The 16-bit generation spawned countless role playing games. The Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger, Shining Force, Breath of Fire, and countless others littered the gaming scene, making plenty of RPG lovers, myself included, very happy campers. Some of these games were obviously much better than the others, offering better graphics, story, or even unique gameplay mechanics.
One game that stands out is Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals, the prequel to Lufia and the Fortress of Doom. Lufia 2 has a good, but somewhat cliched story. The main protagonist is a warrior named Maxim. He’s told very early on that he is destined to fight, but isn’t really told why. So he starts on a journey, takes his friend Tia with him, and solves minor problems in villages across the land. Maxim makes new friends, grows his party, then finds the world’s real threat, the Sinistrals. The Sinistrals are a race of giant godlike beings that threaten the safety of the world. Eventually Maxim and his friends take them on and save the planet, setting up the story for the game that preceded it.
Lufia II doesn’t really set any amazing standards for story. It’s charming, sure, but it’s not exactly Final Fantasy VI. I will say that the last time I played the game, the ending did have me a bit choked up, but it wasn’t at the level that epic conclusion the aforementioned Square title threw at players. Lufia II’s strong point is its gameplay.
The battle system is actually pretty standard. Players are thrown into turn based combat where they select their party’s moves before each round. You purchase magic spells for your characters rather than a system that teaches your characters spells upon level up. Some weapons and armor have special abilities you can invoke mid battle that can heal, inflict status boosts or nerfs, or attack enemies for more damage than a normal attack. An RPG’s gameplay heart and soul typically comes from the battle system, but this sounds incredibly standard. Why does the gameplay set Lufia II apart from it’s competition?
It’s actually exploring dungeons that makes Lufia II such an enjoyable experience. Most RPGs from the 16 bit era rely almost solely on battle mechanics. Lufia II, however, dumps you into a dungeon ripe with puzzles that the player must solve to proceed. Sure, games like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger have some sort of “find this switch to open a path to proceed”, but not to the level that Lufia II takes it.
Lufia II only uses random encounters (which I’ve grown to hate over the years) on the overworld map. Thankfully, the developers decided to switch this up in the dungeons. Instead, you’ll see your enemy encounters represented by enemy sprites on the dungeon map. The enemies will only move when your character moves or uses an item. This means you can try to avoid them if you want, or take them all out, but you’re never surprised that by a random encounter.
The way the game handles enemy encounters in the dungeons is important, because the enemies will be running around the player character while you try to solve a puzzle that appears in just about every single room. These puzzles range from a simple “press this switch to open a path” to “find a piece of the bridge to fix your crossing across a stream” to “solve this intricate block puzzle to find the treasure chest that contains a dungeon specific key”. The puzzles are incredibly thought out and fun to tackle. These aren’t all just mindless missions, they actually make you think about how to proceed. In some instances, you need to use the enemies on the dungeon map to trigger a switch for you, so you will actually want to avoid fighting them.
Lufia II takes this even further by introducing items that will only be used on the dungeon maps. Maxim can swing his sword to cut down bushes to find hidden switches, use a bow and arrow to trigger levers from afar, plant bombs to blow holes into walls, and even use a hookshot like item to cross chasms. Of course, there are a few more helpful pieces of equipment to help you along your way as well. The developers also added a “reset” spell, that allows the player to reset the puzzle in a room if they get caught in an insolvable position, like shoving a movable pillar against a wall.
Lufia II does an outstanding job of making the entire game engrossing, and not just the combat and story. While Final Fantasy VI has great graphics and interesting locations in game, scouring through dungeons is usually something the player can sometimes see as more of a chore, rather than another compelling gameplay experience. By implementing this puzzle based dungeon system in Lufia II, running around just waiting for the next random encounter to fuel the excitement of dungeon crawling isn’t a problem. You’re actively engaged in both the combat and the exploration of dungeons.
If you haven’t given Lufia II a play, I highly suggest doing so. It’s got a good story, decent graphics, exceptional music, and some of the most unique and fun gameplay that a 16-bit RPG has to offer. The game has only been released in it’s original incarnation on the SNES, and hasn’t seen an official downloadable release. The physical cartridge is a pricey one, so your best bet is probably emulation. A Nintendo DS remake was also released, but I have not played it. So give Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals a try. You won’t be disappointed if you’re a fan of the old 16-bit RPG.