by Jason Parker [Ragachak]
Editor’s Note: Next week, I’m going to review something that is objectively/subjectively dreadful. This requires a lot of research and input. So please, feel free to DM me on Twitter, comment below or message me on Twitch with your thoughts!
Spoilers Incoming! I know it’s from the 90s, but still.
Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals was released in 1996, the same year as the Nintendo 64. This in mind, it’s probably an RPG you have never played/heard of and that’s not a surprise. Nor is it a dig! I have a lot of friends who played it, but when it was out and I was in High School, I knew no one who had it but one person. But why review Lufia 2 before Lufia 1? Because Lufia 2 comes first in the timeline! That really threw me for a loop. I didn’t see it coming until about halfway through the game. Lufia and the Fortress of Doom [henceforth: Lufia 1] starts at the “Battle of Doom Island”, the climactic battle versus the Sinistrals which are basically godlike beings who represent various forces of negativity: Death, Terror, Chaos, Destruction. They’re ruled over by a more powerful deity, Arek the Absolute. So at the start of Lufia 1, you have Maxim, Selan, Guy and Arty [the actual name of the character, Artea was incorrect, no matter how much I hate it] stand-alone against the tide of evil. It’s very dramatic. The music is among some of the greatest music in a video game. You know, ever. Fast-forward 99 years, you’re playing a descendant of Maxim, and trouble brews again.
Lufia 2 is the start of the fulfilment of destiny for Maxim: He’s a journeyman Monster Hunter, keeping his town safe by killing Slimes and Lizards and such. Over the course of the game, your party will fluctuate and change and of course, you’ll wind up with Maxim/Selan/Guy/Arty, but there are other guest-stars that will make you wish that you could change the party up for the final battle. Dekar, probably the strongest warrior in the world [Guy will contest this] and is brave to the point of absolute stupidity. He’s convinced that nothing in the world is mightier than him, and proves it. Then there’s Lexis Shaia, the brilliant scientist. His wrenches hit groups of the same enemy which confused me, but, hey. That’s the way it is. He’s responsible for all of your “awesome tech”. Tia, the young spellcaster/friend of Maxim joins too and she is physically weak but casts pretty devastating magic. The characters are memorable, the dialogue feels real. Sometimes it’s hard to parse because there is a whole slew of typos and censorship in the game, but the dialogue all around feels like something someone would say. It has moments that make my eyes well up with tears, and moments that make me laugh like a doofus.
This game also shines in the form of its dungeons. They’re clever, creative, and there is a whole slew of puzzles and each dungeon has its own. They vary in difficulty, and require everything from simple math, riddles, or moving blocks [picking them up, or pushing them around]. The game provides a series of tools that will help you navigate dungeons/avoid fights, from arrows, fire arrows, bombs, a mace, and hookshot. The game will never give you a puzzle you can’t handle/solve, but some of them are frustrating in their challenge. The worst offenders are probably any puzzle that depends on an enemy moving onto a certain spot or the first fire arrow puzzle. You have to step around, one square at a time, rotate and shoot the weeds down in a certain order. None can grow all the way or you fail. But that leads me to another interesting dungeon fact: Every step matters. Enemies are not random encounters but are on the map tiles with you. Each step you take they will take one [or a lot more!] and usually go right after you. If you hit them with a tool, they are stunned for a few steps. If you botch a puzzle/encounter, you can use your “Reset” Spell, also located on the toolbar. Though you can hold R and hit directional pads to rotate without costing you a step.
The first dungeon teaches you all of these things; even without the manual, you’ll know how the game works. However dungeons can feel repetitive; each dungeon has its own Key that you have to collect and find, then get to the boss. Luckily there are healing tiles and save tiles in each dungeon because you can only save at those, and at Temples/Churches. There are hidden dungeons though, and one in particular does not obey the normal rules: The Ancient Cave. You go in and lose every item/spell you have. You start at level 1 on Floor 1 and the goal is to get to the bottom  and defeat the Ancient Jelly. That floor’s glitched, by the by. Anything you find you don’t keep, unless it’s in a Blue Chest; those are rare, powerful weapons that you can keep if you survive. On floor 20 there’s an item [Providence] that will take you back out. There’s also the “Iris Treasures”, which do nothing other than to say you collected them all. It’s the greatest real challenge in the game.
