Off the heels of the relatively popular Lufia II, gamers were waiting with bated breath for another amazing sequel to the saga of Doom Island. They were to get their answer with the release of Lufia: Ruins Chasers for the PlayStation! Slated for release in 1999, the game, much like Maxim and Selan, was doomed from the start. The developer, Nihon Flex, declared bankruptcy in 1998 and the game was put on hold. However, not all was lost, in 1999 development began again by Neverland, but this time for the Game Boy Color. Considering the PlayStation game was only 20% developed, Neverland pretty much scrapped most of the story and characters from Ruins Chasers and started anew. The end result was Lufia: The Legend Returns released in 2001. While I do enjoy the game, and it’s premise, you can tell that they rushed it, because it does have a fatal flaw, random dungeons.
Every time you enter a dungeon they are randomly generated except for the first and last floors but each dungeon has a set amount of floors you have to traverse before you reach the end. This means that dungeon crawling is more monotonous than ever because a tower feels like a cave and feels like a ruins. Everything is the same. Treasures are random as well, though the game does a good job of getting certain treasures in certain dungeons so you will always get them. Not everything is random thankfully, the encounter system still remains the same as Lufia II with on-screen enemies.
With all that said, lets talk about our heroes -and there’s a lot of them, 13 in all, though only 9 can participate in battle at one time. Wain is the red headed hero, a Lufia staple. He excels at attacking, but can heal adequately as well. Seena, a fortune teller whom Wain meets, knows a lot about the world and the sinistrals. She helps Wain throughout their journey and can cast both healing and attack magic. Dei is your resident “Robin Hood” thief and learns the associated skills. Aima is a monk who joins you once you rescue her teacher from bandits. Randolph is an elderly knight and guardian of the exiled princess Melphis who joins you on a mission to help her kingdom, he is a glass cannon and she is a great healer. Mousse is an uncontrollable capsule monster who basically just adds a 4th attack each round, a great help. Deckard is a powerful pirate with a mysterious past and Ruby is a gambler with luck based skills and attacks. Yurist, a wandering bard who is pretty well rounded and excels at healing and Isaac, an inventor with status based attacks team up with you. Milka, a minor NPC from the first two games is now finally upgraded to full fledged party member, she is your token elf and finally, there is one more secret character as well, but I won’t spoil that here.
The story takes place 100 years after the events of Lufia and the sinistrals are once again reviving. Wain lives quietly in his hometown until a mysterious woman, Seena, arrives. Seena is looking for powerful warriors to join her on her fight against the growing threat of the sinistrals but Wain wants nothing to do with her until his hometown is attacked by Gades, the Sinistral of Destruction. Wain and Seena then set off on a journey around the world to gather other powerful warriors to destroy the sinistrals once and for all.
The battle system is completely changed, and it’s actually quite refreshing, no other game has anything like it. Nine characters are available to fight in the party at one time and they are divided into a 3 x 3 grid. Each combat phase one character per column may act and though all characters can be targeted by the enemies it’s game over if the 3 characters up front all die. Also, in addition to positioning, there is Spiritual Force to consider. Each character has a different color of Spiritual Force: red, green, blue or yellow and each provides a bonus to different stats. Red increases strength; blue, intelligence; green, HP and defense; and yellow agility and MP. The spiritual force of characters can also pass between them based on their formation - characters in the same row and column share their spiritual energy so they can pass their powerups between each other.
The skill system is a bit more traditional this time around. Scattered around dungeons are Ancient scrolls which allow different characters to learn unique skills which can only be used when the IP meter has filled up enough. However, to learn them you need enough learning points (LP) which you gain along with experience and gold from battles. LP’s aren’t just used for learning skills though, they can also be spent on learning magic or increasing a character’s spiritual force. The higher spiritual force a character has, the more advanced skills they can learn.
The Ancient Cave is back and it works the same way as before, except this time if you beat the Master, another 100 floors opens up and if you reach the 200th level, you get to fight a super secret boss from the previous game. Also, the Dragon Egg side quest is back, as well as the Forfeit Island Casino and new game plus mode - there is a ton of game play packed into such a little cart! I really like Lufia III though many will find that the battle system can be a bit daunting and the graphics dated - it looks like a late generation NES game. Those willing to look past that will find a diamond in the rough!