Lufia II is probably the best sequel, to the worst game, ever made. It is as if the sequel to Final Fantasy 1 was Final Fantasy VI, it’s that much of a jump in quality. It is a classic standing toe-to-toe with other masterpieces such as Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG and Final Fantasy III. The developers obviously put a lot of love and care into the game because just about everything from the first game is gone, improved upon, or changed for the better. Characters are no longer reduced to tropes and are actually fully realized with fleshed out development. Released in 1995 in Japan and 1996 in the west by Taito, it holds its own against the powerhouses released by Square around the same time receiving a 30/40 in Famitsu and 90% in Gamefan Magazine.
The games takes a page out of Final Fantasy IV’s book in that you have a revolving cast of characters that join, and leave your party at prescribed moments, all for different reasons. Maxim, the forefather of the hero from the first game is your typical honorable protagonist, in battle he is well rounded as a strong attacker and competent healer. His girlfriend Tia is the weapon shop owner and your typical mage, she has the weakest attack in the game but can cast extremely powerful magic. She’s sweet and loveable and I find myself rooting for her, but I know that her romance is doomed. Guy is a fellow monster hunter and devoted to his sister; he is an extremely strong fighter, but unable to use any magic. Selan joins as the commander of the army of Parcelyte and she’s a bit rough around the edges and fails to get along with the party at first, but it doesn’t take long for her to grow to respect and eventually befriend the group. As the game progresses she marries Maxim and becomes the mother of his child and she will be your main spell caster for the second half of the game. Dekar is the self proclaimed “greatest warrior of the land”, the most powerful attacker in the game, but he doesn’t have much of a brain to back it up. He and Guy get into quite a few arguments over who is the more powerful warrior. Lexis Shaia joins the party briefly and he is about as useful as you would expect a scientist to be. As a caster he is ok and as an attacker... he is better than Tia, but at least he builds you a submarine. The last party member to join, Artea, is an elf, who apparently goes by Arty while in the menu screen. He’s really good, able to cast all kinds of spells and even some light based spells that Selan can’t use and on top of that, his bows attack all enemies!
The antagonists, while not as well fleshed out as their counterparts, are still well done for their time. The sinistrals appear, hence the subtitle of the game, but for the most part they just serve as an excuse for a boss fight. Real development occurs in the form of Erim, the Sinistral of Death, I’m not going to spoil anything here, but there aren’t just “Big Baddies” to deal with, there are smaller fry that your party encounters as well, the most memorable being Berty and Bart, an extremely incompetent duo of thieves who even Dekar is able to outsmart. They remind me of Liz and Ard from Wild Arms 2, if any of you out there have played that gem.
Lufia II is a prequel to Lufia and as such a bit of the ending was revealed in the opening of the first game. But, the story is so well told, with many twists and turns, that it doesn’t matter if you already know the outcome before beginning the game. It also helped that Lufia didn’t sell all that well so the majority of the players, myself included, only played the first Lufia after having played, and loved, Lufia II. It’s a shame though, because after playing the masterpiece that is Lufia II, I’m sure most people were disappointed by the first. The game opens with Maxim, resident swordsman for hire, living peacefully with his girlfriend, Tia, the local shopkeeper, in the small town of Elcid. Things all change one day when Iris walks into his life and he learns about the dark appearance of the sinistrals. The story has a sense of foreboding for anyone who has played the original, but overall the adventure is lighthearted. Party members bicker over stupid things, like how much salt to put in a dish or who is the stronger warrior. A nice touch is watching the relationship between Maxim and Selan grow and blossom into marriage, the only similar game I can think of is that does this is Dragon Quest V, but here its a bit nicer because the characters are more fleshed out - though it would have been nice to be able to choose between Tia and Selan - but I can see why the developers wouldn’t, or couldn’t, go that route.
The visuals are very nicely done and the soundtrack is whimsical. I love the overworld theme, but there really should have been more dungeon tracks considering you’re stuck in there for 75% of the game. Speaking of dungeons, while encounters on the over world are random, those in the dungeons are on-screen and each time you move or take an action, the monsters move as well. So, you could fight all the monsters if you want, or avoid them with careful movement. One thing that I think really ages many older games is their walking speed. They almost beg for a fast forward feature. You will not have that problem in Lufia II though, Maxim speeds around like The Flash and it’s glorious!
