Lufia & the Fortress of Doom - Reader Re-Retroview  

A Doomed Endeavor
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

20-40 Hours
+ Game is nice to players when they die.
- High encounter rate.
- Battle system feels odd.
- Clumsy interface.
- Story is spread out too thinly.
- Music is an acquired taste.
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   Without warning, a floating continent appeared in the sky that four wicked beings seized, terrorizing the people in the world below and becoming known as the Sinistrals. In response, the people of the world sent their four bravest warriors, Artea, Guy, Maxim, and Selan, to battle the Sinistrals. A hundred years later, Maxim's descendant, along with a mysterious girl named Lufia, must again save the world from the Sinistrals. Taito's Estpolis for the Super NES was the company's first endeavor into the RPG genre, localized to North America as Lufia & the Fortress of Doom. While supposedly a classic and rival to the Final Fantasy franchise, the first Lufia title nonetheless features a number of flaws and oddities preventing it from excelling.

   One can see many of said flaws in the battle system. Looming large is the astronomically-high encounter rate that the player can only reduce somewhat with a certain item. It wouldn't be so bad if the battles themselves were actually tolerable. Battles are turn-based, although they don't use the typical formula of the player inputting all characters' commands and letting them beat the enemy up in a round. Instead, Lufia adopts a rather offbeat formula where the player inputs commands for a few allies in a random order, they and a few of the enemies exchange commands, the player inputs commands for another ally or two, and they and a few other enemies randomly exchange commands.

   The randomness and unpredictability of combat is pretty much its main turnoff, with a number of other annoyances such as characters potentially wasting their attacks against monsters if they die before they reach their turn, the potential for the player to waste healing magic and items if enemies kill a character before the healing executes, and the general sluggish pace of combat itself. The only real saving grace is that the game is nice to players if they die (or commit suicide, which is more likely), since a naked blue fairy will revive the hero by the nearest town (though the player still has to revive his allies at a church) while making off with half the player's money. Still, combat ultimately ends up being a chore.

The *real* Sinistrals Referring to the developers

   Gameplay outside battle doesn't fare any better. For one, the game menus are somewhat clumsy and take some getting used to, as does the shopping interface, with the player also only able to view the effects of magic spells, but not items. Moreover, while character movement in towns is fast, movement on the overworld and in dungeons is much slower. Being able to view the entire overworld in-game, moreover, would have been nice, given the potential to get lost easily, along with sometimes-poor direction on how to advance. Granted, there are some minor conveniences, such as warp magic between towns (though being able to teleport to dungeons as well would have been nice), and being able to see how many uses of each magic spell remain before running out of MP. Still, interaction hurts the game far more than helps.

   Lufia does have a few things going for it in the creative department, such as the ability to temporarily play the heroes in the game's initial backstory sequence, and maybe the mentioned quirk with the player being able to see how many times they can use particular magic spells, but the game mostly feels like a generic RPG, with typical turn-based combat (but with the described annoyances), an explorable overworld, and a run-of-the-mill goal of stopping the bad guys from taking over the world. All in all, the first Lufia doesn't do too much to distinguish itself.

   The interactive backstory of Lufia is pretty much the best part of an otherwise lackluster plot, with weak pacing during the course of the game, given the scarcity of cutscenes, and many parts that drag, what with irritating fetch quests that don't contribute much to the main story. There is a little character development, especially for Lufia, with one major twist involving her, but the heroes and the villains generally aren't all that memorable. The translation is one of the better efforts of the game's time, despite some name choices such as "Sinistrals" for the villains (originally the Four Mad Gods in the Japanese version), with the translation team apparently unaware that the term means "left-handed." Overall, the plot isn't much of a reason to play the game, and largely suffers from the misguidance and brevity of most RPGs of the time.

A warrior clown! Apparently Maxim's descendant ambitioned to be a clown

   The soundtrack is actually better, though. There are some decent tracks, such as the boss battle themes, though there are plenty of shrill ones, such as the laboratory and castle themes, with most of the music having painful instrumentation. The sound effects are nothing special, and ultimately, the aurals are one of the game's high points, though that's not really saying much.

   The visuals, too, rise to mediocrity, with vibrant colors and decent-looking environments, though the character sprites have hobbit-like proportions, and the battle scenery is unrealistic, consisting of the player's party fighting enemies while atop their status panels, with the place of encounter on the overworld or in a dungeon, dulled out, serving as a backdrop. Foes are somewhat animate, though their animation consists solely of jiggling around, with the player's characters showing much better animation during their attacks. Enemies also contain an infantile look, somewhat clashing with the serious nature of the plot, and bearing many palette swaps. Ultimately, Lufia didn't have the best graphics on the Super NES nor did it have the worst.

   Finally, the first Lufia is about a thirty-hour game, with a few sidequests, the potential to get lost in the game's vast, barren world, and the need to grind at times all able to pad out playing time. In the end, Lufia & the Fortress of Doom is a lackluster beginning for the Estpolis series, what with a weird, boring, repetitive battle system, clumsy interface, and weakly-paced plot, with its graphics and music being the only acceptable parts, though that isn't saying much. In spite of its shortcomings, Lufia would spawn several sequels, the first of which is very much worth a look, though most gamers would be better off avoiding its predecessor.

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