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CONSOLE: Game Boy Color DEVELOPER: Neverland PUBLISHER: Natsume
RELEASE DATE (NA): September 20, 2001 GENRE: RPG
// review by SoyBomb

The Loof! The Loof! The Loof is on FIRE!

If and when I become a father, I would name my daughter "Lufia". And why not? Lufia is a perfectly valid name that exhibits strength yet compassion, wisdom yet humility, confidence yet... errrm... blue hair. Yes, these are the qualities I would want in a child, and these were the characteristics of the original Lufia, as featured in the first game of the series, "Lufia and the Fortress of Doom" for the SNES. Granted, there hasn't been any characters named Lufia in any subsequent games, but that hasn't stopped her values and her virtues to live on, both in name and in character. Plus, can you imagine having a kid named Lufia? That'd be tite!

Ah, yes, the Lufia series. One of the mainstay RPGs of the SNES era, Lufia did all it could to hold its own against the likes of fellow turn-based brethren Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, Chrono Trigger, and (in Japan) Dragon Quest. After two tough adventures on the SNES, the series took a turn to portables (where it has since resided comfortably up to the present day) with Lufia: The Legend Returns on Game Boy Color. That name indicated to me that perhaps she would return, the great Lufia whose name graces every release but rarely appears. Alas, it wasn't meant to be — no Loof! But the "legend" part is indeed present: this game is set 100 years after the events of Lufia and the Fortress of Doom, where Maxim and the real Lufia bravely fought against the four Sinistrals. Referring to the events of the previous two games as the Doom Island Wars (in an introductory scene that is as lengthy as it is boring), we're met with Wain, the quintessential flame-haired young lad (can't have a Lufia game without one), who immediately meets with a blue-haired fortune reader, Seena, and gets ticked off by her attitude before setting off to battle monsters outside of town. I'm starting to think that every RPG town has monsters in its outskirts; that must be prime feeding territory. Of course, it's not just the grimy creatures (mostly Dragon Quest Slime wannabes) causing havoc: turns out the Sinistrals are coming back! Who would have guessed? Though their trip to the Tower of Death, they discover Gades, the first of four, and although they are decimated by his power, Wain (as in Wain Newton) and Seena vow to defeat him. And so, the legend of the Sinistrals returns.

And the legend of a girl named Lufia ever existing does NOT return.

At first glance, this seems like your standard RPG fare. Our buddy Wain and his motley crew venture from town to town, gathering information and allies alike, and then visit the nearest cave or tower to fight monsters and rid the lands of its invading evil. You buy new weapons, armor, and items, and you sell the old stuff for a pittance. The more you fight, the more you level up and improve your character's stats. We've been down this road a thousand times.

But there are a few aspects that separate Lufia: The Legend Returns from its fellow role-playing chums. The first is your party configuration as a whole. Many RPGs these days do give you a wide range of party members, but you can only bring three or four into the action at a time. Lufia tries to change that by letting you bring NINE at a time. That's a little more than the average, and it makes the game sound as though it will be a cakewalk with that arsenal up your arsenal, but that's not the case. Your nine party members are set up like a 3x3 square (and you get to choose who goes where); characters closer to the front (top) are more effective than the ones at the bottom, who deal less damage to the enemy. Didn't notice much of a change in how much damage they took at the back; everyone got fried. In battle, you can only choose one member from each column to participate in each turn, so there's a strategy to be had, whether you want a healer in the back to pull out their magic or perhaps you're ready for an all-out frontal assault. The choice is up to you.

Say there, trav'ler! You want to use special skills in battle? Great! But you're not going to just going to learn them out of thin air like in some games. You can only get them one of two ways: buy 'em or find 'em. Some churches not only let you save your progress there, but you can also buy handy spells! Magic churches! Huzzah! But Lufia: The Legend Returns introduces a couple of new systems that closely correlate to increase your power.

Justice shall be attained against evil beings and bootleg Pokémon knockoffs!

