Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals (SNES)

Lufia II Europe title screen
Ignore what the title screen says; today's game is actually Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals for the Super Nintendo. They dropped the number for the European version as the first game wasn't released over here and they didn't want consumers to have the unnecessary distraction. To be fair, the game's a prequel so it probably stands on its own just fine.

People have been asking me to take a look at this one forever; so of course I ignored them all and played the original Lufia instead. But today I'm finally playing the one that everyone's been recommending to me. This is the good Lufia (apparently).

The game begins one moonlit night with a woman called Erim arriving at a glowing fortress atop a lonely hill. It appears that she's been summoned by her master Arek to his shiny throne room so that he may ask her stupid questions.

Of course Sinistrals should rule, she replies, implying that either she's one of them or she doesn't want to piss off the boss. Sinistrals in this case refers to four evil gods by the way, not the 10% of people who favour their left hand, and these gods were the ones causing all the trouble in the original Lufia. Hey that's a point, they show all the Sinistrals right at the start of the first game so it'll be simple enough for me to check their names.

Okay it turns out that Erim is one of the four Sinistrals I defeated in Lufia's prologue... but Arek isn't. Interesting.

With Arek's question in mind, Erim flies across the world as a glowing red ball of light to go do whatever it is that Sinistrals do.

As she flies across the world map the game shows glimpses of characters I've yet to meet, like this scene where a guy called... Guy admits that he forgot he had a date planned and went to fight monsters instead. Oops.

And this scene where a girl is being picked on by a pair of asshole twins. Interesting how gender keeps being brought up. That and monsters.

Most of the people shown here, like Guy and Selan, are going to be playable characters later, which I know because this is a prequel and they all show up in the prologue of the first game. In fact you get to play the entire ending to this game in Lufia 1 (to a point) so I already know how things will turn out.

Now that I think about it, I remember meeting Guy in Lufia's main storyline as well, set 100 years after the end of this game. I watched him die of old age and then raided his grave after the funeral to steal his legendary sword. Because that's what heroes do.

Right, now the introductions are over I can finally watch the first post-intro cutscene, featuring our protagonist Maxim visiting his girlfriend's item shop to sell the spoils from his latest monster hunt.

Tia mentions that he could always quit this monster hunting work that he probably really enjoys and get a nice safe ordinary job instead, like... working in an item shop for instance HINT HINT. But poor Maxim misses the clue entirely and replies with that line in the screenshot above. He's a man of action, he doesn't want to stand behind a desk all day!

Tia is stunned by his utter condemnation of her chosen career, yells at him and then runs to her room, slamming the door behind her. Weirdly he actually responds to her thought bubble here as he heard her, not that it does either of them any good.

Well Maxim didn't mention having anywhere else to be after claiming his pay and nobody has burst into the shop yelling that monsters are invading the town, so I guess this is my first task then. Quest 1: Beg Tia for forgiveness.

By the way, I was asked to name my character after the end of the intro, which seems a little strange seeing that this is a prequel and he already has a name, but whatever, I can understand them not wanting to be tied down to that. What's really weird though, is that he already has a name in the intro to this game as well. He was born as Maxim, he was still called Maxim when he set out earlier to go monster hunting, and history will remember him as Maxim, so I don't see any reason to complicate things by changing his name now.

Tia seems to have gotten over things pretty quickly as she went straight into shopkeeper mode when I went up to apologise.

She runs a pretty decent shop as well. I mean the range of items for sale is actually terrible and she clearly can't tell a sword from a frying pan, but the service is great: I can instantly see how each weapon will affect my stats and I can even equip them from here. Definitely one of the better shop screens I've seen in a SNES RPG.

Well I would take the frypan, but Maxim takes too much pride in his work to equip it, so I'll blow all my cash on the rapier instead for that awesome 10% damage increase.

This looks so much better than the towns in Lufia 1. It's funny how much of a difference adding a border to the paths and sticking a roof on the houses can make.

Right then, I've successfully apologised to Tia and Maxim already completed his monster hunting for the day before I even took control, so... uh... I guess I've won the game then? I mean my character has no other goals, nothing's happening to kick off a storyline, and none of the people I've been talking to around town have anything for me to do for them.

