Sponsored Feature: SoMoGa on resurrecting RPG Lunar for iOS

Lunar landing

Sponsored Feature: SoMoGa on resurrecting RPG Lunar for iOS

Despite the first Lunar: The Silver Star title being released over 20 years ago – and spawning a series of remakes and spin offs – it still isn't a hugely recognisable name in the JRPG genre.

Developer SoMoGa hopes that this iOS remake of the original - Lunar: Silver Star Story Touch - will help to change all that, though.

Mitchell Halpin, Producer at SoMoGa, spoke to us about the game's origins, the reason for bringing it to iOS, and future plans for the title.

Pocket Gamer: There have been Lunar titles on Game Gear, Game Boy Advance, DS and PSP – so why did you choose iOS for the next entry in the series? Mitchell Halpin: We put a lot of effort into finding titles that we think would work well on mobile devices. (In fact, we actually declined a potential offer to work on an iOS entry for another popular series, because of control issues.)

Lunar, in particular the first entry, was always a title we believed truly belonged on a mobile phone.

Also, after our release of Vay, we received a whole lot of requests for either Lunar or Final Fantasy VII. However, I think the latter one is probably outside of our licensing budget!

How important is the plot in keeping people playing, and what does the story involve?

The story in Lunar is really fantastic, and it’s the main focus of the game, as the gameplay is driven by the plot at almost every stage of the game. I’m not sure I can give the story justice in such a small amount of space here, especially without spoilers, but I’ll try to give you a taste.

The game takes place on a moon, the light side of which has been terraformed. In a small remote mountain village, a boy named Alex idolizes the previous Dragonmaster, the hero and defender of the patron goddess of the land, Althena.

Legend has it that Dyne died in service of the goddess shortly after Alex was born, and Alex has always dreamed of following in Dyne’s footsteps and setting off on his own adventure. Alex, his adopted sister Luna, childhood friend Ramus, and the cat-like Nall set out on adventure. But trouble is brewing on Lunar, and of course, they get pulled in to something much larger.

Is this a remake of a previous Lunar title, or an entirely new game developed from the ground up? If the former, what have you added to the game for the port?

It’s a port, but it’s sort of a [mixed-breed]. For various business, technical, and legal reasons, we couldn’t port over any of the versions exactly. So it’s actually mostly the engine of the Saturn game, with the enhancements and script of the PlayStation version, the re-mastered audio and video of the PSP release, plus some higher-resolution assets that haven’t been seen on this side on the world yet.

We really tried to use the best parts of each release, and then enhanced it with a new save system, achievements, leaderboards, and a number of other small additions.

Most of the team who developed Vay – one of the first notable RPGs on iOS to be released – were behind this game, so what lessons were learnt from that game when making this title?

As they say, hindsight is 20/20, but Vay was the first RPG to ship for iOS, and it was finished before the App Store opened, so there wasn’t any precedent to rely upon. We spoke with a number of folks at Apple and polled a number of iPhone users, and the responses we got then are vastly different than what we get now.

After Vay’s release, we solicited and received a lot of feedback from the people who played it. Much of it was very positive, although there were a few negative and mixed-review things that frequently popped up. There’s a lot so I’ll give a few notable examples. In Vay, when you exited to the home screen, the game would autosave, regardless of whether you were on a map, in the middle of a scripted event, or in battle. This was something built-in iPhone apps did, but not something most console gamers were used to -- but once they understood the utility of that feature on a phone, everyone loved it.

On the other hand, with Vay, we left the UI (menus, etc) with the iPhone look-and-feel. Well before the App Store, people we polled seemed more comfortable with this, but afterwards, people preferred look-and-feels that more closely matched the game. So, with Lunar, we stayed as close to the original look-and-feel of in-game menus as was reasonably possible, and custom designed some new components.

What do you personally think has changed about the RPG genre since the first Lunar game was released back 1992 – and has it changed for the better?

It’s actually kind of crazy to me that’s it been two decades since the first title’s release. The RPG genre was really hot back in that first decade (1992-2002). A lot of the ideas that Lunar pioneered became more common and the genre as a whole saw a lot of evolution. We saw more expansive worlds and compelling stories, full motion video and voiced dialog, and a lot of innovation in battle systems.

More recently, the massive increase in overhead and a demand for flashy graphics has reduced the pool of RPGs for newer consoles, and in some cases, even simplified them a lot. We are seeing some interesting new titles for handheld systems, though.

And if that’s for the better, that’s very subjective. But I feel like these last few years, a lot of people would tell you no.

Is there anything planned in terms of updates to the game at this early stage?

Yes! We just shipped a minor update with a lot of requested features, including iCloud sync for saves, an option to use the Japanese soundtrack, an option to show/hide the status bar, a performance boost, a number of minor UI enhancements and a few other things. We have some additional updates in the works too.

Lunar Silver Star Story Touch is available on the App Store now, and can be downloaded on both iPhone and iPad as an universal app for £4.99 / $6.99 [iTunes link]. Will Lunar appear on other formats? SoMoGa tells us to stay tuned.