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Posted on Feb 29th 2020 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, Lufia, RPG, SNES, Natsume


With the Super Nintendo being possibly my favorite videogame console and the JRPG my favorite videogame genre, I feel like I have played most of the heavy hitter RPGs from that console over the years. However, the Lufia series has always eluded me, despite being aware of them ever since I was a kid. After doing some research, the consensus opinion on these games is that the first title is good, but it is the second that is really great and deserves to be placed alongside the other favorites on the system. I decided to start at the beginning and play the first game in the series, Lufia and the Fortress of Doom; however, after spending a few hours with it, I felt that it was fairly mediocre and decided to move on to its sequel, Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals.



Released for the Super Nintendo in February 1995 in Japan, May 1996 in North America, and in 1997 in Europe, Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals is a prequel to Lufia and the Fortress of Doom, taking place 100 years prior. Developed by Neverland and published by Natsume in North America, it was met with fairly positive criticism at release. The game received a remake in 2010 for the Nintendo DS that features an action-RPG playstyle instead of the turn-based combat of the original.

The main protagonist Maxim, the ancestor of the protagonist of the first game, must face the looming threat of the Sinistrals, a group of superbeings that are bent on destroying the world. Being a prequel, the events of Lufia II are often referenced in the first game, and the final events of Lufia II are actually played out in the prologue of the first game. The story has some interesting beats here and there but is mostly derivative of other similar types of games, but it isn't bad and is serviceable for what it is.


Lufia II will initially seem very familiar to anyone who has played a 16-bit RPG before. You can explore towns where you can talk to NPCs and shop for items, equipment, and spells. There is an overworld map complete with random encounters. Battles are turn-based and play out similarly to other games of its type, but where the first Lufia's battle system had more of a Dragon Quest influence, Lufia II's battle system feels inspired more by Final Fantasy and the like. There is also an IP-meter that functions somewhat like a Limit Break in other games that fills a bit every time the character is attacked. Most pieces of equipment in the game have an IP ability associated with them that range from all sorts of different attacks, buffs, debuffs, and healing abilities, and a portion of the IP-meter can be spent in battle to use one of these abilities.

The main gameplay element that sets Lufia II apart from other RPGs of its ilk is its dungeon design. Instead of fairly straightforward dungeons where the goal is simply to get to the end and defeat a boss, dungeons in Lufia II have much more of a focus on puzzles and are often compared to the dungeons in the Legend of Zelda series. Puzzles will often have to be completed in order to advance to the next area, and they will often vary in complexity. You will also often find yourself backtracking through dungeons, which leads me to possibly the most brilliant design decision of the entire game: the lack of random encounters in dungeons. Unlike on the overworld map, enemies are visible in dungeons and can sometimes be avoided or attacked from behind for an advantage. Enemies will remain defeated until you advance to a different floor, which will result in still fighting some of the same encounters multiple times as you backtrack through the dungeon. However, the lack of random encounters reduces the tedium of the dungeons significantly. As much as Lufia II's dungeon design feels like a breath of fresh air at first, I started to grow pretty weary of the game's formula around the mid-point and wished there had been a bit more variety to keep things interesting.


In addition to the standard party of four, you can also find several different capsule monsters scattered around the world that will help you in combat. Capsule monsters appear in battles as sort of a fifth party member but cannot be controlled directly by the player and are instead controlled by the AI. They still gain experience in battles to level up and will learn new abilities on occasion. Feeding them items outside of battle will increase their 'growth' meter and when maxed will cause them to evolve to a stronger form. However, only certain items will increase the growth meter, and I found it to be fairly unintuitive to tell which items would work. In fact, sometimes the capsule monster would request a specific item just to tell you that it didn't like it. I also found it frustrating that the AI would command the capsule monster to perform actions in combat that I thought were inefficient, resulting in battles dragging out longer than they needed to be and my party taking more damage than necessary. Capsule monsters are a neat addition overall, but their implementation feels a bit underdeveloped.

Another interesting element of the game is the inclusion of the Ancient Cave, a 100-floor procedurally generated dungeon. Every time you enter the Ancient Cave, all party members are reset to level 1 and are stripped of all equipment, and you must level up and find items and equipment as you progress through the dungeon. Rare blue chests can be found in the cave on occasion, and items in these chests can be kept and used again on subsequent runs through the dungeon. The Ancient Cave is reminiscent of a roguelike game and feels quite ahead of its time, and it is a fun and somewhat addicting inclusion to the game.

Graphically, Lufia II is a fine looking game, if a little plain for the time period, with nothing much standing out as particularly good or bad. Some of the battle sprites are impressive, particularly those for the Sinistrals, but much of the art of the game looks fairly generic. The audio fares better however, as most of the music in the game is great, and although it can get a bit repetitive, it never really wears out its welcome.


