normal RPG with a turn-based structure: A panoramic side-view shows your characters on one end of the screen, the enemy on the other. From there you choose which party member does what, be it attacking, using a skill, defending or fleeing. Once it starts, Eternal steps away from the typical style and implements a bit of strategy. Magic users can cast from anywhere on the field without moving, but in order for a melee attack to occur, the character must first get in range of their intended target. Each one has a designated number of attacks, and a stat that determines how far they can move. Choosing an enemy that’s too far will force you to burn one of your attacks to move again. For those with two or three, it’s not an issue. With characters that only have one, opting for a back row enemy can leave them vulnerable in the middle of the field.
Some enemies use magic that affects the environment rather than the character. If you step or happen to be standing in the wrong place, one spell may end up locking you to the ground, another may cause a massive black hole to rise up from it. Most enemies telegraph these by a different gesture, or their eyes glinting in a different color. Strategy again plays a part, both in being able to read them and positioning your characters using the flee option so they’re out of harm’s way.
These battles are accented both by backgrounds that reflect the area you’re in--from barren deserts to desolate snowfields--and overwhelming, towering bosses that fill up half the screen. Whether it’s the giant, human/spider hybrid or the stoic, younger-looking Ghaleon they made the game as entertaining to watch as it was to play.
But visually, Eternal stands out the most in its polished, artistic cut-scenes. All are done in anime style, at times quirky with flashy/starry backgrounds, empty thought bubbles or squiggly lines over the character’s head. Yet in a moment they can shift, take on dark overtones, portraying the world of Lunar overshadowed as a jagged island with living snakes rises up from the ground, or a clawed hand grips the planet and squeezes until blood gushes out. Though abundant, each one was given extraordinary detail. Each character had a style and charisma all their own; defining facial expressions signifying joy, angst and everything between.
And it was there that I saw where Lunar: Eternal Blue’s magic truly lay: In Its story.
Initially it comes across as comical and down-to-earth, starting out with an adventurous youth named Hiro hanging upside down in a cavern. He plucks a large jewel from the eye of a dragon statue, unknowingly triggering a trap that releases powerful, vindictive fire elementals that chase him through the massive cave, one seemingly unending tunnel at a time.
Hiro somehow manages to escape, with the help of his talking, flying cat Ruby and steps back out onto the beautiful land of Lunar, eager to return to his Grandfather’s house and brag about his latest treasure. When he gets home, though, he finds not only his Grandfather Gwyn but the White Knight Leo in the middle of a conversation about how to unlock The Blue Spire, a mysterious tower to the north. The dialogue is cryptic, and makes mention of a “Destroyer”. Without even a moment to rest, Hiro is thrust into another adventure, this time to investigate the Blue Spire, with Leo as his chaperone--but he’s not much use; Hiro and Gwyn are forced to claw their way to the top alone. What they discover, instead of a Destroyer, is a beautiful blue-haired young woman--Lucia--in suspended animation.
Immediately, Hiro is awestruck and dumbfounded, suddenly unable to form complete sentences or a coherent thought. His only desire now is to rescue this young girl. And what follows is one of the most compelling, intriguing and captivating love stories I’ve ever encountered.
Hiro’s life was one of lone adventure. He’s never dealt with, nor even understands, the opposite sex. Lucia lived on an isolated planet, and when she arrives on Lunar is completely ignorant of human interaction in general. They’re clumsy, confused and often too easily embarrassed by each other to bond. Other times they seem like they’re miles away mentally. Mostly because Lucia starts out somewhat cold, with her thoughts solely on Lunar and protecting it from the true Destroyer, Zophar. But Hiro’s feelings for her are genuine, and despite her initial resistance, the adventurer remains vigilant and by her side.
And as the world begins to change around them, as the game shifts from a light-hearted venture to a dark, somber epic Lucia learns more about humanity--the driving spirit--and awakens it within herself. Yet as insurmountable as the odds become, growing even more dominant with each passing day, Hiro’s resolve and love for Lucia grows with it. No matter how impossible things seemed, he never let her go it alone.
For that--because of that--I spent hours upon hours, day after day, playing Lunar and completely addicted to it. It was impossible for me to dislike Hiro or any of his qualities. He’s one character I truly got behind and did everything in my power to make sure he was successful.
Based on that alone, Eternal established itself as one of the greatest games I would ever play. But as with the battles, and the cut-scenes Eternal transcended everything I previously knew and loved about the genre. Instead of telling only Hiro’s story, it went in-depth with every other character fighting by your side. It gave them each a stellar, unique personality, an intricate background and their own quests that worked flawlessly into Eternal’s brilliant main plot.
Perhaps the most tormented was Ronfar, the incredibly talented healer and compulsive gambler. Once he was a high priest, when you meet him, a bumbling drunk. He’s entertaining and humorous, and has a good heart, especially when it comes to Hiro but the more you travel with him and the more he opens up, you learn of the very emotional details regarding his priest hood, and why he gave it up. To my surprise, this charismatic healer had more going on than I would have initially given him credit for.
One person who got even less credit was Lemina. Without a doubt she was the most shallow, pretentious and self-serving of the group. Her reasons for joining only benefit her (namely forcing you into her magic guild, all for a nominal fee) and that egotism reigns for most of the game. Yet, she’s charming in an odd sort of way, and when she finally does have her breakdown and breakthrough, I discovered the reason for her antics were anything but self-serving. She’s actually quite vulnerable, and as real as everyone else. I unexpectedly found her the easiest to empathize with and relate to.
Though she was not my favorite. That honor, without question, went to Jean. When you first meet her, she’s an energetic, compassionate carnival dancer and brings with her a sense of optimism and vigor to the group. But her motives for joining derive from her very dark past. As a child she was kidnapped, forced into a life of crime and tyranny, all the while being taught a dangerous style of Kung Fu for the purpose of increasing her ability to intimidate. After she escaped, Jean joined the circus to hide from the world, dismissing her powers and living a simple life. When she meets Hiro his quest inspires her to take on one of her own, but her sole drive is based on revenge. Once she learns that more children are being taken by the same clan that corrupted her so many years ago, her mentality changes. Jean embraces the Karate and the life she tried so hard to forget, vowing to never again let what happened to her happen to anyone else. She dons a new outfit, changes her attacks and special moves and becomes arguably the most powerful character in the game. That moment showed me how fierce she could be. How heroic and honorable she was, for embracing such a tormented past and using it to make sure no one else went through it. Such an act speaks volumes.
And each of your party members has that one moment. One where they rise up, and devote themselves entirely to fighting the good fight. Yes they have their share of inner demons, but they battle them, and their actions culminate into the most moving and emotionally charged boss battle I’ve ever seen.
One that changed the face of RPG’s forever for me. It captivated me in a way I never had been before. For the first time it made me feel more than just entertained by a game. It made me inspired, and encouraged me. It left me with one very strong belief that I would always remember:
The most important thing to have is hope.
I found it. A hope that one day I would I would see a game as magical as this one. I have yet to, and doubt I ever will. But I’ll still hope.
Community review by True (July 29, 2009)
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