The dungeons are also chock full of devious puzzles from block pushing to lever pulling. They are really well done and the games does a good job of spacing them out throughout the dungeon and giving you clues on how to solve them. Similar to Zelda, the party gains tools to use in order to solve puzzles, such as fire arrows, bombs and hook shots. Equally nice, if you screw up too much you can just cast a spell to refresh it with no penalty. Another homage to Zelda is that typically there is a “Boss Key” you have to find in order to fight the boss and move on from the dungeon. The one gripe that I do have about the dungeons and overworld is that there is no “illusion” of non-linearity that other JRPGs seem to have mastered. It is quite literally town, dungeon, town, dungeon, for about 2/3 of the game.
The battle system is your standard turn based affair but with a slight twist - the IP system. This unique system, which I haven’t seen copied in any subsequent games, is quite ingenious. For the most part each piece of equipment has a unique ability attached to it, be it healing, attacking or support. You can only use the abilities of those items you have equipped. Each ability takes up a certain percentage of your IP gauge and the gauge only fills up as you take hits in battle. It’s similar to a limit break system but more strategic in that you have about 5 choices of what abilities to use and you have to make strategic decisions about what you actually want to equip - the powerful weapon with no ability, or the weaker weapon with the kick-ass ability? I have found myself changing equipment around because one character didn’t have any good abilities and I wanted to be able to put his IP attacks to good use.
Another unique addition are the capsule monsters; AI controlled monsters who fight alongside you as a fifth party member. There are seven in all, each aligned to a different element and you have to find them all; a fun side quest. For the most part they’re very helpful and there’s no reason NOT to use them, unlike in Lufia IV, but they can be annoying in a few respects. First of all, in order to get more powerful they need to evolve which they can only do by feeding them the proper equipment - the only problem with this is that the game is bugged! Monsters will crave certain items but when you feed them those items it’s a crap shoot on whether they will like it or not - it’s very frustrating to find a rare item, see the monster craving it, feed it to him, only for him to say it’s disgusting and gain nothing for it and to top it all off, you lose the item! Secondly, many of the monsters are found far too late in the game to be viable, considering they all start on level one. I pretty much use Foomy, the neutral monster who you find first for the entire game and the light monster who can heal for special circumstances, such as the Ancient Cave.
The Ancient Cave is no longer the dark, dank, swamp infested shithole of the first game, but is instead a joy to behold and very fun to play. When you enter you are stripped of all your levels, items, spells and equipment; you are then goaled with the task of reaching the 100th floor in one go. This is similar to a roguelike and quite the daunting task, it’s not impossible though, and I’ve done it, though it does take quite some time. Interspersed throughout the cave are red chests, (items you can keep only in the dungeon) blue chests (special equipment only found in the cave which you can take with you after you leave the dungeon) and Iris treasures which are kind of like trophies, they are there just for decoration and completions sake. The only way to leave the cave, either than dying, is to complete it fully or find and use the “Providence” item, which is found around the 20th floor. Towards the end of the cave unique monsters will appear, such as dragons, but the ultimate boss - harder than the final boss of the game - is Master, a giant red slime (the weakest enemy in the game). Anyway, if you manage to defeat Master in 4 turns, or just suicide yourself, you gain the ancient key and an Iris Treasure. The key just allows you to open a door in the Gruberik lobby, so it’s pretty much useless and only there for bragging rights.
There are a few changes to the American version, all crosses were removed, bunny girls in the casino were removed as well and a puzzle in Gordovan Tower was completely removed, because it involved moving blocks into the shape of a (horror of horrors!) cross. Also, a floor in the Treasure Sword Shrine was completely glitched and is very difficult to navigate, though this was fixed in the European version.
Upon completing the game there is a “new game plus” feature where you go through the game earning 4x more experience, fully eliminating the need for grinding and if you complete the game again, you open up “gift mode” which allows you to just play the Ancient Cave but you can choose which party members you bring into the cave with you, including the “best” party, Maxim, Guy, Dekar and Artea. I love Lufia II, it is easily in my top five best SNES games, it’s a crying shame that the sequels didn’t build off of Lufia II’s accomplishments and instead tried in vain to do their own thing. But that’s another video, for another day.