Review: Lufia and the Fortress of Doom

Or, more properly, Lufia and the Fortress of Tedium.

It should be telling that even though I started playing this one early in the summer, only this weekend did I finally finish.

Briefly, Lufia is a wholly unremarkable 16-bit era RPG for the Super Nintendo. I recall hearing good things about its sequel (Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals), but after playing through the original, I can’t say I have much desire to play another game in the series.

The single worst thing about the game is its pervasive flatness, a feature that extends to nearly all aspects of the game. The plot is little more than a series of standard RPG cliches intermixed with annoying fetch quests. There’s only one real plot twist, which at least explains why the came is named Lufia, after one of the characters, in the first place. Besides that, things stay monotonous and predictable, never rising much above heading to town X or dungeon W to locate person Y or item Z. Repeat for many many hours. Without a doubt, anything involving the ship is downright annoying; not only do you need to go on a long series of fetch quests (gee, there’s only seven pieces of Alumina in the world, and guess how many we need to make the ship seaworthy?), but those fetch quests themselves have their own fetch subquests you need to complete.

Your party’s characters are uninteresting. It’s always a bad sign when the hero isn’t even given a default name. Your party gets four characters. The hero, the descendant of the hero who defeated the Sinistrals 99 years ago (and, surprise surprise, they’re back). Lufia, magic user and cliched love interest of the hero. Aguro, whose only real purpose seems to be to give you another guy with a sword. Jerin, a half-elf you need to get through one area and tags along for some reason. Yawn. The dialogue always comes off as flat and emotionless, regardless of what’s going on. Simply put, you’ll never feel any connection to any of the characters.

The places the game takes you through are similarly unexciting. Towns and castles all pretty much look the same. You have two types of dungeons: caves and towers, each of whose graphics are only differentiated by different color schemes. (Oh look, this cave is red instead of blue or brown. That totally hides the fact that it’s built using the exact same sprites.) It’s rare to ever encounter a location that has any personality; the only exception that comes to mind is the titular Fortress of Doom, which at least has its own design and background music.

Speaking of music, I hope you like “overworld theme,” “town theme,” “castle theme,” “dungeon theme,” and “battle theme.” You’ll be hearing them a lot, over and over again. They’re not bad per se (though the castle theme is somewhat grating), but there’s not a whole lot to them. The boss theme and final boss themes actually aren’t too bad, but you don’t hear them very often. The regular battle theme in particular is oddly short and repetitive, especially considering how much time you spend in battle.

Which brings me to another big annoyance with this game: the battles. If you like frequent random encounters, you’re in luck. You’ll often find that it’s impossible to move more than a few squares between battles; especially annoying when you’re on the open sea looking for the next town. (No, you don’t get a map.) The battle system is strange and arbitrary. You don’t get to pick a particular monster to attack, oh no. Instead, you can only pick a monster group to attack; which member of the group actually gets attacked is picked at random. Monster groups are contiguous sequences of identical monsters. No, I can’t figure out how this system is supposed to be at all realistic. It also makes planning out who fights what hit-or-miss, since depending on what actually gets hit, you may not inflict the damage you were hoping for, or you’ll try attacking a monster who’s already dead. At least the top-level battle menu is well-designed, though.

I can’t say that about most of the other menus, however. Especially when working with spells and inventory in the main menu, it’s often hard to figure out where the cursor is. It’s represented by a hand, but all the menu items you’ve selected also have pointing hands next to them. It’s hard to tell at a glance which one is the cursor and which are just pointing out things you’ve already entered. The menus are also inconsistent. You can get a description of what spells do, which is nice, but there’s no similar feature for items. And many items have names that aren’t at all descriptive of what they’re supposed to do. (Think fast: what do you expect an “empty bottle” to do? No, you’re wrong. Apparently you use it to attack.)

There are only a few diversions from the largely linear plot. Not surprisingly, both are fetch quests. One is the Old Cave, where you go to different floors depending on your experience level and search for treasure. The other is collecting Dragon Eggs; for each eight you find, you can get something good. But with the Dragon Eggs, there’s only eight of them in existence at any time. Once you find all eight, they get redistributed throughout the world for you to find again. Call me crazy, but nothing in the game makes me want to go through all the areas again to look for treasure chests with a new item in them, let alone a third time. Not even with a strategy guide that lists where the eggs are located.

So what’s left? The graphics are decent, and enemy sprites are large and fairly detailed. Everything else is fairly standard looking for the 16-bit era: not ugly or anything, but nothing spectacular either.

In short, unless for some reason you’re a big fan of Lufia II (which I assume is somewhat similar), I can’t recommend this game. There are plenty of vastly better RPGs for the Super Nintendo: offhand, I can think of Final Fantasy4, Final Fantasy 6, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, and EarthBound without any effort, and I’m sure there are others I haven’t played. And nothing in Lufia really gives it any personality or makes it stand out from your basic generic 16-bit RPG.

2 Responses

  1. Wow, it sounds like someone went back in time and made RPG World after seeing that comic.

  2. Of course, RPG World spoofs the conventions and cliches of the genre, instead of slavishly following them.

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