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Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals (SNES) artwork

Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals (SNES) review

"Do yourself a favor and go check out Lufia II's world map. Looks rather pathetic, doesn't it? Whether by water, mountain, or random towers, the entire world is divided into tiny chunks that contain exactly one town and one cave/tower/dungeon of some sort. These chunks are strung out in a giant circle, so that you are forced to visit one after another, in succession. And visit t..."

Do yourself a favor and go check out Lufia II's world map. Looks rather pathetic, doesn't it? Whether by water, mountain, or random towers, the entire world is divided into tiny chunks that contain exactly one town and one cave/tower/dungeon of some sort. These chunks are strung out in a giant circle, so that you are forced to visit one after another, in succession. And visit them in succession is what you do. Enter town, buy new equipment, go to dungeon, fight boss, go back to town, go on to next town. Repeat 30 times. Welcome to the world of Lufia II.

Sure, one could argue that that's basically what you do in any RPG. But the good ones hide it by bringing a little variety to the table, allowing you to visit multiple towns before the next dungeon, providing some nonlinearity, or simply designing the overworld to look more realistic. Heck, the first Lufia did that fine. Here? You're doing the same thing 30 times over. The cities and people you meet simply become a blur, copycats of the ones that preceded them. This lack of concern over something this simple is so blatant in this game that you can't help but notice it. It's like they didn't even care.

And these dungeons you go to and bosses you fight? They've got almost nothing to do with the plot. They're usually not even worthwhile sidequests. You're running after wussy princes or trying to find a pebble or picking a flower for some sick woman or something. What does that have to do with your run of the mill "supervillains trying to take over the world" plot that the game has? In the first game, you spent at the vast majority of the game with a goal in mind, with the towns and dungeons merely being steps along the way. Here, you're moving on because, well, that's sorta what you do in RPGs. There's no plot point to it, you just go.

And the bosses are just as likely to be normal enemies as they are anything special. Heck, there's only one other villain with a background other than the four Sinistrals; the rest of the time you'll be fighting catfish, spiders, and trees. I'd give more examples, but despite playing this game several times I can't even remember any more. Like the pointless questing, these bosses seem like they're simply there because the developers felt they had to do it, not because they wanted to say anything or had an exciting idea.

In case you're wondering, this 8/10 score isn't a typo.

While it may be true that Lufia II may be downright pitiful by some of the typical RPG standards, it's also true that the typical RPG is downright boring anyway. Thus, it's no skin off my nose if the developers chose to ignore this and focus on something else. After all, mixing up the towns or bosses only serves to hide the fact that you're doing the same thing over and over, it usually doesn't entirely negate this fact. So why not refuse to play along with that game and focus on something that really makes the game interesting? Like, oh, I don't know, puzzles.

Forget everything you know about pushing blocks or pressing switches. This game takes the "perform simple actions" puzzles that surround most games and tosses them out the window. Instead, you're presented with a large set of tiles. Laying a bomb on one of them causes it, and the four tiles adjacent to it, to switch colors, from black to white. Your mission, should you choose to continue the game, is to turn all the tiles white. Sound easy? Just try it. If you start bombing at random, you'll turn it into a hopeless mess, never getting any closer to your goal. So reset (no, not the SNES, the game offers you a very useful spell that resets the room you're in to its original state) and this time think your way through. Each tile must be blasted an odd number of times. It's symmetric around the horizontal axis, so you only have to look at one half at a time. The middle row, being symmetric, must turn white based only on bombs placed on that row (as any bomb placed above a tile must also be placed below, thus cancelling out the blasts), so start there. Well, that's easy, there are only 5 tiles! Just place one bomb along the edge and the other three tiles over, and you're done. Now to focus on the two halves...

And that's just one of the simpler ones. A huge jumble of blocks are in a room. If any three of the same color line up, they disappear. Start pushing some of those blocks around. Navigate through a maze to find two pots to place on two switches, and then get to the exit. But you can't double back onto any tile you already walked on. Burn a series of plants before any of them grow to full height. Hookshot your way across a giant room filled with platforms, but you have to push all the columns to the right places while you're doing this. Pick up and drop some multicolored tiles. If you drop the tile so that other tiles are sandwiched between two of the same color, all will turn that color. Turn them all to one color, but only touch 3 tiles. And so on and so on.

This is what makes the game work. The towns and bosses and everything may not become ingrained in your memory, but the obstacles will. You have to stop and look at what's going on; you have to put some thought into the game. And that makes passing each obstacle all the more fulfilling, making each puzzle all the more memorable. Oh sure, you could just check one of the FAQs and rush your way through the game, but doing that completely ruins the game. So take your time and appreciate these things.

And fortunately, the actual RPGish stuff like fighting and levelling up does not interfere with this joy. The best part is that there are no random battles; you can see enemy formations and avoid them. Or you can use your items to stun and sneak up on them, giving you a surprise attack and making the battles even easier. Yes, easier, as the game's pretty simple on its own. Curative magic is all powerful and magic is plentiful, meaning you should have no problems no matter how little you level up. Don't think of that as a bad thing though. Battles are fairly simple after all, with only a few minor twists thrown in besides the standard attack/magic/item. Thus, you want them to be as quick and painless as possible. Fortunately, all of the many flaws of the original Lufia's battle system have been taken care of, so it is quick and painless. Remember, it's only there to waste time between the puzzles. When you look at it from that perspective, the battle system suits the game well.

That's not to say that puzzles are the only aspect worth noting in this game. While everyone else you meet may be boring and 2-dimensional, your characters are a bit more exciting. Like its predecessor, the game doesn't take itself too seriously, so be prepared for insults, petty greviances, and disturbing sword fetish innuendo to pepper your otherwise dire situation. Yep, no angst filled pretty boy hero here, just a bunch of warriors who take it upon themselves to save the world. And because of that carefree attitude, that lack of "depth", you appreciate these characters that much more. They're all simple enough that you can't laugh at outrageous attempts at characterization like you do with Square games. And since their simplistic problems are devoid of this outrageousness, it makes them all the more real and effective. And because it's so effective, the ending still manages to be touching (despite already knowing what's going to happen). It's a refreshing change of pace over the Final Fantasy series, that's for sure.

By the same token, the simple plot works as well. Despite its hackneyed nature, one can at least try to get something meaningful out of it. Yes, it's a simple save the world plot. Yes, the mystery of Iris and why she's the way she is is glossed over. But if you're interested in the series, you can try to uncover your own meanings for this game. Why did Arek send the Sinistrals in the first place, and why did he give Erim her own special mission? When did Iris start to develop her split personality? What exactly is the Dual Blade? The game touches on themes of religion, power, and loyalty, but never actually bothers to answer the questions that come up. Which, let's admit it, is probably better that way. Rather than another boring and insulting explanation of everything like most other games, you can come up with your own interpretations. Because of that, because of this simplicity and vagueness, I actually find the plot to be better than most other RPGs!

Maybe that's why I like the game so much - because it's not your typical RPG. It seems as if they coasted by with the bare minimum of effort when creating the standard RPG stuff. It passes, especially compared to the original game, and being tolerable is frankly all I care about. Instead, we focus on loads and loads of nice, juicy puzzles. We focus on goofy situations and light hearted dialogue rather than a ridiculous convoluted plot or angsty 2D boors. We get a massive random dungeon sidequest if we're interested rather than raising stupid chocobos. The puzzles alone are enough to keep you coming back for more, and once you're hooked the rest of it becomes that much more interesting. So give it a shot. If an RPG hater like me can enjoy it, surely it will impress those more amenable to the genre.

mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (September 17, 2006)

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