Lunar Silver Star Story Touch rides on a wave of RPG nostalgia

by Phil Hornshaw

Among the coolest things about the rise of mobile gaming is that many classic titles are given new life on iPhones and iPads. Among them are a number of fan-favorite role-playing games from the past.

Most recent to hit the iTunes App Store riding high on a wave of nostalgia is Lunar Silver Star Story Touch. A re-release of a remake, the game brings classic 16-bit graphics together with a fun story and great characters. It allows players who have never experienced Lunar before to give it a go on their iOS devices.

Lunar was originally released for the Sega Saturn way back in 1996, but it got an overhaul and a re-release on the Sony PlayStation in 1999 that added animated cutscenes and a whole lot of additional voice work to the original package. The gameplay and the plot remain the same – players take on the role of Alex, a young man who dreams of becoming one of the legendary “dragon master” knights and going on adventures. And then he and his friends get swept up into just such an adventure.

Fans of the mid-1990s brand of role-playing game will be right at home with Lunar, as it uses a lot of the same tropes as other RPGs like those of the Final Fantasy series. Combat is turn-based and executed through menu commands, with players dictating how each member of their party acts in every round of fighting. But where the game really excels is in its story, characters, and music. It’s a game from another era, but it’s an experience so packed with its sense of adventure and great characters that it’s still great fun.

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We’ve seen a whole lot of great RPGs given legs again on Apple’s iOS platform, though. If Lunar sounds like something you might want to check out, there are plenty of other games from the 1990s golden age of RPGs that are very much worth your attention.

A trip through time

Arguably the best of the classic 1990s RPGs, and high on the list of best games, period, is Square Enix’s Chrono Trigger. Another menu-based title from the creators of Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger’s central mechanic is time travel – its characters are both carried off to different times, and find ways of jumping back and forth between different eras to stop evil and advance the story.

Chrono Trigger tells the tale of a group of young people led by a young man called Crono, who is whisked off on a time travel adventure basically by accident (or perhaps fate). Eventually, they discover that the world is destined for a horrific fate about 1,000 years in the future, when a giant creature called Lavos will destroy the planet. They set out to find a way to stop the monster and save the world, and that takes them from the medieval era to prehistory, a post-apocalyptic future and an ice age.

Chrono Trigger’s phenomenal cast of characters and story gets a boost from the fact that the game is pretty fun to play. It added a number of cool mechanics to the genre with its 1995 release, like an “active time battle” system, meaning that battles move forward in real time, rather than being based on taking turns. The characters also possess special abilities that can be used in tandem with one another, making choosing the right group of three fighters very important for any given situation.

More than that, Chrono Trigger is an acclaimed classic, and definitely worth playing in such a convenient form.

A flood of fantasy

Square Enix provides a number of its old Final Fantasy titles on iOS, and they’re usually pretty great. Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III are all available in the App Store. They’re the oldest entries into the series, but they’ve been updated in a few key ways to make them more palatable a few decades after their original releases.

All three of the original Final Fantasy games make use of elements common to the series. They have long, involved stories that will take tens of hours to complete; they thrust players into battles randomly as they move around different levels; they’re turn-based; and they’re filled with characters that can use powerful techniques and magic in battle. For retro games, it’s hard to find better ones.

Square Enix also has ported the PlayStation Portable remake of another great title, Final Fantasy Tactics, to the App Store as well. This one is notable because it includes the deep storytelling for which the series is known, but it’s more strategy game than role-playing game. Players command a number of soldiers in each battle, moving them around a grid-based field to put them in position to attack enemies and avoid attacks. It’s all turn-based as well, but how you move and position your characters is key to victory. It’s also a notoriously challenging game.

The other kind of Phantasy

Lots of gamers are familiar with the Final Fantasy titles, but fewer may be aware of Sega’s classic role-playing Phantasy Star series. But much like Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star II is considered a giant in the old-school genre, and a series that delivers a lot of similar good times.

Unlike the early Final Fantasy titles, which have something of a more medieval style and setting, Phantasy Star II is decidedly more sci-fi in its presentation. The game was first released on the Sega Genesis back in 1990, and, like the other entries here, puts players in turn-based, menu-driven battles with huge evil monsters. It’s also primarily about story and exploration, providing a big world full of dungeons for players to find and clear out.

Another title with a deep story and a number of interesting characters (though it might show its age a bit more than some of the others we’ve mentioned), Phantasy Star II even has the distinction of pre-dating the release of the first Final Fantasy, so if you want some real gamer cred, this is one you should check out.