Was This RPG Doomed From the Beginning?
Long ago, four warriors led by the red-haired Maxim challenged four mighty sinistrals that ruled over the Earth from their massive fortress in the sky. With the aid of the dual blade, they felled these demons -- or so they thought. It wasn't until a century after the death of Maxim that the true adventure began....
Despite the abundance of clichés in the opening portion of Lufia, it is one of the RPG genre's greatest beginnings. During the opening sequence, you waltz into a floating fortress with four high-leveled heroes, laying waste to any foe that crosses your path. Once you finally come upon the mighty sinistrals, you engage in battle with each of them, one by one.
What makes this sequence particularly engaging is the upbeat musical track that accompanies the experience. It doesn't hurt that the bosses appear as fearsome giants in battle, and that your character has a badass name like Maxim.
Clearly, the opening was awesome, but what would follow?
You begin the adventure as Maxim's descendant, nearly one hundred years later. This unnamed descendant looks similar to the red-haired hero of the Ys games, and has no name like every main character of the Dragon Quest series.
As with the beginning of many RPGs, the world is initially in a peaceful state, but rumors abound of monsters threatening the world's stability. You're soon tasked with investigating this monster outbreak, but first, there's some charming dialogue between the chatty main character and a girl he meets and quickly befriends.
This blue-haired girl named Lufia had come to the village one day, and was in need of a home, so the innkeeper took her in. The main character and Lufia quickly became great friends, and enough time had elapsed that they were now nearly adults.
The real journey begins with a humorous lovers' quarrel. Lufia had agreed to bake something special for the main character, but he ran off before it was complete to investigate the rumored appearance of monsters. As you could imagine, she was quite upset, but this didn't faze Maxim's descendant.
The game's opening hours are quite pleasant, because you learn about the close relationship between the main character and Lufia, and you also begin to notice their personality quirks. This is actually one of my favorite aspects of Lufia, because it felt like the characters actually had personality unlike those of many other RPGs of the early '90s. Once the adventure began, however, this illusion of a game full of charming character dialogue quickly eroded.
When you leave town initially, you're introduced to a world map that looks like it was straight out of the NES era (read: ugly), but at least it's partially negated by an excellent song. More importantly, however, you're introduced to your first battle.
You'll quickly notice that the battle system is a not-so-subtle imitation of Dragon Quest. Unlike Dragon Quest, your characters are actually visible, but they're facing towards the screen, and large enemies that do nothing but bob up and down are directly in front of you.
If it's not obvious already that this format is similar to the Dragon Quest games of old, then maybe this will convince you. When you attack an enemy (or group of enemies), you have to choose your target wisely, because your attack could miss if another character fells that foe in a previous turn. Attack order isn't clearly delineated, so you never really know when your turn is approaching unless you closely examine your agility stats before battle.
Even though there are some similarities to Dragon Quest, there are also a number of differences. When you first engage in battle, you'll immediately notice that there is no battle background. Instead, you'll find yourself staring at a fairly dark screen that is just bright enough to see the outline of your current location.
When you actually engage in battle, you'll select from a menu that is a set of icons in a cross format. One icon causes your character to attack, another is for magic, a third causes your character to defend, a fourth is for items, and a fifth is for running away. These are all fairly self-explanatory.
In Lufia, there are only four characters, so you'll grow accustomed to their abilities quickly. As in many RPGs of the NES and SNES era, your characters will gain a certain amount of experience and gold from battles, and will level up when a certain target has been met. After leveling up, stats are assigned automatically, just as they would be in Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy.
Your characters don't have job classes, but they learn different spells, and have unique stats. The main character's strength is his physical attack power, but he also has a number of useful healing moves. Lufia on the other hand is the game's most powerful magic user, and learns a number of powerful offensive and healing spells. The third character is a warrior that has absolutely no magic, but has a high amount of physical strength. Finally, the fourth character can equip bows, and is the game's second best magic user.
Besides their obvious differences in combat, there's not much else that defines these characters besides their large heads and different hair colors. There are some personality differences, but as you'll soon learn, Lufia has very little story and character dialogue after the opening sequence.
