Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
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The original Lufia & The Fortress of Doom didn’t exactly set the world on fire upon its release back in 1993, given its rather generic disposition, although it and the subsequent installments of Taito’s Estpolis series have developed something of a cult following, with its loyal followers sometimes ranking it equal to Squaresoft, later Square-Enix’s, Final Fantasy series. Towards the end of the Super NES’s lifespan came its first sequel, translated outside Japan as Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, which paradoxically takes the franchise one step forward and one step backward.

One area in which the franchise took a step forward overall with its second installment was the battle mechanics. Encounters are still random on the overworld, with a much lower rate, although in dungeons, monsters are visible wandering about, with the player able to freeze and safely move past them with one of Maxim’s acquirable tools. An encounter takes players to a separate screen for turn-based combat, with Lufia II following the more traditional structure of allowing players to input commands for all their characters from the get-go and letting them and the enemy beat each other up in a round, a step above the first game’s random turn order and command input.

Commands include attacking normally, defending, using magic, using an item, rearranging front and back row positions, and escaping, the last command working more often than not. A difference from the first Lufia is that the player acquires magic not through leveling, but rather by purchasing it from magic shops within towns, with most of the playable characters able to use it. One flaw retained from the first game, however, is the general sluggishness of command execution, although the player can occasionally exploit elemental weaknesses to make fights go by faster. Lamentably, the sequel lacks scan magic, forcing players to memorize which specific enemies are weak to whatever elements.

An additional feature is Capsule Monsters, which the player may find occasionally in a dungeon. In addition to leveling up alongside the player’s party, they can feed it equipment and fruits to gradually grow it into more powerful forms, although figuring out which fruits are necessary to evolve them into their most powerful forms requires a guide and plenty of experimentation since evolving them requires them to be in specific form levels. Ultimately, combat is a step above that in the first game, although the sequel lamentably ditches the system where the player returns to town with half their gold if they die in the middle of a dungeon, with save points sometimes poorly-spaced. Still, the battle system helps the game more than hurts.

Combat isn’t terribly difficult, although much of the sequel’s difficulty comes in the form of puzzles the player must solve in order to advance through most dungeons, with several acquirable tools being necessary to do so at times. In fact, Lufia II would have been an absolute nightmare to play before the advance of online FAQs and walkthroughs, given the specific solutions to particular puzzles, with the vast majority being unskippable. The regular interface, however, is a step above that in the original Lufia, with easy menus and shopping, although the sequel, like its predecessor, often does a lousy job telling players how to advance the main story. There is also an unfortunate lack of in-game maps such as one for the overworld, which would have made navigation between towns far easier. Ultimately, interaction is average at best.

Story-wise, the second Lufia is a prequel to the first, taking place about a century before its events, and focusing on Maxim and the allies he acquires throughout the game. Aside from a solid conclusion, the actual backstory of Maxim and his companions isn’t terribly exciting, with some occasional inconsistencies such as completely different towns, although the plot was better than average for a sixteen-bit RPG. The translation, however, is a step down from the first game, with plenty of script errors, monster names such as “Gorem” and “Hidora”, and occasional Bowdlerization such as replacing all occurrences of “gods” with “super-beings,” which makes the dialogue sound completely awkward, and a half-assed purging of religious symbols such as crosses (which still show up in destroyed towns).

The soundtrack is easily the best part of the sequel, with most tracks being Suspiciously Similar Songs of its predecessor’s tracks, although they’re of much better quality, with sound effects being decent, as well, though some tracks such as the regular battle system can become repetitive.

The graphics are also a step above the first games, with better-looking environs and battle graphics, although the only animation foes have is jiggling similar to the first game.

Finally, the sequel takes around twenty to thirty hours to complete, with decent replayability in the form of a “Retry” mode where the characters level faster, making a secondary playthrough generally a breeze. Overall, Lufia II is in many respects a solid sequel, given its solid game mechanisms, story, music, and graphics, although some aspects take a bit of a step backward, such as the insolvability of many puzzles and especially the translation. It certainly wasn’t one of the best RPGs of the sixteen-bit era, although it was definitely better than many other games of the time.

The Good:
+Decent battle system.
+Solid music and graphics.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Battles can be slow.
-Puzzles can be unsolvable without a guide.
-Awful localization.

The Bottom Line:
A decent sequel.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Super NES
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 5/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 20-30 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

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