1997 – Lunatic Dawn: Passage of the Book

The world of Japanese PC RPGs holds many games that break away from the usual tropes of console JRPGs to deliver novel experiences. The Lunatic Dawn series is one of the oddities.

It started in 1993, with Lunatic Dawn I offering a procedurally-generated world with sandbox elements – you created a character then started a new life as an adventurer, travelling between towns, taking jobs, earning money, buying better equipment, recruiting companions, exploring dungeons and fighting turn-based battles. And that’s it: no arch-villain, epic story or even a main goal, just life inside a fantasy world.

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This formula was rather successful and spawned a long series of games. None were officially released in English, but 1997’s Lunatic Dawn: Passage of the Book got a fan translation and it’s widely considered the best entry point. It provides the same fantasy sandbox approach, but in a complex hand-crafted world.

What’s most impressive is how the world is fully simulated. Clearing monsters around a city will help it grow. Nations will attack each other, making cities flourish or become ghost towns. There are special events like tournaments, rare item stores or bounties on certain NPCs. You can marry other adventurers, but actions like stealing or murdering will impact your alignment and can make companions leave you.

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Moreover, the game continues even if your main hero dies, so you can start anew and hear that the widow of your previous hero killed one of the dungeon bosses.

The downside is that all this complexity and freedom is presented in a rather unattractive way. The game follows an “early Windows” aesthetic, spreading itself across multiple resizeable windows and menus. It can feel more like a tool than a game, but that’s a common criticism for roguelikes as well. The images here should help you to decide giving it a try it or not.

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The series continued with Lunatic Dawn III (1998) and IV (1999), which moved to a Diablo-like real-time combat. Odyssey (1999) returned to turn-based combat but added a fixed story to the game. The 3rd Book (2000) would return to the classic sandbox formula, then Tempest (2001) radically changed the core gameplay into a linear first-person RPG. A final game, The Book of Eternity, was announced in 2009 then quickly cancelled, ending the series so far. Felipe Pepe

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