In rummaging through my game stuff, I got to paging through a copy of the Magical School Lunar character design reference sheets I picked up on Yahoo Japan several years ago. Sets of these sheets were widely available in that market at the time. I don't know whether my copy was actually used by one of the staff, as reference sheets are sometimes commercially released. Unlike my nicely-bound Neo Angelique: Abyss character sheet book, though, the Magical School Lunar sheets consist of a bunch of relatively cheap mimeographs held together by a single staple in the corner. There were, though, rampant listings on YJ of a few other Lunar items of unknown provenance - possibly not commercial, but seemingly not bootleg; maybe from sort of convention - in the same time period: copies of the SSS ref sheets (less common than the MSL listings but still in significant numbers) and a set of an Akari Funato enamel pin of chibi Luna & Lucia and an example of Lunar currency (from Vane) that had one of the dragons on it. I never bit on the SSS sheets, as they seemed to contain the same drawings available in the commercial SSS books, but I regret not picking up one of those dang coin/pin sets. They were so ubiquitous at the time that I put off my purchase until, of course, it was too late.

Anyhow, the MSL sheets. One of the first pages concerns how the characters' eyes are colored: for most, the irises are a flat, uniform black. (I think this is a mistake: it makes the art look as cheap as, well, it is.) The exceptions are the magic-race villains, who are directed to have their characteristic red eyes. Though Barua is mentioned by her eventual name, the sheets reveal that apparently, until rather late in production, Memphis's name was going to be..."Delvis."

Admittedly, Lunar has generally gone the ヴィ route over the ビ route in representing "v" (see Vane/Vheen/ヴェーン), which suggests that it's more likely "Derbis," which comes with its own problems.

As wild as his wardrobe got, I'm not familiar with Elvis appearing onstage with any giant bound serpents.

And lo and behold, just when I post about us being definitively safe from a prospective Lunar 3, I learn from a visit to Tumblr that there is a fan group out there that is attempting to create an official Lunar 3. I value my sanity too highly to Google for details, but I can make two guesses as to who's behind it:

  1. Whatever SoMoGa, that company that ported Vay and later the first Lunar to the iPhone long ago, ended up becoming.
  2. LunarNet.

If it's SoMoGa: yes, I know that even the typical mobile emulated pastiche of a hundred different pixel resolutions requires technical prowess to bring to life. It absolutely does not entail any degree of the vast array of creative talent required to create an entirely new installment in a storied series. As for LunarNet: their most significant contribution to the Lunar narrative has been to take one of the franchise's greatest claims to historical importance, TSS's groundbreaking creation of one of the first video game villains with complexity and a motivation founded in ideological and moral objections, and try their level best to bury it with a ridiculous substitute fan plot to avoid hurting the feelings of an associate who had written several fanfics while misunderstanding the story and didn't want her fanfics invalidated. A Lunar 3, particularly a Four Heroes story, written by this crew would make Dragon Song look like a masterpiece of plotting. The very worst thing that could happen to Lunar - yes, even worse than nothing new and official being published ever again - would be it falling under the control of a bunch of petty fans who have a history of putting fragile egos and in-group politics above the characters and world they've charged themselves with caretaking.

I know Streets of Rage 4 has had an extremely positive reception in most quarters, but I have to wonder if it isn't going to have a ruinous effect far beyond its independent merit. It's set an example for every overconfident Western fan out there with a sense of entitlement and money to burn to try to turn their favorite childhood gaming franchises into extensions of their personal brands. It's the big dream to try to prove that you're every bit as good as the Japanese creators you once idolized, tinged with the "ha ha, what can Japan produce that I can't improve" white-man's-burden attitude that's been part of the localization scene for a long time. It leads many to underestimate massively the time and talent it takes to bring any title, much less a worthwhile one, to life. You can't pay those tolls through accidents of birth or popularity within your clique.

For all the frantic defenses of games as art in recent years, we seem to have forgotten that games are the products of artists, and artists are not interchangeable. Kei Shigema hasn't been significantly involved with the gaming industry for ten years. Toshiyuki Kubooka, as proven by the PSP port, can't reliably draw in the Lunar style anymore. Akari Funato, commissions aside, wants nothing to do with the franchise. Yes, I can doodle on my fast food placemat and pay some unscrupulous individual from the van Rijn estate to call it a Rembrandt, but it's not going to be a Rembrandt, any more than the product of this vanity project is going to be Lunar 3. A cheap knockoff won't reinvigorate the franchise any more than Dragon Song did.

You want to prove yourself a worthy successor to the creators you admired? Start by acknowledging that works of art are the unique products of certain individuals, in a certain time and place - and that it's OK for some stories, even the ones you love very dearly, to end.

You know. As an aperitif. No images; they'll just weigh you down and spoil your appetite.

Several months ago, actually. I meant to post this as part of an "impressions on recent games" roundup that never came through.

Psycho Dream has the absolute worst hit detection I've experienced in a game. There's only a teensy, visually-undistinguished pixel at the edge of your sword or whip during a certain frame of your attack animation that might hurt the enemy if it connects...or might just glitch through unrecognized. The game is extremely generous in allowing enemies to find a way to hit you, however.

Despite this, you'll probably barrel through the six stages in this gallery of errors just due to the sheer unfinished lack of effort on display: cut 'n' paste substages of featureless flat platforms lined with the same enemies in the same configurations, providing no variety in challenge; enemy generators (that spawn enemies only very occasionally) that take 30 hits to kill for no reason; gaming's least-exciting elevator stage (which has like four OHKO enemies attack over the course of a minute and doesn't even offer any interesting scenery); successions of like 20 of the same barriers in a row that take the same four hits and require no variety in attack approach. So much is designed not to test your skill but waste your time.

The deviations are annoyances: two-pixel grey moth (?) enemies nearly invisible in cherry-blossom storms; the nearly-unintelligible visual morass that is the last level's flashing red flame on flashing purple spiderwebs atop a flashing purple castle backdrop; a gun power-up that actually makes the game nearly unplayable, since its hurtbox and the enemies' hitboxes are so narrow that you'll never connect with anything. Then you'll reach the final boss, which seems near-unbeatable with the non-superpowered female character, as you need to hit directly upward to have a chance against the boss's super-mobile tentacle appendages (of course), which seem to have no discernible pattern, and as the game cheats by depriving you of your final power-up level on this stage only. I then reset and, for some reason (brain damage?) fought back to the end again with the male character, who could hit overhead, only to find that the hit detection isn't reliable enough to register your blows even with the right weapon. I finally managed to view an ending invested with as much care as every other element in this game, but: Don't bother with this; use the time you save to watch SNESdrunk videos.

(In fact, I had trouble picking out screenshots for this game, as for all its bargain-bargain-basement Mystic Defender-clone aesthetics, its visuals are a combination of unintelligible (various gelatinous blobs) and pedestrian (subway, cherry-blossom storm, rock garden - the biggest spark of originality may be the inexplicable parade of giant snail lights at the end). For a game that takes place in a "dream world with no rules," it's remarkably unimaginative.)

In a weird way, though, I'm glad this was included on the Switch streaming library. It's garbage, but this way, it's the type of garbage that no one has to spend money on to learn it's garbage; they can just pop in for 15 minutes free-of-charge with their Switch Online subscription until they learn it's garbage.

The most interesting thing about it is that it starts with the Japanese equivalent of an FBI VHS video warning.