Unfinished Business: Lufia II
Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals checked all the boxes during my initial RPG hunt. A compelling story, awesome sprites, and most importantly, that sweet, sweet turn-based combat (turn-based is supreme and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. As long as it’s my turn).
I wanted to recapture the glory of the first RPG I beat, Chrono Trigger. Keyword being beat, as my first RPG remains a part of my Unfinished Business mission. How’s that for foreshadowing a future article?
Back to Lufia II. I wanted to play it, but I convinced myself I needed to beat Lufia first. Now, those of you familiar with the series know how silly my thought process was, but for the uninitiated, Lufia II is a prequel to Lufia.
I started Lufia, but the beginning didn’t wow me. In retrospect, this is funny because the opening sequence of Lufia is the closing sequence of Lufia II, which I now love. Go figure. Anyway, I don’t know if it was the sprites or the gameplay, but it didn’t scratch my RPG itch.
Surrendering to the idea of playing games out of sequential order—never an issue for the Final Fantasy series, but I wasn’t a thoughtful kid—I began Lufia II. Unfortunately, the damage was done. I had a bad taste in my mouth from Lufia and promptly moved on to other RPGs, many of which are sure to be featured in my Unfinished Business series.
Fast forward to present day, and that RPG itch came back like a bad rash. I needed an ointment. My research brought me to a familiar face: Lufia II.
Determined to give Lufia II a fair chance, I began my journey. When the word Natsume filled my screen, I knew I had made the right decision. I’m kind of in love with their flagship title, Harvest Moon.
After a brief introduction to the Sinistrals, a motley crew of super beings, the player takes control of local hero Maxim. Maxim makes his living as monster hunter, a profession his longtime friend Tia takes issue with. Of course, she has his best interests at heart, but true to life, Maxim doesn’t listen. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve ignored my wife’s concerns about me doing something stupid.
Joking aside, I enjoyed the dynamic between Tia and Maxim. It is clear right from the beginning that Tia has strong feelings for Maxim. While Maxim cares deeply for Tia, she was a friend and nothing more. Their relationship does not move along an expected path. The various twists and turns provide excellent moments of character development for Tia.
The strongest point of Lufia II is the cast of characters and their interactions with each other. Throughout the game, several different characters are introduced to the party, each new member bringing a unique dynamic to the group.
The first person to join Maxim and Tia is Guy. No, I don’t imagine they thought very long on naming him. The tank of the party, Guy offers more than just brute strength. Guy provides comic relief when appropriate, whether it be bickering with his girlfriend, or talking about fighting. Guy respects warriors, and his loyalty to Maxim never waivers.
As the adventure continues, the party encounters Selan. Selan is a formidable warrior and leader of an army. She stands up for those being picked on, notably little girls. Selan provides a strong female presence that acts as a counterpoint to Tia. Whereas Tia is unsure of herself, Selan boasts a confidence that is fully backed up by skill. Every party member throughout the game looks to Selan for inspiration, especially Maxim.
Dekar, another character that joins Maxim on his quest, introduces my favorite party dynamic. Like Guy, Dekar aspires to be the greatest fighter in all the land. Because of this, Guy and Dekar are constantly engaged in sword-measuring competitions. Their banter is always playful and delivers some of the funniest moments in the game.
One of the weaker party members is Lexis. Lexis is a scientist who plays a pivotal role in the progression of the story and the exploration of the worldmap, but despite his importance, Lexis contributes little as a character. I don’t recall any big moments with him, and if they happened, they were not memorable. That being said, I loved his weapons.
The final party member in Lufia II is Artea. Hailing from an Elven society, Artea has an innate distain for humans. It doesn’t take long for Maxim and company to change Artea’s views. He joins the party, contributing a slew of magic to help take down the Sinistrals. As with several of the other characters, Artea butts heads with Guy in an often comical way.
So what brings this cast of characters together? To take down the Sinistrals of course! I know, the plot isn’t ground breaking stuff. A group of big-bads vs. the chosen hero and company; it’s JRPG 101. Thankfully, the strong characters and unexpected arcs pump a whole lot of life into the mostly predictable story.
If you’re anything like me, an RPG’s story may keep you going, but great gameplay is what initially draws you in. Lufia II has great gameplay in spades.
Let’s jump back to the beginning of the game, shortly after Maxim’s initial conversation with Tia. Once given control, you leave Tia’s shop. You can talk to a few people, all of whom accost you for upsetting Tia, before an old man summons your presence at a nearby cave. In a world with growing monster concerns, a cave seems safe.