C'mon game, you're a story driven adventure, you're not Minecraft, give me some direction already! Even the most hopelessly clichéd unimaginative RPGs have the sense to get the player on track quickly, even though the first job they give you is usually to visit the King or the bloody village elder. Even Don't Starve, a game absolutely determined to avoid giving the player any obvious goals to achieve besides the ones they come up with on their own has a big clue to what people are supposed to be doing in its title.

Also wow, Maxim has no formal training? That's terrible, no wonder he's still only level 1 despite years of professional monster slaying.

Aha, this looks promising. This old man ambushed me on the way out of town with promises that he'll show me secret techniques if I'll follow him down into his dirty dungeon. This could be exactly the sort of training I've been looking for!

Lufia 2 world map
But first I'm going to go in the exact opposite direction on the overworld and see what's around. I'm not expecting to find anywhere else I can go, but the walk will give me a good excuse to fight some enemies along the way and gain some levels.

Incidentally, the game looks pretty decent in still screenshots, but I think the sprite artist should have probably taken another pass at Maxim's walk cycle. I know there's a limit to what you can do with two frames, but c'mon. He just kind of hops forward, waggling his little T-rex arms.

Also they should've used more than two frames! The game came out in 1995 in Japan, less than a month before Chrono Trigger, pretty late in the SNES's lifespan. Too late for them to be getting away with animation like this.

Hey, the random encounters actually get their own battle screen now. That's much better than the way they had it in the first game, with the monsters overlaid on top of the level.

The combat seems to be pretty much the same as in the first Lufia (and turn based JRPGs in general), where I choose my next move from the menu, then wait for each of the enemies to carry out theirs. I've got all the time in the world to make my choice, but right now there's nothing much else for me to do but hit the poor lizards with my sword each turn until they're dead.

That IP gauge is new though, I'm not sure what that does.


SOME MORE RANDOM BATTLES LATER.


Eventually I got bored of wandering the lands and came back to meet the mysterious man in his secret cave, where I learned some interesting info. Monsters aren't invisible random encounters inside dungeons like they are out on the world map; they're visible, they can only take a step when I do, and I can stun them by firing one of my infinite arrows their way. Arrows are also handy for activating switches to let me cross chasms. Seems like the things are good for everything except actually killing things in battle.

I continued on through a few more rooms, pushed a few blocks, killed a few enemies... and soon found that I'd circled right around to the entrance again. I don't know why I was expecting priceless treasures to be hidden inside an old man's tutorial dungeon, but I kinda was.

With nothing else left to do (and no idea where I live) I decided to go back to the item shop and visit Tia again, triggering a long cutscene about the two of them eating a terrible fish dinner. Reminds me of the long conversations about cinnamon pie in the first Lufia, except it this case Maxim isn't called away to action before he can eat. In fact nothing plot related happens at all. In fact I'm not 100% sure this game even has a plot.

Weirdly enough one thing he didn't do here was sell the skins of the animals he killed during the last few fights, even though the game established right at the start that it's how he makes his money as a monster hunter and why he's always in her shop in the first place.

Oh hang on, it looks like monsters have gone crazy in the North Cave and I'm the only one who can do anything about it! I've got three empty slots in my party and no one's even slightly interested in teaming up to get a share of that sweet XP.

Well screw 'em all. I've found myself a storyline hook at last and I'm going for it.


LATER, IN THE NORTH CAVE.


This North Cave looks a whole lot like the Secret Skills cave funnily enough and its requiring all my new secret skills to get through. Like my Zelda-like ability to cut through plants and reveal hidden floor switches for instance. Also my Zelda-like talent for lifting up pots and throwing them onto the switches.

The trickiest part for me so far though has been keeping track of where I am in this place, as the rooms often have multiple exits leading to more rooms with more exits, and there's no map.

Some of the rooms on the other hand are a dead end, at least until I've flicked some switch somewhere else. Again the real puzzle here for me is going to be remembering where this room is.

Maybe I should be getting out some paper and drawing up a map. You know, I've had this problem in enough games now that I should have had the sense to buy a stack of graph paper already.


MUCH WANDERING LATER.


I'm liking this room. Those first two glyphs on the floor provide health and mana refills and the last one's a save point. A bit of a shame though that I happened to find it just after using up valuable potions, especially as that staircase over there probably leads to a boss fight.

I wish there was a way I could roll this carpet up and stick it in my inventory. Maybe if I could've tricked one of the townsfolk into coming with me that could've been their job, dragging the rug around. I could make my own little base camp when I'm low on health, it'd be awesome.

