Happy Thanksgiving, anyone in the USA. Hope it's a nice day for you. When I realized that my next scheduled rant would be on Thanksgiving (like an hour ago), I thought it would be a nice idea to put up a positive rant, something appreciative of a good aspect of RPGs. Y'know, because it's a day of being thankful, and whatnot. But it turns out that of the 9 finished rants I'm sitting on, all of them are complaining about something. Oh well. I'm a grump, what do you want.
Oh, quick question. I had thought that the new color scheme of the blog was generally positively received, but I've had someone complaining that it hurts their eyes. Anyone else dislike it? And if so, what would make it better? I'm not against adjusting it, but it took me so long to find a color scheme I like that I'd rather have a clear idea of what needs to change before I commit to altering it.
And now, on with the rant.
Ah, Lunar. A “classic” of the Sega CD and Playstation 1 era of RPGs, I’ve always felt that this largely-beloved game more conned its way into players’ good graces with its colorful, high-quality anime cutscenes at a time when such a thing was a rare and impressive treat, than actually earned its accolades. The plot’s thin and listless, the villain’s only notable feature is his voice, and the characters, while distinctive, have very little depth, when they have any at all.
And man, does this game have a case of Love Hina Syndrome.
As a reminder, since I did the rant on LH Syndrome quite a while back, Love Hina Syndrome is a phrase I use to describe a game (or movie, show, anime, comic, whatever) in which the main character and his/her romantic interest are by far the least interesting and worthy characters in the entire cast, but for some unfortunate reason are the ones who completely dominate the story’s focus. The Legend of Dragoon, Rogue Galaxy, Dragon Quest 8, and The Last Story are examples of this, games wherein a number of good (or at least better) supporting characters aren’t given as much focus and time to develop, and it seems to be at least partially because the focal idiots are hogging the spotlight with their inferior blandness.*
Lunar 1’s plot meanders aimlessly for a little while before finally coming to focus squarely on the romance between protagonist Alex and his main squeeze Luna. She gets kidnapped because she’s the goddess Althena in human form, Alex wants her back because he loves her, and the game from that point on (about 1/4th of the way through it) is a journey to confront the bad guys and save Luna. It’s, uh, not a particularly inventive or ambitious idea for a story, so long as you’ve a passing familiarity with 1980s NES titles. Still, an uncreative idea can work just fine if the execution is good. I know I use this as an example all the time, but I once again point to my favorite RPG of all time, Grandia 2, a game that collects a huge bunch of anime and RPG cliches together and then uses them incredibly well to create an amazing work of storytelling art. If Lunar 1 could really sell the Alex and Luna love story, make it believable and touching, then this could really work.
Sadly, this turns out not to be the case. The romance between Alex and Luna sucks, plain and simple. It’s another case of Show, Don’t Tell--the game is eager to Tell us quite often that Alex is in love with Luna, and that she loves him back, but there’s precious little that convincingly Shows this to be true.
First of all, there’s no damn chemistry there. Alex and Luna don’t really act like people who love one another. It’s hard to describe in words, but there’s really not much interaction between them, all said. Alex says very little, Luna’s lines don’t seem to be particularly meaningful, and as a general rule nothing they say to each other has any particular warmth or understanding there. For 2 people who have known each other their entire lives, very little personal rapport, very little emotional connection, is actually expressed between them. Hell, most of the time, what small, lacking personal nuances that Alex or Luna possesses are only ever recognized by Nall or Ramus, their mutual friends. Of course it’s important to establish that Ramus and especially Nall are close to Alex and Luna, having known them for many years, but shouldn’t there be some sort of establishment of emotional intimacy between Alex and Luna, as well?
There’s also precious little in the way of actions that suggest any strong feelings between them--lingering glances, tendency to move closer to one another during periods of conversation or rest, etc. Hey, I know it’s all a bunch of sprites, but you CAN show at least a little relationship personality through that limited medium; plenty of other games have done so. And outside the regular sprite graphics, the cutscenes from the portion of the game where Alex and Luna are traveling together certainly don’t show us any particular connection between them; they’re rarely even present in the same FMV. The only one I can really think of was the boring, long, gratuitous time-waster FMV of Luna singing on the boat. After she’s done wasting half the game’s FMV budget that could have instead been used to illustrate a scene that was interesting in any way whatsoever, the cutscene concludes with Alex standing below her, staring at her. And y’know, this could have worked, it could have been convincing, him standing there in silent, emotional awe at this (supposedly-but-not-actually) beautiful song and outpouring of emotion by his beloved. All that would have been needed to really pull this scene off, make it a compelling moment of watching Alex realize his love for Luna, or at least confirm it, was to give him the right expression, an expression that conveyed the kind of impressed, poignant tenderness of a person as they gaze at the one who stirs their heart in that beautiful, unique way, the expression of silent, radiant love.
This is not that expression. He looks as bored with Luna’s song sequence as I am. For fuck’s sake, the damn magic talking catdragon looks more emotionally moved than Alex does.