Once in the cave, the old man introduces the core mechanics of Lufia II, primarily the village-dungeon cycle. Every new village typically has an accompanying dungeon. Essentially, every dungeon is riddled with, well, riddles. The player’s wits are put to the test with environmental obstacles, wordplay, and enemy manipulation.
I’ve been told the puzzles featured in Lufia II are reminiscent of the Zelda series. Having never played any Zelda games (please don’t stop reading), I cannot draw comparison.
Anywho, to solve these puzzles, the player is equipped with a myriad of tools. In the tutorial cave, the old man gives Maxim an arrow. The arrow allows the player to shoot an endless supply of arrows in order to hit targets out of reach, or slow enemies down. A number of other tools are introduced throughout the game with unique attributes and varying interactions with environments and enemies.
Puzzles aren’t the only challenges in a dungeon. Creatures of all types roam the corridors. Much like Chrono Trigger, the enemy is visible before battle, allowing players to approach from strategic angles, or avoid the skirmish all together.
The battle system itself is pretty standard, but there are cool things worth noting. Various items, weapons, or armor may come with a bonus skill the character can use during battle, such as healing or elemental attacks. Each character has an IP bar that fills up each time they are attacked. Once full, these skills can be used again.
A handful of characters are capable of casting magic. The magic system is a bit different from others I’m familiar with. Unlike many RPGs, magic is not learned through leveling up. Scrolls are purchased from a store and taught to magic users. Unfortunately, this could mean buying the same scroll for different characters.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the magic system is the ability to choose how many enemies to cast it on. Several RPG’s have some variation of casting a spell on one or all enemies. Being able to select the exact number of targets adds a new layer of tactics. However, damage is reduced with each additional target.
There is plenty more to do in Lufia II outside of dungeon crawling. Scattered around the world are creatures known as Capsule Monsters. Think of Capsule Monsters as Pokémon-Lite. Each Capsule Monster has elemental properties that can aid you during battle. They act as a fifth party member that can attack, heal, and gain experience, however, you cannot control them.
If the Capsule Monster dies during battle, don’t fret, they’ll be back for the next round. To keep them from dying, you feed them different items until they—for lack of a non-Pokémon term—evolve. Capsule Monsters are completely optional, but using the right monster at the right time can turn the tides of battle.
I’d be remiss to not mention the most talked about additional content in Lufia II: the Ancient Cave. The Ancient Cave is the ultimate dungeon. There are 99 floors, increasing in difficulty throughout the descent. If you’re thinking, “I’ll just memorize each floor and cheese my way to the bottom,” you’d be wrong. The floors are randomly generated each time you attempt the cave, making it nearly impossible to “know” where to go. To make matters worse, the party members reset to level 1, so don’t bother grinding before attempting the Ancient Cave.
Some of the best items in the game are hidden in the Ancient Cave. Found in blue chests, these are the only items that won’t be lost upon exiting the cave. Those items found in red chests, healing, buffs, etc., will disappear when leaving the cave.
The Ancient Cave is a fascinating concept that makes Lufia II truly unique. It’s one of the first things mentioned in most discussions about the game. The challenge, high stakes, and tactics are all alluring draws that keep players digging deeper. It is not uncommon to spend upwards 15-20 hours in the Ancient Cave. There are entire websites and walkthroughs dedicated to conquering this dungeon. There are forums full of discussions of the best party configuration, or which Capsule Monster to bring along.
I think the Ancient Cave is the main reason Lufia II is ranked alongside the RPG greats. No other game boasts such a trial.
Now is as good of a time as any to mention that I barely touched the Ancient Cave. I know, between this revelation and not playing Zelda, I lost a lot of gaming cred. I didn’t blow past it completely though. I did a few floors, got some items, and solved some puzzles. I was already over 20 hours into the game, and I knew if I had to play for much longer, I’d never finish the game (there’s a reason I’m doing a series for beating RPGs). Besides, I was grinding so much, I didn’t need the very best items.
That being said, I appreciate the inclusion of the Ancient Cave. If my backlog wasn’t deeper than this cave, I would have gladly lost myself in it. For now, I will appreciate it from a design aspect.
Lufia II is a great RPG. It’s a straightforward story that is saved by strong character development and thoughtful gameplay elements. I encourage anyone looking for a classic JRPG experience to look no further than Lufia II. My only suggestion is that you be smarter than I was and skip the first installment. Besides, it spoils the ending for Lufia II.
What are your experiences with Lufia II? How deep did you get in the Ancient Cave? Tell me all about it in the comments!