"So, what you’ll be doing in virtually every dungeon is constantly switching between characters to have them break what needs to be broken and then flipping a switch or pressing a button to get to the next room. Great “puzzles”, guys! With the lack of brain power needed to accomplish this, it really makes you notice certain things about the dungeons — like how they’re really long and dull."
Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals was a fluke. There’s simply no other way to explain how that SNES role-playing game was so wonderful, while the other three Lufia games struggled to even reach mediocrity. Rise of the Sinistrals had above-average storytelling along with dungeons chock-full with tricky puzzles actually requiring brain-power to solve.
Unfortunately, I’m not writing about that game.
Instead, today’s topic is Lufia: The Ruins of Lore, Atlus’ subpar Game Boy Advance effort to recapture the magic Natsume found with Rise of the Sinistrals.
As evidenced by an opening-game cutscene, our protagonist, Eldin, had his father leave home on some top-secret quest with a strange man 10 years ago and never return. Now a teenager, Eldin and his best friend, Torma, are planning to sign up to be hunters (hero-types) at the local castle. While they have to explore the monster-infested caverns under the castle to pass their hunter license test, some piddly tutorial dungeon isn’t much trouble for the young duo.
However, shortly after being named official hunters, they get asked to help a damsel in distress. As the kids find out, Rubius is no ordinary helpless female -- she’s a priestess investigating rumors that a hostile kingdom controlled by someone named Ragule is seeking to resurrect a fearsome beast capable of spreading ruin throughout the land. Before you know it, Eldin touches something he shouldn’t have and somehow gets cursed by a mystical artifact. While it has no effect on pretty much anything Eldin does, the curse serves admirably as a plot point to keep him tied to Rubius and her mission.
While this plot is perfectly serviceable, if not groundbreaking, any impact it could have is completely nullified by horrible storytelling and a crew of characters who refuse to exhibit any symptoms of development. Eldin’s a silent protagonist that makes the average hero of this sort seem captivating and well-rounded. Torma comes from the generic “mindlessly impetuous” template, while another long-term pal, Rami, is a hot-headed chick constantly losing her cool over Torma’s stupidity. Your other companions -- the half-dog Bau, Rubius and Lufia 2 holdover Dekar -- are all window dressing.
The generic nature of these characters bleeds over into the story, making it equally boring. Remember how I said Eldin’s father mysteriously vanished 10 years ago? Well, if you’re familiar with RPGs, you know he’ll pop up at some point. Now, first think about how you’d react if you ran into your dad after not seeing or hearing from him for 10 years. Okay, now read my paraphrased take on the dad’s dialogue when this happens (as a non-talker, Eldin had nothing to contribute besides the occasional “...”).
"Eldin, you’ve really grown! I bet you guys are looking for Ragule. Blah, blah, blah. Well, take care!"
And then, after Eldin and company leave, Rubius stays behind for a minute to talk to Pops about various spoiler-iffic matters concerning our hero. Truly a tear-jerking family reunion here AND it’s only one of many captivating moments in this game.
But there are more things wrong with The Ruins of Lore besides stupid characters and dialogue. Most noticeable is how this game attempts to replicate Lufia 2’s puzzles in the most half-hearted way possible. Many of your characters have a special dungeon ability. Eldin can slash bushes and pots with his sword, Rami can burn certain obstructions, Bau can smash others with his hammer and Torma uses a whip to lasso the party across chasms.
So, what you’ll be doing in virtually every dungeon is constantly switching between characters to have them break what needs to be broken and then flipping a switch or pressing a button to get to the next room. Great “puzzles”, guys! With the lack of brain power needed to accomplish this, it really makes you notice certain things about the dungeons -- like how they’re really long and dull. It just isn’t much fun to go through screen after screen hitting stakes, burning bushes and occasionally fighting monsters.
Now taming monsters could have been a different story. Ruins of Lore allows you to capture virtually every monster in the game and evolve them into more powerful members of their species. There are a ton of beasties in the game, with all having a number of special attributes, which probably will lead you believe it’s going to be fun to capture them, see which one has what skills and transfer them from one monster to another to create a super-beast.
Except that each monster in your party will get their share of the scant experience surrendered by beaten foes. It takes a good long time for Eldin and company to pick up levels and having extra mouths to feed in the party is just going to slow down their growth even more. And when you consider that monsters are controlled by the computer in battle and that few (if any) are even close to being as useful as your human characters and its easy to see how this cool idea is more of an unnecessary annoyance.
In fact, the only time you might find a monster useful is when you journey into the Ancient Cave. Only Eldin and ONE monster can visit this 60-level randomly-generated dungeon. It’s a good place to visit, as there is a lot of great equipment there, but you better not overextend yourself. If Eldin is defeated, he loses all of his equipment and money can be pretty hard to come by, especially when you get far enough into the game to purchase the great, but extremely expensive, Zircon stuff. Lose 70,000 gold worth of Zircon equipment (like I did) and you won’t want to ever go back to the Ancient Cave (or continue playing the game).
To be honest, there was only one thing I really felt Atlus really did right with The Ruins of Lore -- their class system. As hunters, Eldin, Torma and Rami get access to a guild where they can become swordsmen, priests, wizards and many other classes. On their own, they’ll never learn any spells or special attacks, but each class they choose to master will grant them five to a dozen or so abilities, which not only play to each character’s strengths, but also can mask their weaknesses. Having brawn-before-brains characters learn a healing spell and letting magic-oriented ones pick up a melee ability or two can make them as diverse in battles as they are dull outside of them.
Sadly, this skill system is pretty much the only interesting aspect of what is a mediocre, by-the-books RPG. I’m not sure what Atlus was trying to create here, but all I saw was a pale shadow of Lufia 2 that accomplished little beyond making me want to play through that game again.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (December 21, 2007)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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