Lufia & the Fortress of Doom

The Super NES was the home of many RPGs critics consider to be masterpieces, such as Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger; some players put Taito’s Estpolis series, known as Lufia outside Japan, among the aforementioned titles. The first installment of the series saw its North American release as Lufia & The Fortress of Doom, which very well shows its position as Taito’s first attempt to create a console role-playing-game.

The first Lufia begins with four heroes, Maxim, Selan, Guy, and Artea, infiltrating the fortress on Doom Island to battle with four villains known as the Sinistrals. During this time, the player actually controls the four heroes, getting into random encounters with enemies, although given their high levels, they can easily mop the floor with encountered foes. After the player battles the Sinistrals, the game cuts to roughly a century later with a descendant of Maxim and a mysterious girl named Lufia going on adventures of their own to stop the Sinistrals from wreaking havoc again, with the two meeting a soldier named Aguro and an elf named Jerin along the way.

The game’s random encounter rate is somewhat inconsistent, with players able to increase or decrease this rate respectively with Foul Water and Sweet Water. Combat in Lufia is turn-based, although this review can’t call the battle system traditional, since the mechanisms break from the typical norm where players input commands for all characters and let their characters and the enemies beat each other up in a round. Rather, the player may be able to input commands for a few allies, without the ability to undo them in case they make a mistake, after which a few of the enemies might take their turns, the player then becomes able to input commands for the rest of their characters, and then the characters for whom they first inputted moves may execute their commands.

Aside from this oddity concerning turn order and command input, another flaw in the battle system is that characters can waste attacks against dead enemies, an issue present in the NES installments of the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises, although those particular series fixed this flaw when they transitioned console generations. Winning fights nets all characters that are still alive experience, money, occasional items, and occasional level-ups. If the enemy defeats all the player’s characters, a naked blue fairy revives the protagonist (but not his allies) at the last town where the player saved and steals half of their money.

The loss of half the player’s money upon death can somewhat burden the player early in the game, given the ultimate expense of reviving everyone at churches in towns, although when characters receive revival magic, this financial loss becomes more bearable. Another interesting feature to note is that one character, Jerin, can equip bows, which hit all enemies in a particular group for some reason instead of individual enemies. Given the adjustability of the encounter rate, combat in Lufia is tolerable at best, although there are plenty of areas in which it could have been better.

Leaving more room for improvement, however, is the interface, which, while generally decent, nonetheless feels clunky throughout the game, and takes some getting used to. One quirk is that the menus show how many casts of each spell each character has remaining with their current MP. While the player can check the effects of magic, however, they cannot for some reason check the effects of items unless they refer to a FAQ. Lufia also makes the odd decision of having the player’s characters dash in towns, but walk slowly on the overworld and in dungeons, with the player able to get lost on the former given the lack of any in-game maps. However, the player is able to visit a shrine where they can get a hint on what to do next, although certain parts of the game may require a walkthrough for more convenience. Ultimately, interaction could have been much better.

The story is actually pretty decent for a sixteen-bit RPG, with the protagonist having significance as a descendant of Maxim and a major plot twist involving his friend Lufia, although Aguro and Jerin are largely devoid of development, and there are some parts with poor pacing. The ending is reasonably rewarding and satisfactory, though, and the translation for once helps the game more than hurts, in spite of some Bowdlerization such as removed crosses from churches and occasional narms and awkward dialogue. Ultimately, a decent plot.

The soundtrack is probably the best part of the game, with the town and battle themes being among the strongest tracks, although the sound effects largely lack diversity.

The graphics leave more room for improvement and look somewhat dated even for a sixteen-bit RPG, what with simplistic battle scenery consisting of the player’s characters battling enemies while sitting on status panels, with all floating above the environment of encounter, along with inanimate enemies (which in most cases just jiggle during battle) and buildings containing no rooftops. The colors, however, look decent, although the visuals are still middling.

Finally, beating the game takes somewhere between twenty and thirty hours, with occasional sidequests but no replay value otherwise. Overall, Lufia & The Fortress of Doom is Taito’s first RPG, and definitely shows, what with the oddities in its battle system not to mention plenty of interface issues along with primitive visuals. Despite its flaws, Taito at one point planned to port the game to the Sega Genesis, although said port turned out to be vaporware. Lufia definitely isn’t deserving of the title of one of the greatest RPGs ever made, although its sequel does bear many improvements.

The Good:
+Game is nice to players when they die.
+Decent story and localization.
+Good soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Battle system feels…weird.
-Clunky interface.
-Not much replay value.

The Bottom Line:
Taito’s first RPG, and it shows.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Super NES
Game Mechanics: 6/10
Controls: 4/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 5/10
Localization: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 3/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 20-30 Hours

Overall: 6/10

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