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Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals (SNES) artwork

Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals (SNES) review

"Lufia II is extremely underrated. It never got much attention and developed only a minor, almost insignificant group of Internet followers. While the oblivious cognoscenti of SNES videogames praise games like Chrono Trigger and FFVI as life-altering trips, Lufia is pretty much ignored. Why? Maybe because it was released too late. Maybe its simplicity didn’t satisfy most fans, most of whom were used to very complex plots. We could argue this all day but we just can’t run away from t..."

Lufia II is extremely underrated. It never got much attention and developed only a minor, almost insignificant group of Internet followers. While the oblivious cognoscenti of SNES videogames praise games like Chrono Trigger and FFVI as life-altering trips, Lufia is pretty much ignored. Why? Maybe because it was released too late. Maybe its simplicity didn’t satisfy most fans, most of whom were used to very complex plots. We could argue this all day but we just can’t run away from the fact that it’s one of the most overlooked games in history. Depressing? Yes. But I guess it’s like Schoenberg once said: “If it is art, it is not for the masses.”

And what a wonderful work of art it is. It has everything you’d expect from an RPG and is blessed with everything you’d never expect from a game of that genre. You’d probably expect a simple plot, and Lufia II delivers it. In it we follow the story of Maxim, a young man and proficient swordsman who lives in a quiet village called Elcid. His job is killing monsters—like jellies—that dwell in Elcid’s vicinity. We also meet Tia, the local shop owner and long-time friend of Maxim’s. And just before we meet these characters, we are treated with a short scene that introduces us to the plot, which is the really cliched bad guys vs. good guys we’re so used to with a few twists here and there. Basically, there’s this ultra powerful sword called the Dual Blade and whoever wields it shall possess unimaginable power (or something). Obviously the bad guys (the Sinistrals) are after it, and the good guys (Maxim and co.) must stop them.

And with this purpose in mind, Maxim, who is later joined by others from all around, starts a journey through his world in search of some way to rid it of those wicked fiends. The plot flows quite nicely despite the game’s somewhat evident linearity (you’re always going from one town to a dungeon to another town to another dungeon with not much in between). It has some shocking moments and some mildly heart-touching events, all done quite well, with little melodrama. The best aspect of the plot in the game is how it delicately manages to touch on some taboo topics like religion and death. Character development in general is strong too. All of the characters you’ll meet are confident, strong, cool, everything you’d expect from heroes. Forget the angsty “boo-hoo-hoo, I have a haunted past” pre-teens you so often meet in modern RPGs, Maxim and every one of his friends are all kickass, in every sense of the word. They don’t hang around waiting for ideas to hit them on the head: they know what’s to be done in every occasion and they do it and they do it right. They don’t carry thesauri around: their vocabulary is informal, relaxed and their conversations are similar to everyday chatter. They’re just great guys and gals. Not over-the-top, just efficient.

Then, of course, we must consider how it all looks. In this area, the game doesn’t quite stand out, to be honest; its graphics are, at best, satisfying. All the towns are very similar, except the underwater town and Artea’s village. The world map is a huge sea of vibrant green and blue without much detail. The enemy sprites also lack detail and look almost like cartoons, save the majestic boss sprites, especially the Sinistrals’. The underground caves suffer from the same problem, as they are extremely dull. Overall, nothing remarkable.

In the sound department, it fares a little better. The game has an enjoyable soundtrack; I was particularly interested in three pieces: the world map theme, a smooth and mellow flute melody; the boss battle theme, a powerful and intense theme; and, the best, Iris’s theme, a rich, calming, spiritual melody which fits her mystique and puzzling personality perfectly. The other themes are rather forgettable.

But evidently, what I’m telling you is (or shouldn’t be) no surprise; average looks and music is what we all expect from this kind of games. But the true area where Lufia II shines like the sun is the gameplay. True, it has a very simple battle system—even if you don’t count the Item Points (IP) feature, similar to FFVII’s famed Limit Breaks, where you stack up points whenever you’re attacked and can use them later as powerful physical/magic attacks—and it even took a bold step by separating itself from contemporary RPGs by limiting random encounters to the world map, but that’s not why people play the game. Oh, no. It’s the puzzles.

“The puzzles?” Yes, the puzzles! Lufia II is filled to the brim with puzzles. But they’re not the regular kind of puzzles, they’re hard. And I mean hard, HARD. They start out innocently enough with simple arrow-to-the-switch, stand-on-this button challenges. But soon enough, you’re lavished in much more difficult puzzles with invisible walls, hidden symbols, hidden ground tiles, using hooks, arrows and everything else you can find, running from one floor to another floor, pushing pillars using and abusing Maxim’s hack ‘n slash skill. all of this until you’re so frustrated you want to smash your SNES to tiny bits. But you won’t smash your SNES to tiny bits, because you’ll always be coming for more and more and more.

But that’s not where it ends. Lufia II also has “capsule monsters,” trainable monsters that aid you in battles. You can’t actually control them in battle, as they have free will (inasmuch that they can leave the battle screen if they’re weak or escape for no reason), you can only force them to evolve by feeding it unused equipment or special kinds of fruits. They’re kind of like pets; each of them has a special ability and special attributes, which adds a great feel of variety.

There is another reason why the gameplay is so great: fantastic replay value. The game has a “retry mode” feature (kind of like “New Game+” in FF and others) where you’re given the chance to play the whole game all over again, except that this time you get 4x the experience and 4x the gold. There’s also “Gift Mode,” where you can (only) play in the Ancient Cave, this time with whatever characters please you.

And what is this Ancient Cave? Well, I could try to explain it thoroughly, but that would take an unholy amount of lines, and no mortal could ever convey its greatness. Ok, I’ll try. The Ancient Cave is a side-quest (or rather, the side-quest). When you enter it, you lose all your items and equipment and your characters are taken down to level 1; the only thing you’re given is a pack of 10 potions. The Ancient Cave is made of 99 floors, all of them randomly generated. You start at the first floor and from there you must keep going down, down, down. (No save points!) Each floor is harder than one before it. Reaching the last floor takes roughly 5–9 hours. The only way to leave the Ancient Cave is to use an item called “Providence,” only available on the 20th floor.

Of course, the Ancient Cave isn’t only about going down, down, down. When you reach the end, you’ll have to fight the Ancient Jelly!!! (Am I the only one who thinks the programmers are too obsessed with jellies?) The Monster Jelly never attacks you, but you must defeat him in exactly 3 turns; and he has 9980 HP! And, of course, the Ancient Cave isn’t “useless,” you are allowed to keep most of the rare equipment you find there. But the best thing about it is the sense of satisfaction you get after you’ve mastered everything there is to master in the Ancient Cave.

Yes, Lufia II is that good. In fact, I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I called it the best RPG ever. True, it will never achieve the attention it deserves, but that’s beyond the point. But the truth is that it’s one of the most entertaining games out there, even with its drawbacks regarding its looks. For everything that is good and holy in this world, you must try it out. Forget Zelda and all the Final Fantasies; Lufia is out there, crying your name, waiting for you to pick it up and have the time of your life.

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Community review by make_me_dance (January 08, 2006)

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