Lunatic Dawn: Tempest, an obscure RPG with a unique battle system.
Artdink has developed strange and unique games. In Tail of the Sun, you’re dropped into a world as a caveman and explore with no guidance. In No One Can Stop Mr. Domino, you must set up and topple rows of dominoes to solve puzzles. Artdink is most known for A-Train, a railway simulator that has been going since 1985. Another series that is not as long-running as A-Train is Lunatic Dawn, a line of computer role-playing-games that emphasizes non-linear play. The first game was released for PC-98 in 1993 and had three sequels. The first three games were bundled together and released on Steam in 2015. However, the bundle excluded the most interesting and offbeat game in the series, Lunatic Dawn: Tempest.
Most games in the Lunatic Dawn series have an isometric perspective. They also have multiple user interfaces, which is fitting given that they were made for PCs. Lunatic Dawn: Tempest is different in that it’s a first-person dungeon crawler released exclusively for PlayStation 2. Not only does it play differently, but it also doesn’t have many of the systems that were in other Lunatic Dawn games. For example, in the second game, your companions can gain or lose trust in you depending on certain actions. Book of Futures has a system that determines a character’s moral alignment based on parameters like good, evil, chaos, and order. Most games in this series emphasize nonlinear play in a fantasy-themed world through the eyes of an avatar, for which you name and set parameters. By contrast, Lunatic Dawn: Tempest is more linear and has a story in which you play as a seventeen-year-old girl who wants to become an adventurer. There are five jobs that not only reward you with experience and money, but they also play differently. The first job involves mining for ore inside a cave. Performing actions, like walking and using your pickaxe, drains your energy. You have to take into account how much energy you’ll need to get back to the surface with the ore you have retrieved. In the hunting job, you aim and shoot arrows at various animals in a forest. The total amount of weight of the animals you bring back determines how much gold you’ll receive. Gambling lets you quickly earn some gold by playing Poker in a casino. For the most part, the first three jobs are entertaining, but the last two are more unique. One allows you to become an actor and play the role of Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. How good you do on stage depends on your skills in a rhythm-based minigame. The academic job requires you to pass exams by studying the continent’s history and geography. It seems that Artdink created the job system as a way for players to gain experience points outside battles. But Lunatic Dawn’s most unique feature is its combat system.
Instead of using menu-based combat that is common in countless RPGs, Artdink created the action-initiative battle system. When a battle begins, you and the enemy control an icon that represents either attack or defense inside a spherical overlay. When you’re on the attack, you damage the enemy by pressing the X button anywhere inside the sphere. You switch to defense if the enemy blocks your hit by overlapping your icon with theirs. A well-timed block acts as a parry that causes you to switch from defense to offense. This combat system turns what could’ve been slow-paced battles into back-and-forth fights for initiative. When I first started the game, I found the AIBS difficult to get good at. The first enemy I encountered kept defeating me due to their speed and ability to attack multiple times in one turn. I later realized that I could do more damage by continuously pressing the X button before my turn ended. Mashing the button while evading my enemy’s attempts at defending made combat feel satisfying and intense. An enemy will often move their attack symbol in different directions right after you block their hit. This forces to you to chase them and quickly block their next attack. Blocking hits consecutively required me to be in a flow that was easy to fall out of. Sometimes just glancing at my health meter was enough to put me out of this flow and miss an opportunity to block. The AIBS against human enemies makes battles feel personal because it embodies the fast-paced back-and-forth exchanges of two armed opponents. It’s fun against one enemy, but it gets repetitive against multiples. It’s also pointless if you’re up against enemies that are stronger than you. During exploration, I ran into two bandits that could defeat me in one or two hits. The battle was practically impossible to win because my attacks could only do one point of damage. The possibility of random encounters while traveling from one location to another made combat nerve-racking. You can’t escape battles and you can’t use restorative items during them. A defeat sends you back to the title screen and erases all the progress you had made since you last saved. The game has other ways for you to damage enemies such as magic and characters that fight alongside you. None of those methods are as entertaining and unique as the AIBS.
Lunatic Dawn: Tempest was the final entry in the series, and I get the impression it wasn’t well received by players. The game was too different from its predecessors, and fans of the series saw its linearity and lack of character customization as negative qualities. As for me, I found the game to be surprisingly enjoyable. The main quest rarely, if ever, has you stuck in one location for a long time. I was surprised by the little amount of dungeon exploration and battles I had to do in the first half of the game’s story. Artdink could’ve easily padded the game’s length by forcing players to fight their way through multiple dungeons. Instead, you go to a kingdom, talk to a character, and occasionally find an important item to progress in the story. One objective requires you to unlock a dungeon and grab an antidote inside. For whatever reason, the antidote is near the dungeon’s entrance despite there being a second floor. If you ignore the monsters disguised as treasure chests, you’ll obtain the antidote without having to fight more than a few battles. The obvious downside to the brisk nature of the main quest is that you could be too weak by the time you reach the final boss. I was level 6 and still using my character’s first weapon near the halfway point of the story.
It would’ve been interesting to see how Artdink would have expanded the AIBS if Lunatic Dawn: Tempest had a sequel. Being able to escape battles and use items would be obvious additions. Perhaps a sequel could rework magic in a way that uses the icons and spherical overlay of the AIBS. More than likely, Artdink had no intentions of creating a sequel, and all their ideas for the AIBS were realized in Lunatic: Dawn Tempest. It’s a unique battle system that delivers intense fights with even the weakest of enemies.