Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today let’s give a listen to Lunar: The Silver Star, the marquee Sega CD RPG which kicked off the long-running series.
The Sega CD gets a lot of criticism, and it’s mostly on point: Sega and other developers didn’t do the best job of justifying its existence. But! But. If you were lucky enough to have one—they cost a hefty $299 back in 1992—it got just enough cool games to regard the add-on fondly in retrospect.
Lunar: The Silver Star (playlist / longplay / VGMdb) was one key example, a Sega CD-original RPG with super-cool anime-style character designs and fancy-schmancy animated cinematics (in retrospect, not that fancy). The gameplay and story were standard JRPG stuff, but that felt newer back in 1993 so it was fresh enough for me and a generation of other soon-to-be Lunar aficionados.
Being on Sega CD, the game’s other key attraction was obvious: music! Composer Noriyuki Iwadare is well-known today for his work in Grandia, Ace Attorney, and other popular series, but Lunar was his star turn.
Game Arts / Working Designs / TheQueenOfGaming (YouTube)
Much of Lunar’s soundtrack is pleasantly laid back, with the initial town theme and first overworld song setting a relaxed tone. They also demonstrate another quality: extreme brevity, likely due to the need to fit an entire RPG’s worth of redbook audio tracks on one CD-ROM. Redbook takes a lotta space, which is probably one major reason fewer and fewer disc-based games used full-quality redbook tracks after the early PlayStation / Saturn era.
In Lunar’s case, many tracks spend 15-30 seconds starting up, deliver a nice twist or bit of development, and then play themselves out at around 60 or 80 seconds. Simply put, Iwadare crafted no-nonsense, highly efficient melody bombs. It’d be nice if they stuck around longer, but what’s there is potent.
Some highlights include the prologue song, the aforementioned overworld, the dragon cave (only 49 seconds!), a tragic piano elegy, and the second overworld theme, which kicks in when the storyline’s shit gets real. Lunar also has, I think, one of the better battle themes from an RPG. Like every other song here it just dives right into the drama, which is good for a track you’ll be hearing every 30 seconds. The game’s got two pretty good boss themes, too.
And yes, let’s not forget the enthusiastically sung intro number, which is the very definition of a guilty pleasure.
Any discussion of Lunar: The Silver Star’s music would be incomplete without mentioning the first of its puzzling number of remakes and pseudo-remakes, 1996’s Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete (playlist / longplay / VGMdb) for Saturn and PlayStation. Think Lunar, but with a 32-bit coat of paint, lots of story changes, and an almost entirely new soundtrack.
Unfortunately, the music is mostly worse. I know, I know, a lot of y’all are nostalgic, I played it too. But the newly composed music’s now sequenced for the PlayStation’s limited audio processor, decimating the synth quality compared to the Sega CD version’s pristine-sounding redbook. Not necessarily a deathblow—lots of PS1 and Saturn games have wonderful sequenced music—but I think the new compositions are far less catchy and interesting, too. Compare Sega CD overworld to PS1 overworld, Sega CD battle to PS1 battle, and on and on. That’s a downgrade to me. (I’m sure some will disagree.)
Credit where credit’s due though, the fancy new animated intro song is exciting, and a newly added, early animated sequence in which Luna sings the plaintive, yearning “Wind’s Nocturne” (aka “the boat song”) is really well done. Yeah, that’s where my nostalgia for this one lives.
That’s it for today’s Morning Music! Now I’m thinkin’ about old RPGs... so, pretty much normal for me. What’s up with you today?