That being said, there are some other issues with the game's presentation that could have been better. The translation and localization isn't the best, as I noticed many enemy and equipment names that were improperly translated from Japanese, and quite a bit of the dialog just feels a bit off. There was also an area late in the game where the graphics were completely glitched out for whatever reason, but fortunately it was a short area with no enemies, so fumbling your way through it is manageable. Supposedly, the final area of the Ancient Cave is also glitched in a similar manner, but I haven't seen it myself.

While it does have some faults that bring the experience down a bit, I still found Lufia II to be an above-average RPG for the SNES. I wouldn't recommend it over the usual favorites for the system, but if you've already worn those out and are looking for something different, Lufia II should fit the bill nicely. Used cartridges seem to hover between $60-$100 with no legitimate means of acquiring the game digitally that I'm aware of. I wouldn't recommend spending an arm and a leg on it, but if you can find a decent deal on it, Lufia II is a nice 25-30 hour adventure that is worth the price of admission.



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Comments
 
This is a game I've always wanted to try, and that twist on the dungeon enemy placement sounds interesting. What did you think of the story arc as a whole?
 
Whoa, I'm in the game as a monster!  Anyways, the SNES is a treasure trove for RPG's, my favorite genre.  Unfortunately, I have never played/owned Lufia I or II.  How much does the first one go for?

This sounds like a game I definitely need to find but have to find the right price.  I want to see what's at the top of that Ancient Cave.  Reading this has excited me about this game.  I must find it.
 
@EZ Racer: The overall story arc is fine, just a bit derivative and doesn't really bring anything new to the table. It's mostly forgettable, although it does have a couple of moments that stand out.

@shaggy: Haha, I included that image hoping you would see it! I'm not sure how much the first one goes for, but I'm pretty sure it's less than the second.

Thanks for reading, guys!
 
Lufia and the Fortress of Doom is usually around $35 loose, and the second is usually around $75.

Lufia II is my favorite game of all time. What it represents from my life and childhood is unique to me and it will always be the most important game I will have ever played. I will always bring it up in conversation when the topic arises and have done so on more than a few occasions on our Discord chat. Ha ha ha

The capsule monsters are amazing and brought such a new theme and idea to the genre even in a time when games like FFIV, V, and VI, Chrono Trigger, and so, so, so many other deeper games were adding unique and genre-defining features of their own. I have played hundreds of RPGs over the years and nothing I have seen has hit me the same way those capsule monsters do in Lufia II.

Secondly, the timing for the game is a PERFECT example of how to develop and execute a balanced and amazing story, puzzles of many difficulties, well-thought enemies that react very differently from one another, and focused and interesting side quests at a pace you didn't see at the time. The "deeper" games I spoke of before always felt to me as though they were built to be told at a slower pace. Final Fantasy IV and Lufia II both clock in at around 25 hours for an average player, yet FFIV felt like 12 or 13 chapters being told at a slow pace to emphasize and embed the story in your mind. (I always became so bored traveling on the world map of FFIV, there was water, mountain, and forests and not too much else and the random encounters dragged on sometimes. I have always felt FF games especially drew length of gameplay longer by enlarging maps and winding paths between events rather than adding more of that good exposition we all crave from RPGs.) But Lufia II felt like 30 chapters being rapid fired at you as the pace of puzzle solving, monster watching, and shorter battles kept your mind sort of off the storyline until the next event, which came so quickly every time. I truly feel like Lufia II would be almost triple the length if it progressed similarly to a FF game of the time. This all being passionately said, Chrono Trigger still is the better game for a fast paced and deep story. It did the impossible and was both deeper and also faster paced than any other RPG of the time in both regards, no game of the time did either better, let alone both, which is something I don't think can happen again now that the genre itself has spread so much.

The Bingo game noise is my favorite form of nostalgia and I still can recall exactly how I felt the first time I saw a Sinistral as a sprite in a battle. The detail and sheer size of them were both incredible to behold having never seen anything like it before this game crossed my path.

And finally, the ancient cave still might be the most amazing side quest I have seen from an SNES RPG. Simple idea, insanely difficult, wonderfully rewarding, and fun. Fun because I had never experienced a way to get most of the way through an RPG, learn everything I can about the weapon system, combat, and feel for the game and then be able to start over again from the top and quickly experience the leveling system, equipment, and weaker enemies you haven't seen in hours of play all over again...except this time you know what you are doing and take that experience into the cave with you.

I know it isn't the best JRPG, but it will always be my favorite. I still even remember the silly way I would cry out for Foomy every time he fell in battle with me. FFFFFFFFFOOOOOOOOOOooooommmmmmyyyyyy......nooooooo....

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