I warn you right now: if you’ve read any reviews for Lunar: Dragon Song, then this entire rant is probably not going to tread any new ground. Everyone has the same complaints about this title’s gameplay, and this is just me adding one more indistinguishable log on that fire. But if you don’t have anything better to do--and let’s face it, if you’re actually here, with the intent to read the nonsense that I incessantly chatter on about, then chances must already be good that you’re pretty hard up for entertainment at the moment--then read on.
Lunar: Dragon Song. It is nothing short of legendary for how horrible it is to play. This game does so many things wrong with its design, making itself utterly unplayable at every turn in so many ways, that I actually think it was designed by a super villain. Really, there cannot be any way for this many completely unique gameplay problems to have come about without malicious intent; this game is a work of an evil, twisted creative genius. You almost have to admire it, as a work of art made to commemorate frustration and human suffering. I’m 30 years old now, so I don’t actually have the time left to me on Earth to really go into every part of why this game is virtually unplayable, but here’s a quick Who’s Who list of the more horrible design flaws:
Experience OR Items After Battle: Yeah, you don’t get both. Items are the only reliable source of income in this game, and the badly designed challenge curve guarantees that you’re eventually going to really, really need every edge you can get, which means that after a certain point in the game you HAVE to be buying every new piece of armor you come across. That means twice as much time wasted grinding against enemies, once for EXP, once for the items you’ll need to make money. Since enemies level with you, you might be thinking that you COULD try for the money alone and do a low-level run of the game, but…
Frustrating Challenge Curve: The game gets too hard, too fast, and never lets up; every dungeon is a war of attrition with the player. This makes it more or less impossible to do a low-level run of the game. Yes, enemies do level with you, so if your levels are lower then they’ll be likewise less powerful, but that isn’t enough--even low-leveled, the enemies’ power will eventually outpace updated armor and weapons’ effectiveness, and you’ll be unable to defeat bosses without gaining levels. So what you have here is a game where gaining levels is almost meaningless because your enemies are gaining them with you so each level only provides you with marginal superiority, but also a game where you also can’t take advantage of low enemy levels past a certain point, either.
Enemies Can Break Your Equipment: There are a fair number of enemies in this game that can break your equipment with their regular attacks. Yeah. That’s annoying in any game, but consider what I’ve mentioned so far. First of all, that you have to spend time battling enemies over and over just for money alone. So if a random enemy attack means that you’re forced to replace that piece of armor you just bought for tens of thousands, you’d best grab yourself a Snickers, because you’re not going anywhere for a while. And then consider what I’ve mentioned about the difficulty curve. After a while, you’re not going to be able to do diddly-squat damage to enemies if you don’t have the best possible weaponry, so if an enemy happens by chance to break your main character’s weapon, that’s really just too fucking bad for you. You’re not going forward until you replace that weapon, unless you want your already tediously long and overabundant battles to take 5x longer. Oh, and if the piece of equipment that breaks happens to be one you got from a chest that’s better than any other equipment you can currently buy? Tough shit.
Painfully Slow Walking Speed, But Running Costs HP: The pace of your characters when walking is best described as “plodding,” but your characters lose HP when they run. Want to get anywhere in a timely fashion in this game? You’d better stock up on those healing items. But oh wait, you have to waste twice as much time fighting enemies for the money you’ll need for those healing items, won’t you? So either way you’re going to be wasting that much more time. Awesome.
Jian’s the Only Useful Attacker: Jian the protagonist does more damage in one of his attacks than any other character does in one of theirs. This wouldn’t be a big deal (pretty standard for RPGs, really), except that Jian also does 3 attacks for every round, while everyone else just does your standard 1 attack. This means early on that Jian is overpowered and the rest of the party are just some fumbling, nearly useless support. Later on, when the game figures out what’s going on, this means that Jian is just 1 competent fighter against groups of enemies designed to challenge a full party of competent fighters, and the rest of the party are still just some fumbling, nearly useless support. Not helping this problem is my number 1 complaint, which is:
Oh My God Are You Serious, You Can’t Target Specific Enemies!?: Self-explanatory, really. When you tell your party to attack, they randomly select their target from the enemy party. Did Jian spend his turn attacking one enemy, whittling its HP down to nearly nothing? You can’t tell your weak supporting characters to finish it off, so more than likely they’ll just ineffectively attack something else (probably a weak enemy that Jian could 1-shot-kill a minute from now anyway), and Jian will waste his next turn finishing off the weakened enemy instead of being free to go to the next. Remember when I said that every dungeon is a war of attrition in this game? That’s because in every single battle, enemies get several more turns to attack you than they should due to the game’s random AI having no concept of attack strategy. You simply watch, powerless to do anything, each battle dragging on that much longer and costing that much more HP. Unbelievable. What is even the point of having a battle system at all if you only half control it? You have about as much say in what happens in battle as you would if you were watching someone play it on Youtube.
There’s plenty of other terrible things that make playing this game agonizing, like very low starting MP values, MP restoration items not being able to be purchased, weird map object-collision detection, the fact that money-making delivery sidequests often have the name of the supposed receiver and the name of the actual receiver not match up due to translation errors, the fact that a lot of your money comes from stupid delivery quests to begin with, and so much more, but the ones above are, I think, most of the really big ones.
Now you look at those, and you tell me that a game this perfectly designed to suck, where its gameplay flaws all coordinate with one another to strengthen each one’s dysfunction, was not MEANT to be as painful a playing experience as possible. Sorry to get all Intelligent Design on you, but there is no way something this horrible happened accidentally.