Oh no, it's a boss fight!

I hit him for 14 damage, he hits me for 12. I hit him for 12 damage, he hits me for 11. I use a potion to heal 30 health, he hits me for 11. That's basically the depth of the combat so far.

Though to be fair I still haven't delved into the myriad mysteries of the mysterious IP gauge yet. For all I know it could change everything.


SOON AFTER MY INEVITABLE VICTORY.


Yeah, how could that guy who speaks perfect English and wears armour be smart enough to steal a key?

Damn, doesn't anyone in this game know how speech bubbles work? Quit reading my inner monologue!

This stranger is called Iris and she's here to ascertain my future apparently. She explains that the red ball of light seen in the intro (who's actually the Sinistral Erim) is stirring shit up and spreading misfortune wherever she goes, and will eventually go on to trigger a gigantic swell of an attack on humanity. But Maxim has the power... the power to confront the swell (her words).

So I guess I'll take this door key, open the route to the next town, and go seek out misfortune then.


SOON.


I've found some misfortune! There's been an earthquake and this bridge has collapsed. It seems that every town on this continent is connected by a cave of some kind, so I can't proceed until I've fixed each town's issues and opened their path to the next area.

This guy doesn't need my help to fix the bridge though, he only needs time. The exact same amount of time as it will take me to solve this earthquake problem I expect.


SOON, IN SUNDLETAN.


Alright I have arrived at the town of Sundletan and now I'm looking for someone to point me towards the source of the crisis. Though first I should probably pop into the church and save my game. Unlike the Final Fantasy series, there's no way to save on the world map.

Well I was going to buy some badass combat magic, but you're creeping me out so I won't now. Sorry, but you just lost yourself a customer.

It seems that the towns have the standard variety of magic shops, item shops, pubs etc with the item stats getting progressively better in each town, with prices to match. Poor Tia must really own the worst item shop on the planet.

A capsule monster you say? Like... a Pokémon? Tell me more about this creature and how I may obtain it!

Oh wait I can't actually choose my dialogue in this or ask questions at all. I guess I'll go search the woods around here then.


SEVERAL FORESTS LATER.


Okay, bored now. I've stomped over every square of trees in this part of the map and I can't find a single trace of Foomy. You know, I'm starting to think that guy was just fucking with me.

But hang on, that's a very suspicious looking patch of darkness in the water over there. Perhaps the forest I'm looking for is.... underwater! Shut up, it's a fantasy game, there's a chance I'm actually right about this. Plus it's not like I have anything better to do that go down those steps and see where they take me.


SOON, INSIDE THE LAKE CAVE.


Wow, this has gone way past simple switch puzzles now. This security system must have been put in place to stop lizard men getting in. They may be smart enough to talk, craft armour and steal keys, but can they solve basic block pushing puzzles?

Considering how many monsters have gotten inside this place, the evidence points to... yes.


SEVERAL ROOMS AND PUZZLES LATER.


It was a giant intelligent catfish causing the earthquakes! It turns out that he was bored and just wanted someone to come down and talk to him. Well I'll show him bored... time for you to face Lufia II's battle system, you aquatic fiend!

Attack. Attack. Potion. Attack. Attack. Potion. Attack. Attack. Potion...


LATER, AFTER THE FIGHT.


Hey, look at who I found getting harassed by monsters in the Lake Cave.

No Tia you run an item shop, the worst in the entire world. You sell potions too, but I doubt you're a master chemist.

Wait, she's actually going to join my team? I already know this isn't going to end well and not just because she's armed with a frying pan and insists on fighting in a frock. The original Lufia begins with the ending of this story and Tia isn't in Maxim's end game party. He seems to be with another woman called Selan in fact.


SOON, IN ALUNZE.


Well all seem to be fine in the next town along, no catastrophes, so I decided to continue onwards on my journey to save the world. This guy decided otherwise.

Yeah I'm sure that the King's coronation is a really big deal, but I'm afraid that I don't actually give two fucks. I'm on a mission to save all humanity from a swell of evil, or whatever, and you're standing in my way for no good reason right now. Ugh, where's the button to punch him in the gut and push him aside? Why isn't my bow working??

Okay fine, I'll go back and visit the coronation. But don't blame me if the world ends while I'm stuck at the back of a crowd watching a guy getting a shiny new hat.

But first I'm hitting the slots. This culture is so low tech that they haven't even invented horses yet, but they've got fruit machines all figured out.

