Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals (SNES) Review

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Review by tankMage (February 2018)

Score: A- (9.4/10)

  Lufia II is one of the best Super Nintendo RPGs I’ve played to date and came within a hair’s breadth of getting an A out of me. Anyone who likes puzzle filled dungeons, loads of cool items/abilities, side quests, vintage 16-bit graphics, and a musical score that manages to distill the sound of it’s era while still being novel is likely to love this game. Even the story, which has more than a few eccentricities, got me invested enough in the plot and cast to leave a lasting imprint on my memory. Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals may be a classic, but it also suffers from a few problems that may give players pause, so to speak. The translation, while in some ways well interpreted, was full of mistakes as well instances of censorship that are peculiar in our day and age. On top of that, the game is a highly conventional JRPG. There’s also a ton of bugs in this game, some of which are very noticeable. So, with that said, let’s take a closer look at Lufia 2

Story

   The overall plot is nothing special when looked at from afar. Evil gods known as Sinistrals have set out to conquer the world and only Maxim, swordsman of a backwater town called Elcid can stop them. Sure, all of this sounds familiar, but there’s more than meets the eye with Lufia II. For example, Arek, the head Sinistral seems to have his own agenda and the game has a few twists and poignant moments, which will be left out of this review to avoid spoiling the story. Of course, there’s a lot of the same old same old “let’s go here, because reasons!” plot elements that pop up, but there’s also some fairly humorous dialogue and likable characters. In fact Lufia II’s cast and emotional impact really set it apart from a lot of RPGs, since its protagonists are often slightly flawed and even irrational at times, which makes them all the more human.

Ummm what?

   Lufia II’s story is often harmed by it’s translation, however, which is sloppy and censored. First of all, the dialogue was translated quite well for the most part aside from a few strangely worded sentences and inconsistencies in the spelling of certain names. For example, the name of a major character, Arty is sometimes spelled “Artea” which can make things a bit confusing. In what was perhaps one of the final gasps of Nintendo’s strict policies against the use of religious terminology or potentially adult themes (Which seems to have returned as of late) the Sinistrals are often referred to as super beings, even though it becomes obvious they are actually gods later in the game thanks to some lines that weren’t fully censored. Religious symbols were also removed in a half hearted manner, with many of those that appear at certain points remaining intact. Oddly enough, they also left in a scene that depicted several dead villagers, some of which were children, which one would think Nintendo would consider to be too edgy. While the dialogue is pretty good overall, things like item and ability descriptions were translated very poorly. In fact some monster names are laughable, with words like Golem spelled as “Gorem”. Of course, many of these mistakes can make some aspects of the game confusing, which isn’t so funny.

Graphics

   Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals never really impressed me in terms of graphics, but it is better looking than a lot of SNES RPGs. The character sprites for the heroes and NPCs are good looking, but after examining the in-battle hero sprites a bit, I got the impression the artist used the same template for everyone from the poses, which is pretty normal, but they could have tried to make it less obvious. This robbed the game of some of its character, sadly. The monsters were the usual, dragons, spiders, and other nasties one expects to meet in an RPG, though this is offset by the fact that the enemy roster is pretty big. Some of the creatures were drawn better than others, but overall, they have their own style. Before we continue, I want to point out that these criticisms are minor and only detract from the game slightly. In some cases they are actually amusing and lend it charm.

Quite possibly the best looking spell in the game.

   Players will encounter a variety of dungeons and towns, all of which look like the devs attempted to make look diverse, though the towns are all very similar. Dungeon tiles also get recycled frequently, but this seems to be due to the limitations of cartridge space, considering the size of the game. The world map is also strangely uniform, lacking the usual arctic areas and desserts one expects to encounter in an RPG, which sets this game apart in a funny way, since many RPGs from this era had players visiting various climates. Unfortunately, looking at the same scenery gets boring and it would have been nice to see some variation in terms of settings.

   Spell and weapon effects were a little underwhelming as well, especially when compared to some more notable SNES RPGs and I also encountered some visual eccentricities that were just silly. Then there’s the spell effects which weren’t great, but they were not bad either. In fact some of them were quite impressive, mainly those of higher tier spells like Destroy and Thunder. Weapons in this game do not have unique sprites, which was a let down, but not unusual for the time. The devs did include a variety of impact effects for weapons, which look pretty good even though they tend to clash with whatever the character happens to be depicted holding in his or her hand. Imagine Arty, who is shown holding a sword, swinging at a target and an arrow effect pops up, you basically have an idea of how funny this game looks at times. Some of the Sinistrals are kind of weird looking too; Gades looks like his face is made of silly putty and Erim’s nose must be a repurposed safety cone to name a few, though I think these were simply unusual artistic devices that didn’t suit the game. Finally, ships in Lufia II are roughly the size of a character sprite, which hilariously summons up images of the heroes piling into a ship as if it were a clown car.

User Interface

   Here’s a SNES game that got just about everything right as far as input and menu systems go. Moving, opening boxes, and inputting battle commands all work fine; Maxim even walks at a good clip which is a nice change from RPG characters that stumble around at a snail’s pace. The menus are simple and beautifully arranged as well, requiring the player to navigate a minimal number of screens to get what he or she needs. One can also rapidly input commands in combat thanks to the structure of the battle menu which allows the player to select an action by pressing a single direction of the D-Pad and hitting the A button. An auto-battle feature for random fights would have really set this game off and made grinding less tedious, but considering the sloppy UIs I’ve seen over the years, I’m not going to fret over the devs leaving out what is more or less a luxury.