There also doesn’t seem to really be any noticeable development of romantic feelings between Alex and Luna. Now, I’ll grant you, their background means there might not have to be. Since they’ve known one another their whole lives, it would be perfectly believable and fine for their romantic feelings to need no development because it was already established before the game’s opening. For example, I rather liked the fact that Monstania’s protagonist was already in a relationship with his love interest when the game began, and so I found it acceptable that the romance didn’t actually develop any further than it started--though their feelings for one another were nonetheless shown quite clearly, so you could say they had romantic development anyway. But as I’ve said, there’s just about no chemistry whatsoever between Alex and Luna; they by and large do not act or seem like people who have feelings for one another when they’re actually together. So this is a romance that DOES need development, because there’s nothing really established beforehand for it. But there really isn’t any. Alex’s love for Luna, which is confirmed much more often by his friends’ mentioning its existence than it is by any statement made or action taken by Alex himself (more Telling instead of Showing), seems to appear out of nowhere once she’s been kidnapped, and once it’s there, it doesn’t seem to deepen or anything. It’s just there, where it didn’t seem to be before--although since Alex just quietly plods along through the plot, we usually can only tell it’s there because other people are mentioning it. Love should not just be a fucking switch that the writers flip when it’s convenient!
Oh, and there’s certainly no development on Luna’s side. Alex, at least, has the game’s focus on his journey, so he can occasionally simulate romantic feelings by saying Luna’s name over and over again (I think half of all his lines are just name repetitions). Luna’s feelings for Alex, after never being believably established due to their lack of chemistry, seem to just be assumed to exist--it feels like she loves him because it’s what the lazy plot wants her to do.
What is it about him that she loves? What does he love about her? I’ll give you that he’ll go to great lengths to save her and protect her, and that deserves a certain amount of respect and lends some verification to their relationship, but what the hell was it that made him so devoted to her to begin with? What was it that made her notice this devotion before the villain provided the opportunity for Alex to prove it? If, for each of them, the feelings of love developed as they grew up together, why do we never see or hear anything of these experiences of the past, never see any special connection or rapport or understanding of one another that this long history would imply? Do either of them make the other happy, cheer them up, support them, make them laugh? Why does the entirety of the game hinge on a love whose only real proof of existence comes at the game’s very end?
It’s not like the writers weren’t capable of at least a passable romance. The love stories between Nash and Mia, and Jessica and Kyle...well, they’re certainly not great or moving, but you can believe that they exist! Kyle and Jessica’s constant bickering is broken up by enough clear expressions of begrudging affection, enough self-confirmations of romantic interest, that they seem to genuinely care for each other. Nash’s affection for Mia is something established before the game’s opening, but unlike Alex, his words actually seem to carry that affection, even when he’s trying to deny it’s there. Someone teases Nash about liking Mia, he’ll get flustered and tell them to stuff it. Someone talks to Alex about how he loves Luna, and he just doesn’t even respond. It’s like an awkward silence of someone who doesn’t know how to break the news that they don’t feel that way after all.
And lastly...frankly, Alex and Luna feeling romantically interested in one another is kind of creepy on some level. I mean, consider this--Alex and Luna have both been raised by Alex’s parents all their lives. Alex’s parents took Luna in when she was still just a baby, so they’ve shared a house, parents, friends, and their whole lives together. So. Um. Doesn’t that essentially mean that Alex wants to bone his sister, and Luna in turn wishes to receive boning from her brother? Yeah, they aren’t related by blood, but in every mental, spiritual, and practical way, they are brother and sister! Raised together in the same home, by the same parents, from the earliest age they can remember...explain to me how their wanting to get it on is not at all creepy.
This is what Luna should’ve been singing during the Boat Song FMV.**
Dear Game Writers: If you’re going to make a love story the major point that your entire plot revolves around, please try to have the characters involved actually seem to be interested in one another; just having the supporting cast occasionally yell out “BOY ALEX U SHUR DO LOVE LUNA HYUCK HYUCK” does not cut it. Please try, game writers, to give us some indication, any at all, of what it is about one another that they like or appreciate, how their feelings develop into something. The emotion of love is a bit more than just an on/off switch to be flipped whenever it’s convenient for the story. And for the love of Ramuh, game writers--and I put this in because Alex x Luna isn’t the first time this has happened in RPGs--please try to stop hooking people up when they’ve been raised in the same household most/all of their lives as adopted siblings. Being brother and sister is very, VERY much less romantic than you people seem to think.
* Now, sometimes this happens in a good game, and it’s not so bad--Tidus and Yuna eventually came to dominate the story of Final Fantasy 10, for example. But it works for the better in FF10, turning it into a very impressive and touching story of love that meshes well with the themes and intended message of the game, rather than discarding them, and the relationship between Tidus and Yuna develops their characters extremely well, elevating them above the rest of the cast, even when at least some of the supporting cast is quite good. This is a case where the main characters have earned their focus, where their dominance of the story has been used to properly develop them and improve the quality of the plot. In this case, it’s not really Love Hina Syndrome, because the idea with LHS is that 1, it’s a bad thing, and 2, the ones hogging the story spotlight from other qualified characters are not themselves good characters. Thus, even though Planescape: Torment, Wild Arms 3, Final Fantasy 10, and Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume all are cases where a number of good supporting characters aren’t given quite enough time to shine because the main character(s) is/are completely dominating the story focus, they’re not examples of Love Hina Syndrome, because the end result is a good one, because the characters in the spotlight deserve to be there. Sure, I’d LIKE it if those good supporting characters had more time devoted to them, but the sacrifice is at least acceptable because the end result is a definitely positive one.
** Someone please, please, PLEASE grab the Boat Song FMV, maybe splice it up with some other scenes or artwork from the game, and make a Lunar 1 AMV to this song. It will be hilarious, and I will PAY you. A game from GOG.com. 2 games from GOG.com! I would consider it so, so worth it.