In poking around for that Genesis Mini 2 post, I discovered a ResetEra thread (I know, but bear with me) which delivered some info on how the Lunar franchise is regarded at its current owner, GungHo:
The poster is Robert Boyd from Zeboyd Games, creators of the solid Sega CD tribute Cosmic Star Heroine (among other titles), so the statement is credible. The info is "a few years" old, and this very well might have been something GungHo just made up to turn down a non-Japanese studio seeking to take over a Japanese franchise, but it's the most recent reliable info we have.
This prompted a followup post, though, from an unnamed colleague of his who seems to be a U.S. video game executive (they claim to have pitched a concept for a new Lunar game Boyd had to GungHo numerous times). They offer their own rationale for why the Lunar IP isn't active:
There's also a bit about Metacritic scores that I didn't clip because they don't even have the scores right, and I'm not in the business of knowingly disseminating false info here, especially given how excruciatingly hard it is to get bad info out of the Lunar fandom.
I laid into this post pretty hard, to the point where I found myself subsequently wondering: was I being fair? So I took some time to reflect upon my words, and I came to the conclusion: yes, of course I am wholly correct, and there is no need to revise my initial impression whatsoever. All right, the post kind of set me off, but I think there's reason to be skeptical.
Let's examine each assertion in turn here:
- The Japanese execs believe that a Lunar without Game Arts founder Takeshi Miyaji is doomed to fail and can't replicate his magic - that the late Miyaji was as crucial to Lunar as Hideo Kojima is to Metal Gear. The Kojima idea is ridiculous and deserves rejection outright. For one, Lunar has a clear team of strong creatives identified with the franchise - Kei Shigema for story, Toshiyuki Kubooka for character design & art, Noriyuki Iwadare for music, etc. For another, if you're going to put one of those creatives in the role of "defining auteur," it would inarguably have to be Kei Shigema. Putting Takeshi Miyaji in that role is unreasonable even for an executive to believe.
The question becomes, then, how much of Lunar's success would be attributed to Miyaji by Japanese execs. Miyaji is nebulously credited as a "designer" on the original Lunars, and unlike the more renowned members of the Lunar team listed above, there's not much about his contributions out there. I see random Reddit stuff saying "gameplay," which makes sense considering his job title and what's not covered by other personnel, but let's level here - while Lunar's gameplay is functional to good, it isn't remotely what distinguishes the series.
Takeshi's brother and Game Arts co-founder Yoichi, who is credited in the also-nebulous producer role on Lunar projects, actually is the one who's more commonly speaking out in interviews. (He has the final slot in the slate of interviews in the SSS Newtype mook, bookending Shigema's leading slot, and is giving interviews on Lunar with relatively frequency in Mega Drive Fan and other publications.) Now, if it were Yoichi being credited with Lunar, I could see his fellow executives thinking, oh, of course the producer was really the one who made this project a success; screw the creatives. The "designer," though? Yes, respect for those who have passed carries significant weight. It's more plausible, though, that this is the bitter conclusion of someone who couldn't convince Japanese execs to give their friend their dream job - oh, they're all hung up on their perfect colleague who's long gone and won't make way for the real geniuses, etc.
Plus: come on. Regardless of nationality, these are executives. When did reverence for anybody or anything ever stop an executive in pursuit of bucks?
- The Japanese execs believe that Dragon Song proved a Lunar game can't be successful without Miyaji. The invocation of Dragon Song made me very suspicious that this was just fan speculation. Obsessing over the inconsequential Dragon Song as the Source of All Ills in the Franchise is a very Lunar fan thing to do. Also, I thought, there have been successful Lunar games after Dragon Song, such as Harmony and the mobile remake - and, as pandorkful points out, executives adooooooore their remakes.
Back up, though. Do we (meaning: I) know that Harmony was successful? I'm sure there are Japanese numbers out there in the ether, but to my knowledge, we don't have any global sales figures (VGChartz isn't reliable). Determining Harmony's success is complicated by the Eternal Blue rights situation, which would have been a roadblock to doing a sequel regardless of sales, so we can't use the lack of a sequel as a barometer of success. Now, the team behind Harmony was obviously crying to do a Four Heroes Lunar 3. They didn't get to do that (thankfully). Can we use that to gauge success? Again, there are complicating factors: TPTB might have felt odd about jumping right from 1 to 3, or about entrusting this team with a new Lunar, or about the greater outlay required for a sequel. Harmony seems to have been popular enough in its day, but, again, that's a subjective assessment. As for the mobile version: Lord, who knows.
Which brings us back to Dragon Song, which is the last new Lunar game. The post places undue emphasis on Dragon Song being representative of the series, and that's a very executive-dumb conclusion. I still have a hard time making the jump here, though. While its failure might have contributed to a perception of Lunar as irrelevant (though surely someone, even an executive, would dimly realize that it failed because it was a slipshod production, not because of the name?), and while the multimedia push they attempted for the 32-bit Magic School not working out how they wanted might have helped cement an idea of non-duology Lunar games being tough sells, I have difficulty believing that the performance of a 15+-year-old spinoff in a franchise that's had higher-profile releases since would be the defining factor in it not seeing further activity - surely not over "old IP; irrelevant; also, a pain in the ass legally for a long time."
- The Japanese execs believe the Metacritic scores prove a new Lunar game could never be any good. This, I completely reject. Metacritic-watching is a U.S. thing. Yes, it's a hobby among American execs, but Japan isn't going to use a U.S. site as the Definitive Barometer of Game Quality. Also, no one cares about Metacritic scores for 16- and 32-bit games (and you shouldn't, because many of the publications from the day don't have their scores extant in any online form and can't be included in the Aggregated Portrait of Popular Sentiment). Get serious.
Two additional thoughts. One: I enjoyed Cosmic Star Heroine, and I have no doubt that Robert Boyd would approach the task of creating a proper Lunar game with due respect. I'm glad he wasn't handed the Lunar franchise. Beyond any other factors, creating a Lunar game requires a certain...innocence and faith in the better nature of humanity that I'm not sure any American indie dev, or perhaps any individual on the face of God's green Earth, has it in them to give in 2022.
Two: I'm not finding it right now, but in either this thread or a connected one, Boyd shares a nice tale of meeting Victor Ireland at an E3, and him talking about how much he loved Lunar, and Ireland replacing a game that got stolen on him and even giving him an old Eternal Blue pin for good measure. He noted at the end how it was difficult to reconcile the man he met with Ireland's popular image. It recalled a memory of an indirect interaction I had with Ireland back in the day, when I posted casually on an AOL thread about having waited for a while for the Lunar manuals I'd ordered for my secondhand copies. Though it wasn't my intent to get his attention, Ireland had posted in the thread a few times, and evidently, he was still reading, as the manuals were in my mailbox the next week. All right, he was just sending something for which I had already paid, but it was evidence, like Boyd's story, that there is a dude who actually cares in that guy, and it makes me a bit wistful. I wish that dude were in charge of Ireland's actions more reliably.
In other news, this is the 28th post on this site that is in some way related to Lunar. Jesus.