And I've just figured out that I'll likely get a better return on investment by putting my money into new swords instead of continuing to throw it away here. Well, 'sword' singular, as despite running a weapons shop Tia doesn't seem to know how to use them.


SOON.


Hey guys am I late to the coronation... what? I dragged myself all the way over to the castle to see someone get a crown put on their head and now it turns out that the crown is a fake? Well allegedly fake, nothing's been proven yet.

Fortunately the two strangers who provided us with this shocking news have volunteered to take the fake crown away for further testing, so we'll soon get to the bottom of this. Well I mean they're strangers to Maxim and Tia, I'm sure the King and his guard know who they are.

Nope, it turns out that the two crown verifiers are actually a pair of cunning comedy thieves with some kind of cockney sounding accent. That's how it comes across in their text at least, there's no voices in game.

After (finally) being caught out, the thieves react by bragging about their fame, before throwing a lit bomb into the throne room. The King's personal guard reacts by... doing absolutely nothing. Even Maxim and Tia just stare at it for a bit until it blows up in the crown thieves' faces, sending them flying across the room. So that's that sorted out then.

Or so you'd think, as the thieves actually pick themselves up and walk right back over to talk some more. Our heroes take this opportunity to... do absolutely nothing, as the thieves eventually grab the crown and walk out of the room with it unchallenged.

I blame the glowing red ball of light in the sky. It turns lizard men smart, catfish bored and the King's security team really dumb.

Maxim on the other hand is no idiot; he was just biding his time waiting for the crown recovery job to become official so that he could both maximise his reward and have an excuse to raid the castle dungeon for treasure during the pursuit. At least that's how I'm justifying it to myself.

It's all working out pretty well so far for us as well, as I just found this lit bomb lying around in a treasure chest. Anyone else would assume that it's a trap from the thieves and immediately get rid of it, but Maxim's smart enough to figure out that it's another infinite use tool like the arrows, used to open up new paths in levels by destroying cracked walls.

Oh I forgot to mention that I found a bloke in town who kindly explained how this IP system works. Certain items come with a special ability attached to them, for instance Maxim's cloth armour comes with antidote magic. But instead of using MP like regular spells, these skills are fuelled by a character's IP, which builds up during battles as a character takes damage.

Seems like a pretty smart idea to me, as it means I have a second set of spells with a recharging mana pool that fills up faster when I'm getting really thrashed. It also means I have to choose between better armour or better IP skills when I'm shopping for new gear.


A FEW ROOMS LATER.


Wow, I figured the block pushing puzzles would get a little more complex as the game went on, but this is basically a puzzle game right now. Blocks disappear when three of the same colour are lined up adjacent to each other and I have to clear all of them to proceed.

Honestly, I have to say that this is my favourite part of the game so far and I don't even like puzzle games much. It's just more engaging to me than the more than competent but incredibly generic JRPG gameplay.

Seems to me that the gold gem in the middle of the top row is what needs to go first. With that out of the way I can slide the one free purple gem into its place and take out five blocks in one go. Though I'd have to find a way of getting it up there without forming a line of three along the way. I'll figure it out.


A FEW MORE PUZZLES LATER.


I worked out the actual solution in the end, collected the crown from the inept thieves without even a fight, and returned to the King for my reward. It was at this point that things started getting interesting.

So what do I want as my reward? Well 'money' is obviously a trap, as it'll be worth less than 'nothing', because selflessness is always be the correct path in these kinds of games. 'Princess' probably won't lead me to great wealth either, but I'm sure the King will be impressed with Maxim's chutzpah, right before he sends him to be executed. 'King' on the other hand... well, his previous choice of heir turned out to be pretty useless and has turned down the throne in shame, so that leaves an opening for me right? I think that's how a hereditary monarchy works anyway.

Oh okay fine I'll choose 'Princess', seeing as that's what you all want me to go with.

Tia? She means nothing to me.

The King to his credit calmly explains that it is entirely the Princess's choice whom she shall marry, and although she hasn't yet stormed over and slapped me, it's a pretty fair bet that this won't end well. So he offers me 500 gold instead to defuse the situation.

Out of curiosity I loaded my save and tried the other options as well, which I will now spoil for you. Choosing 'money' gets you 2000 gold, choosing 'nothing' gets you 3000, and choosing 'King'... well, it turns out that I didn't quite understand what was being asked for there.