In addition to the main characters, you also have a system that you don’t really have to buy into in the form of Capsule Monsters. In fact, I’m pretty sure you can avoid getting any of them throughout the story. But unlocking them gives you an elemental creature [Neutral, Light, Wind, Water, Dark, Fire and Soil] and each have their own abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Personally, I always seem to go with Light or Dark, because the Light healing powers are second to none … if it uses them on the right character. The AI for them is awful, it uses one of its powers at random on a random target, and though the Archangel Light monster might have a resurrection power, don’t count on seeing it used on someone who needs it often. This mode has the other real sin of the game: The feeding system!
Oh, this made no sense and simultaneously made me so angry I could pull my teeth out. The Capsule Monster will want a certain type of weapon or armor that you feed to it. If you focus on stuff that’s in that general grade of gear, it should be fine. If you feed it what it’s craving, the bar [32 marks on the bar til upgrade] will go up several slots, and now … it wants something even better. Generally something you can’t get. You can glitch this, and reset it back to the item it wants and keep resetting to feed it that way, but that’s tedious. You can lower its cravings with crappy, low-quality items [at least some of the time], but the whole system doesn’t feel fleshed out quite all the way. It’s not necessary, but it is neat. At some point, you won’t be able to level it any further, and you’ll have to figure out which Elemental Fruit to feed it [opposite, usually] and which lower level it has to be in order to evolve it to its final form. That’s also never explained. You have to max it out as far as it can go, then lower its level and eat a fruit. It’s so annoying and complicated for no good reason.
The gameplay is incredibly solid, and the IP system was revolutionary for its time. It’s a turn-based RPG and based on enemy/character speed, and also included a front row/back row for damage dealt/received. As characters take damage, a third bar [HP/Mana/IP] rises. Certain equipment comes with “IP Abilities”, which replicate spells, do amazing attacks, hit repeatedly, or boost stats. Even stuff you buy at the shops can have them as well as the rare, powerful gear like the Gades Blade [dropped off Sinistral Gades], and the various Gems [equipment slot, dropped off of most of the enemy races]. In addition to simply being the right level, and equipped the right way, these abilities can also make/break fights. They aren’t necessary for any battle, but they will sure make some of them easier. Each ability has its own cost, but the game doesn’t tell you how much of the bar it will deplete. Some of them are obvious, like the Dual Blade [best weapon in the game for Maxim]’s Wave Motion will consume the whole bar. You either attack, cast a spell, use an item, defend/run, or use an IP ability. The spells are pretty standard fare but instead of earning them in battle, you go to Magic shops and the appropriate people will be able to buy the appropriate spells.
The Saviour of those on Earth: 4/5
I’d love to give Lufia 2 a 5/5, but I can’t. Everything about the game is wonderful. I can still play it today and feel the same emotions I did as a much younger man. It has tons of replayability factor in the Ancient Cave bonus mode [which you unlock after beating it, then beating Retry Mode: 4x GP/XP in every fight]. There are secrets, hidden items to find, hidden bosses, the whole deal. But the constant fetch quests, the repetitive “Do a puzzle, get a key, fight boss” mechanics, the annoying Capsule Monster issues, and the glitches can drive a man mad. There are glitches on the main window that can corrupt your file and I feel like it was not quality checked nearly enough. You can get to one of the superbosses/hidden battles, and kill it in one turn by using a low-quality healing item for example. Since the Egg Dragon has the highest HP possible, at 65535 HP (the maximum for an unsigned 16-bit integer), it’s very easy to kill him by using a weak healing item such as Charred Newt on him while at full health, which overflows his HP over to a very low amount, then attacking him. There are insane amounts of issues with the game that can cause you to quit and while some do benefit you [that one], but the Sound Glitch can completely ruin your run. This glitch is well-known and will ruin your file if you do it. Changing the audio setting past “Monoaural” can go to a glitched setting which will cause major corruption. These minor issues aside, it’s still in the top three RPGs I’ve played in my whole life. The music still to this day makes me feel incredible emotion without even playing the game. It’s a masterclass in how to build a world and characters, and it’s a shame it was overshadowed by the N64.