One such new system is the discovery of Ancient Texts, hidden in pretty much any dungeon you can find, and in fairly generous quantities. By reading these texts, characters can learn IP Techniques, or in layman's terms, "skills". Not every party member can absorb the contents of each Ancient Text; some skills are limited to specific party members. IP Techniques are somewhat invaluable, as they add to your bag of dirty tricks against enemies, though you have a severe limit as to how often you can use them. The number of IP points (limited to a maximum of 100) needed to perform a move vary, and they only restore themselves through battle, either by fighting well or by taking a beating. Still, certain ones, like the six-smack Scatter Hit, have saved my butt in tough times.

Ah, but if only learning these skills were as easy as reading a crumpled scroll. Wouldn't life be sweet? Noap. If you don't have enough Spiritual Force points, you can't learn an IP Technique. They just couldn't have made it simple. Alright... *another deep breath* Spiritual Force is basically a power that makes little sense in the grand scheme of things, but you need it to improve yourself. It comes in four snappy colours (red, green, blue, and yellow), but they don't... really... represent... anything. Upgrading each character's Spiritual Force (using — and I swear I don't even want to believe this — ANOTHER type of point system) will allow them to meet the requirements for learning IP Techniques, as each Ancient Text tells you how many SF you need. As well, in battle, having two folks with high SF of a similar colour next to each other will boost their abilities.

I think I just wrote something extremely complicated and confusing. The TL;DR Version: Need Spiritual Force to learn special skills and boost ally power. There. Done. Ba-da-boombox.

Lastly, Lufia: The Legend Returns also brings upon randomized dungeons. And when I say "randomized dungeons", I mean it. Seriously, if you're in a dungeon and you head to the next floor then come back, that floor you were just in will be completely different. Don't ask me about the physics of that; it just HAPPENS. Although the enemy placement and what treasures can be found inside changes, the general layout of most dungeon floors are very similar to a 3x3 grid, give or take a couple of rooms. It is a bit of fun to hunt around and slash the cracks in the walls in search of secret passages leading to the best of the Ancient Texts or, often, a lousy item. But that's okay. I can make money selling off my hundred million bombs and useless potions.

The major problem I have with these dungeons is that there are SO MANY of them! I got to a point where the number of these towers and caves was getting a bit ridiculous. And these aren't quick run-through dungeons: these places are extensively lengthy, and you clamor for that save point. It's not as though you couldn't rush through one by simply seeking out the next staircase up or down and doing little else, but you miss out on all the valuable experience points, items, and Ancient Texts. You can indeed spend hours in a single dungeon and still not see the end. The Game Boy Color didn't have a fifty-hour battery life, man! Give us a break!

This wouldn't be a horrible problem if there were more save points OR if the game wasn't maliciously difficult! The developer kinda wants you dead sometimes, just to extend the lifespan of the game. Unless you've leveled up beyond the point of reason, or unless you've absolutely mastered the art of Spiritual Force by carefully calculating who should absolutely go where in your battle formation, this game's gonna try to mess with your head. Some of the enemies out there, no matter at which point in the game, will throw a cheap trick your way. And I don't mean an album by the band Cheap Trick, although that might actually be a cheaper trick. Consider this alone: there's an enemy that can attack NINE times consecutively. Try to give me a heart attack, will ya?

Graphically, it's what you'd expect out of a Game Boy Color RPG. The environs are detailed enough, and the sprites are cute, although it is difficult to discern between certain character sprites at times. I wish they'd spent a little more time editing the English script, though, because there are a fair number of typos that really detract from the overall experience. The music is quite nice and fits the same style as the previous Lufia games: EMPOWERMENT!! The composers (and there are an astonishing FOUR of them) put some solid energy into this soundtrack and got the most out of the mediocre sound chip that they could. Heck, just this track alone is worth the price.

For portable RPG enthusiasts, this could be your diamond in the rough, provided you're willing to put up with some tedium and a higher-than-normal difficulty level. Now that this game's been made available on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, complete with save state ability, it has a greater pick-up-and-playability than ever before. And, of course, if you miss this series with the sorrow of a thousand X-Potions, then this is one of the best ways to reconnect with your long-lost Loof.

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