I dunno about anyone else, but Lunar is one of the only series of any kind that I would consider myself a ‘fan’ of. So, it’s safe to say I’ve been waiting for this one for a while. So, if you didn’t know: The Game Gear version of this game is in English now. Have fun, if you decide to play it.
I wonder what compelled Game Arts, after two successful installments of the Lunar series on Sega CD, to release a third one on Game Gear. Sega CD was likely one of the most powerful pieces of gaming hardware at the time of its release, and the first two Lunar games took advantage of the superior audio, graphical, and storage capabilities that the Sega CD had to offer. Suddenly downgrading to a portable version of an old 8-Bit console seems like the worst way to deliver a new experience that could equal or surpass its predecessors.
And yet, for all my whining about it, it happened; Lunar: Walking School was the third game in the series - the only one to not receive a North American release in any capacity - and it was released on the Game Gear in 1995. Also, regardless of how inane the idea is to me, Walking School wasn’t half bad. I guess that’ll teach me that just because I think something is stupid doesn’t make it a bad idea. …Probably not.
Lunar: Walking School is a pretty huge departure from it’s older brothers in the way that it’s not of a particularly epic scope; while the other Lunar games wound up being huge 'round-the-world, save-the-world adventures that deal with personal growth, Walking School’s story is episodic and of a minor scope. We start out with the two main characters, Ellie and Lena, being invited to study at the school of magic, Iyen (for all you Lunar fans, this is NOT Vane; Iyen floats around on the water, not the sky. Vane is specifically referred to in the game a few times). They reluctantly accept the invitation after talking it over with their parents, and head off. After one of the most bizarre, contrived entrance exams ever, the two begin their adventures at Iyen.
About 99% of the game takes place on Iyen, so naturally, the game’s story is mostly about Ellie and Rena’s crazy hijinks. Together, they find a magic teacher to study under, after miserably failing several of the teachers’ entrance exams. They blow up an entire building, hilariously them the moniker “The Freshman Bombers.” They even investigate absurd urban legends about the school. This is mixed in with some random episodes concerning long-time series bad guys, The Vile Tribe, to make a complete story.
To the game’s credit, the game has wonderful character interaction (as did the first two games, I suppose). Ellie, the main character, is boring out of necessity, so that the hyperactive Lena can play her foil. It’s fun to see them plan out their excursions, argue with their rivals - the decidedly brash Ant and his cronies, Rick and Kule - talk about boys, and other assorted things. In fact, the funny situations and funny reactions are the main reason to play the game; it certainly isn’t the random, tacked-on nonsense about the Vile Tribe, which gets in the way of the really entertaining stuff.
The gameplay is quite a departure from the Sega CD games, but that is likely out of necessity more than anything (the fact that Walking School’s Sega Saturn revamp has the classic gameplay style lends credence to this). Sadly, the game’s combat winds up being most like your standard, vanilla turn-based RPG. On the bright side, the game does a lot to make combat go as quickly as possible, and there are a lot of neat conveniences. The two big things which caught my attention were the fact that, if you fail to run away, you don’t forfeit a turn, and the fact that, when a character dies before performing their action for a turn, they’ll do it as soon as they’re brought back to life. These neat touches made me slap my head and think, “Man! I wonder why other RPGs don’t think to try this?”
There are other cool little things, like the system where combining items with special concoctions can make even better consumable items, or that spells are learned by talking to various magic professors after leveling up. However, it’s sort of irrelevant in the end, because the gameplay ultimately holds no challenge whatsoever; ironically, this is because of the importance of magic in combat. Physical attacks are useful early on, but become completely obsolete about halfway through the game. So, you need to make sure you get stronger attack magic and use it all the time.
The game designers must have realized this, because they made sure that recovering MP was as easy as possible; buying MP-restoring items is very cheap, and creating powerful MP-restoring consumables is equally easy. Even worse (better?), Ellie and co. can restore their MP at any time by standing still and waiting. This practically negates the need for any consumable items whatsoever, because at any point in a dungeon, you can heal your party to full HP with magic, let the game sit there for a minute or two while you make a sandwich, and come back to a fully-restored party. This touch made me slap my head and think, “Man! Of all the things to take from this game! Why did Golden Sun choose the most terrible original idea?”
Even if that weren’t the case, though, the need to rely on magic attacks hurts the game’s difficulty because the power of magic spells do not scale as the characters level up. To that end, if you don’t level up and remember to get the new magic spells, you’ll fight bosses with magic spells that don’t even hurt them. However, if you have the most current magic spells, you’ll make quick work of them; so, any point in time, the game is either mind-blowingly hard or mind-blowingly easy - choose your own adventure!
While I do lament the lack of challenge, let’s face it: one probably won’t be playing this game for the challenge. Hell, even the old Lunar games weren’t THAT damn hard. Someone that plays Lunar: Walking School will probably be doing so because they’re a fan of the Lunar series, and want to check out the only game in the series that never made it to U.S shores, now that it’s finally been translated to English. For those that try the game out, it may be a nice surprise - it’s not made of all the things that made Lunar: Silver Star and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue the outstanding gems that they are. But, it’s quick, short (and I mean SHORT, like ten hours, tops), painless, and very entertaining. When I first found out about this game at the age of fifteen, I thought I’d die waiting for it to be released in English; I thought I’d be completely content. But, now that I’ve played the game, I feel the same excited sensation as I wonder if anyone will ever translate its Sega Saturn counterpart. I suppose, with that in mind, Lunar: Walking School is a success.