The King is obviously surprised by my request, but he soon admits that he's seriously thinking about handing himself over to me as my reward. Finally I'm going to get a King on my team in a Lufia game! Sadly he was only joking around and I get 1000 gold instead. The bastard... getting my hopes up just to cruelly smash them against the ground for his own amusement. That's it, I'm turning the game off now, let's see how funny he finds that.


Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, from what I've seen so far, basically plays like the original Lufia except with improved battles, a new story, and puzzle dungeons. Well I say a new story, half of it is still based around the hero having arguments with his love interest, and the rest of it seems entirely episodic.

Weirdly if there's one running theme I've spotted in the game so far, it's that men are always too distracted by monsters to appreciate the ones that love them, and women just want to settle down, cook fish, and do laundry (or whatever). Like Lufia it's been as much about relationships as it has about monster slaying in its first couple of hours and to be honest that doesn't much encourage me to see how it develops. The game hasn't given me much reason to even like these people yet, so I'm struggling to care about their issues.

In conclusion... actually I'm struggling to make any conclusions about this game. It's fading from my memory faster than I can type about it. It's a JRPG that came out in 1996 for the Super Nintendo, and it exists. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though I certainly have no strong desire to continue any further with it.

Actually, you know what, I will give it a gold star. Because the JRPG gameplay made the block puzzles seem halfway interesting by comparison. How's that for a backhanded compliment!


I know what you're thinking, 'That's all well and good, but I disagree/agree with everything you just said about the game and I'll like to tell the world!" Well you're in luck my friend, as there is a comment box just below with the capacity to convey your opinions and feelings to the internet entirely free of charge.

7 comments:

  1. The most memorable part of this game for me was the awesome challenge dungeon where you got reset to level 1 when you entered and there were only a finite number of monsters to level off of on each floor of the dungeon. The whole point of the dungeon was to find super treasures that carried over between trips into the dungeon.

    I never finished this game. Because every time I made it to the challenge dungeon I just played it over and over until I got tired of playing the game.

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  2. Nick theres another memorable part and you know it.

    The ability to raise monsters from an egg to a powerful beast.

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    1. Well let me add to this to clarify what I mean.

      You can't do any monster and the first monster egg is given to you (story) and the rest can be found in secret locations. Once they hatch you can make them evolve by feeding them weapons when they ask for them.

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  3. Thank you for the review. I was hoping that you could get to the first fight with a Sinistral, but I know that you're a busy, busy man. There are (at least) four special things in this game which you didn't get far enough to experience, so I'll summarize them briefly for you.

    1. The first fight with Gades (a Sinistral). Even though it's an unwinable fight, if you can beat him, you get a terrific sword which is awesome, and the feeling of accomplishment of having won an 'unwinable' fight is great.

    2. The (first) ending - About 30% of the way through the game, you win a certain battle which the game has been pointing to as the final boss battle. Then the game takes over and run some cutscenes where one of the main characters gets married and lives happily ever after while credits roll, and you actually feel that the game is over... Then, a year passes, and a new bad guy kidnaps the happy couple's baby..., so the heroes set out again, and the game picks right back up. The first time that I played this game, I was 'shocked and awed' by this ending-the-game-on-a happy-note-with-credits-rolling-then-continuing-the-game.

    3. The Ancient Cave - simply AMAZING! This dungeon makes this game almost infinitely replayable and is just nervewrackingly fun (if played without save states).

    4. The character development along with the (real) ending - The game developers did a great job of helping we the gamers 'emote' with the heroes.

    Anyway, this game is my favorite SNES game, and all RPG gamers would do well to play through it.

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    1. A few other people have mentioned to me that I quit just before reaching a good bit, though they all had different ideas of which bit that is. Seems that the game has quite a few things going for it; they just take a while longer to get going.

      I really do try to give games long enough to click with me, but I have to quit playing at some point or else I end up with a 6000 word post that bores every unfortunate soul who dares to read it into a coma, eg. my recent endless Battlefield 3 essay. I'd start getting close to Let's Play territory where I'd have to split it over multiple parts. Plus the longer I spend on one game, the less I can spend on the other games that week.

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  4. Dude, you just unwittingly picked the right order of the series.
    I found it bizarre the Lufia 1's intro, with all the guys overpower in the castle ... ...

    I think the GBA game sucks, has absolutely nothing to do with the main characters.

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