Returning to where I had left off, the main character engages in a few battles while he's en route to a nearby town. He levels up a bit while fighting some monsters near the game's first town and in a nearby cave, but there's nothing too threatening. Once he reaches his destination, he learns that it was attacked by monsters, but has to return to his village to get permission to send troops. Of course the lazy general isn't concerned, so you have to march back there and take care of the monsters yourself.
This initiates a pattern you'll find all too often in Lufia involving tedious fetch quests and lots of backtracking. Fortunately, this isn't so extreme near the beginning of the quest, so you'll enjoy yourself for a little while.
When you reach the nearby town a second time, you'll fight an immensely powerful boss that can't be defeated with your sword alone. Fortunately, you're saved by your friend Lufia, but you soon learn that your foe is one of the mighty sinistrals that was supposedly defeated, and that the rest of the four are about to make their return.
So after the first hour of the game, you already know the purpose of your journey. There's one significant plot twist that might shock you, but the majority of the game is spent crawling through dungeon after dungeon looking for certain enemies or items. Well, I guess I should say that you also get to travel to a number of bland looking towns that appear to have been designed as part of an RPG maker project.
The amount of dungeon crawling in Lufia is beyond absurd -- the game really could have benefitted from more dialogue, better pacing, and a gameplay tune-up. Once you've traveled through the first few towns, you'll start playing the game like this: enter town B that appears to be a clone of the previous town, enter an uninteresting mazelike cave, climb a tower with all sorts of pointless paths and pits to obtain a relic of some sort or fight a boss that laughs at you for making such a long and pointless journey. Oh yeah, and sometimes you'll have to go to these places again after you've returned to a town to get another task or deliver an item. Can you say ridiculous?
What's even worse than these pointless fetch quests, however, are the extremely high encounter rate and brutal boss fights. If you've played RPGs on the SNES that aren't Chrono Trigger before, you're probably already used to battles that occur as often as long lines at Wal-Mart. Still, it certainly doesn't make Lufia the kind of game that anyone still possessing their sanity would want to retroactively experience. Battles aren't so bad once you have high enough levels and powerful equipment, but they're still a pain when you're searching for your destination in a maze-like dungeon.
Lufia's high encounter rate can certainly get annoying, but it's nowhere near as bad as the painful boss battles. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not against challenging boss fights, but the problem here is that certain bosses are just broken. For a few bosses, you have to level up your characters far beyond what it should take to destroy them, you need to have a large enough stock of certain items that you can't purchase, and you have to hope that the boss you're fighting doesn't use his deadliest moves. This combination doesn't make for exciting battles -- it just makes you feel like the bosses are using Game Genie.
All of this might be tolerable if Lufia had other elements that felt fresh, but it doesn't. The character conversations towards the beginning of the game, the exciting intro, and its invigorating tunes are Lufia's only redeeming qualities. I like airships, submarines, and high tech labs as much as the next guy, but they've been used in so many RPGs that they aren't enough to help Lufia's cause. I am thankful that Taito was at least wise enough not to make battles occur when you're in the air, but a map would have been nice to help navigate Lufia's poorly designed world. Okay, I guess I lied. Lufia, may have one innovative element for a JRPG of 1993: half-elves, but this race didn't really enhance the experience.
Lufia isn't exactly what I'd call a horrible game, but with very little plot, a high encounter rate, and broken boss battles, it's hard to recommend to anyone, except for RPG OGs that have spent their time on numerous forty-hour monstrosities. It has a few redeeming qualities, but there isn't enough to make most gamers want to slog through nearly twenty hours worth of dungeons and boring towns. If you enjoy routine labor, Lufia might be worth checking out (if you can handle a couple broken boss fights), but everyone else will want to experience an SNES RPG that is actually a classic.
· Features an excellent soundtrack that really makes you feel like a hero
· Includes an engaging intro that is actually the end of Lufia II
· Charming character dialogue (at least at the beginning)
· Who can't respect villains who rule from the sky?
· Endless dungeon crawling
· If I was paid a penny for each battle fought, I'd be rich
· Brutal, unfair boss encounters
· Lack of originality. You'll experience a lot of pain before you reach the end