Music and Sound

   Lufia II’s soundtrack is not often mentioned as one of the greats of it’s era, though it should be held in high esteem. Many of the songs are rather standard as 16-bit JRPG compositions go, but there’s an underlying passion to them that imparts them with a haunting sense of drama. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is pretty slim and some of the songs are played ad nauseam, which is often the case in dungeons. The sound effects are excellent and enhance everything from selecting items to casting spells.

Gameplay

   Lufia II’s true strength lies in it’s gameplay, which fuses ideas from other popular titles and was ahead of its time in some respects. Dungeons do not have random battles, instead enemies are visible on screen and can be avoided or attacked from behind. Players will also have to solve a variety of imaginative puzzles to progress through each stage, which is reminiscent of Legend of Zelda. In fact Lufia II is one of the few titles I’ve played since I started reviewing games that was actually able to implement puzzle based dungeons effectively. Many games have players constantly pushing around boulders or stepping on switches to open doors, but this title gives players tools like bombs, flaming arrows, and chain hammers to solve a variety of creative puzzles. In some cases players have to lure monsters onto switches or replicate musical jingles to open doors, other puzzles require the player to use their tools to reach platforms or open doors. Of course, it is painfully obvious that many ideas, such as blowing holes in walls with bombs were lifted directly from Legend of Zelda, but the devs did a good job copying Zelda’s ideas where others failed and the product is a great game that stands on is its own.

   While the puzzle dungeons are novel for a turn based RPG, the actual flow of the game is fairly standard. Players will move from town to dungeon, buying weapons, killing monsters, and fighting bosses. You’ll even get a ship and eventually an airship, so it’s all pretty basic if you are familiar with the genre. The devs didn’t want things to be boring however, so they threw in a ton of cool things like a special attack system, capsule monsters, and even a bonus dungeon that is 99 floors deep. The special attack system, known as Ikari Skills (I think) works much like Final Fantasy VII’s a Limit Breaks Break that become available as the player takes damage, which places Lufia II ahead of it’s time by a couple of years. In fact, Ikari Skills are better fleshed out (if not graphically impressive) since there are dozens of them and they come included with weapons and armor, which makes this game’s item list even more interesting.

Well, this is different.

   Capsule Monsters are optional fifth party members that operate autonomously. Each CM (capsule monster) represents an element and they all have attacks based on their element. The cool thing about CMs is that they heal or revive from death automatically after battle, so the player does not have to worry about them. CMs can also be upgraded by feeding them old gear, which is interesting, but the process can get tedious, since you either have to guess what will count towards an upgrade it or trot around the globe buying items they request.

   Finally there’s the Ancient Cave, a bonus dungeon that is made up of procedurally generated floors. The player’s level will drop to 1 and he or she will lose all of their items upon entering the Ancient Cave. Along the way you’ll fight enemies and find treasures, some of which can be taken out of and into the dungeon again. Overall the Ancient Cave is an interesting bonus, being a game within the game, but it’s based on rogue-likes such as Nethack which are far more complex, so it may not impress hardcore fans of the genre. It is also impossible to save within the Ancient Cave, so you’ll need a good eight hours to play through it unless you intend to use an emulator or keep your SNES on all night. Needless to say, I’m not fond of the lack of save feature in the Ancient Cave, but it is a nice bonus that adds a good bit of replay value to the game. There are more side quests in this title, but I’ll leave them as a surprise.

   So far this portion of the review has been primarily positive and it bears mentioning that Lufia 2 has a few problems, which are relatively minor. For starters, the towns are tiny and there is little to see aside from the usual shops and NPCs. Furthermore, while there’s a lot of cool stuff in this game, it isn’t exactly innovative and there’s nothing that really sets it apart from any other JRPG. Even the bonus dungeon is reminiscent of Japanese Rogue-likes, though the fact that it uses a traditional turn based battle engine makes the Ancient Cave somewhat unique. There’s also a casino that offers special items in exchange for tokens won playing the slots, but the odds of winning are miserably low and the player may as well just buy the tokens with money earned from fighting monsters. Lufia II is also quite linear, which made it feel a bit behind the times in an age where games were becoming increasingly open ended.

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs

   Bugs are not uncommon in video games. More modern titles are often patched in order to fix problems, but cartridge based releases didn’t have that luxury and customers were sometimes stuck with seriously flawed products, which is not quite the case with Lufia II fortunately. However, players will encounter a number of very noticeable glitches, especially if they are playing the North American version, which is known for it’s bugs. Most of the glitches are very minor, such as a few enemies that don’t use all of their abilities or text that overlaps of the status screen in certain situations, but a few can be problematic. There’s the infamous “Level 0” bug that occurs when the player changes the game’s sound mode in the options screen, which sets Maxim’s a level to 1 and the rest of the party’s level to 0 along with several other strange effects. Another notable bug is a glitched out area that is completely black, luckily it is a very small place that is easy to pass through, but this is the sort of bug that should have been caught. Oddly enough, some of the more bizarre bugs make this title more interesting, especially in the case of the Level 0 glitch, but they can also cause trouble for unsuspecting players.

Final Thoughts

   The Super Nintendo is home to a lot of popular 16-Bit RPGs and Lufia II is one of the games that helped make the SNES great, but it also sits on the sidelines, obscured by better known titles. Of course, that’s not to say Lufia is not well known, but it’s certainly not mentioned as one of the great SNES RPGs as often as some other games, which is no wonder, considering how conventional this game is and the numerous bugs that affect gameplay.

Recommendations

Play Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals for the SNES if you like 16-Bit JRPGs, it’s worth your time.

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