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CONSOLE: Game Boy Advance DEVELOPER: Atelier Double PUBLISHER: Atlus
// review by SoyBomb

Got the 'ruins' part right...

We all know about the Final Fantasy series. It's a little bit popular... nay, it's often a global phenomenon when a new Final Fantasy game comes out. Many other RPG series wish that they had the grand reputation and success of the Final Fantasy series, but when one tries to claw its way to the top of the heap, a large boot with "FF" stamped on the bottom comes forth with the urge to squash all opposition. One such series is Lufia. Even back in the days of the SNES, Lufia could not hold a candle to the onslaught of Final Fantasy III, considered one of the greatest RPGs for the console. But all this is a shame because the Lufia series definitely had some fun to offer.

Well, most of them do. Lufia: The Ruins of Lore for the Game Boy Advance was not exactly the delightful romp I had expected. This could be attributed to the fact that Neverland, the masterminds behind the Lufia franchise, did NOT work on this game. Instead, development was shifted over to Atelier Double, known for their work on... um... er... Next slide, please!

It initially seems as though Lufia: The Ruins of Lore has a lot going for it. The game borrows many of its key elements from Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals for the SNES. The game is full of puzzle elements; each character gets their own special ability outside of battle and is able to use it to solve all sorts of physical puzzles during their travels. Torma, for example, has a whip that can be used to pull the party across large chasms, provided there's something to latch onto on the other side. And Bau can use a giant hammer to crush specific obstacles and get them out of your way. Lufia also borrows heavily from the days of olde with the inclusion of an "Ancient Cave", basically a 60-floor hell pit that gets exceedingly difficult the further down you go. Only your main character (and his Disc Monster buddy) may enter. Even more unfortunate for us, though, is the fact that your character can only exit if he finds a Providence item in the dungeon itself, which allows him to escape at will. Providence seems far too rare, and you could peruse many, many floors and never find it, resulting in having to go deeper into the dungeon than preferred and being subsequently mangled by the over-powered enemies found within. It's a severely flawed system that I found more irritating than ingenious.

Lufia: TRoL also hopped on the Pokemon wagon. Although it was already featured in Lufia II, the concept of Disc Monsters rears its head. Using special discs that you either find in the wild or purchase. You then feed them different types of fruit to help them evolve. In turn, they will help fight your battles (and gain experience in the process) accordingly. You can, however, survive the game without using them, that's for sure, but for those who just feel the quest a bit empty, raising monsters as a hobby is something cool.

You'll be fighting with nasty creatures and back doors for quite some time.

My issues with this game come more from the presentation. There's a solid game beneath the surface, aching to break free, but there are numerous issues present which I cannot easily ignore. First, the game has some nasty cases of slowdown. SLOWDOWN in a sprite-based RPG, making the sound chug and crackle with it! This issue usually makes itself rampant in towns, though occasionally it pops up during battle. This is unacceptable, considering other games can perform far better in equal conditions. Second, during the lengthier battles, although there is typically a pattern of who attacks when. Person A, Person B, then Enemy A, as an example. After a bunch of turns, the pattern switches for no reason; as a result, the enemy gets in an extra hit. "No fair! Foul! Foul!" I exclaimed in digital agony. And lastly, even weirder yet, the game is only designed for having an enemy party of up to three foes. However, on very rare occasions, a fourth will show up, and it will get squished off the edge of the screen... then pop up on the other side! What arcane handheld magic is this?

But the biggest problem I had was that... well... frankly, the game was dull. Most RPGs try to differentiate themselves through gripping storylines or fast-paced battle systems. Lufia does neither. The story is as plain Jane as possible and there is very little attempt to flower up the plot. It's a clear-cut case of going from Point A to Point B, then Point C, then Point D, et cetera. Though the storytelling capabilities on a handheld system are limited, other games of its time had succeeded quite well (Golden Sun and Mario & Luigi come to mind). Combined with the fact that the dungeons are exceedingly long and maze-like (with no map function), and that battles unfortunately arise by the dozen, you're looking at a tedious quest, one in which you may not necessarily become emotionally invested in the slightest. And, sadly, being strapped for cash is an all-too-frequent occurrence, resulting in the need to indulge in even MORE monotonous battles. Lufia should come with a sleeping mask.

While the game itself isn't bad by any means, it is extraordinarily average, if I can say that. The charm that earlier Lufia games held has somehow drifted off into the wind, and has been replaced with "Generic RPG with Coding Issues". That's a shame. The Lufia franchise deserves much, much better. For severely avid RPG enthusiasts, I'm certain that the journey will be somewhat enjoyable; for the rest of us... well, there's always Final Fantasy...

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