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Monday, May 23, 2022

Lunar: Sanposuru Gakuen (Walking School)

The Lunar games were regarded as classics on the Sega CD, and probably even moreso when they were remade for the Playstation 1.  But what not too many people know (or care to discuss) is that there was a third Lunar game in between those two generations, released exclusively in Japan for the Game Gear.  It actually isn't a bad effort for the platform, either - it's relatively well-paced and even has some decent graphics, with the expressive character portraits and animations carried over from the other Lunar games.  The writing also captures the warmth and humor that quickly became the series' trademark, so it actually feels like a Lunar game in its most central respects.  That said, the transition to a portable platform isn't flawless - the tiny resolution makes the large maps somewhat awkward to navigate, the tactical movement-based combat is replaced with a simpler Dragon Quest style battle screen, and the UI is crunched down to the point where you have to scroll left or right to view your current HP and MP totals.  While there are shops, there are surprisingly no equippable weapons to purchase, and the few pieces of armor that exist don't actually bolster your defense, only allowing you to regenerate MP at varying rates.  However, there are a fair number of items to utilize, both offensive and supportive, spells to cast and named NPCs to interact with, so it still looks and feels like a fleshed out RPG experience.  Not a flawless one, though - goals are often unclear and there's a lot of that irritating aspect of having to wander about and talk to random, nameless NPCs until you trigger the next plot flag.  But even with that, it's a surprisingly decent experience and definitely one of the Game Gear's better RPGs.

Walking School also had a remake the following year on the Sega Saturn known as "Mahou Gakuen Lunar!", which translates to "Magical School Lunar".  While it follows the same basic plot, events unfold in a much different way and the greater capabilities of the Saturn allow it to have higher-quality graphics, animated cutscenes and gameplay more in-line with the norms of the first two games.  That said, it also apparently has substantially worse gameplay than the original, as items are done away with almost entirely and the encounter rate is boosted to the point of becoming a major detriment to the experience.

Developer: Studio Alex, Ehrgeiz
Publisher: Game Arts
Platform: Game Gear