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LUFIA 2 / Taito / SNES
If you played the first Lufia game, you might have been (quite understandably) turned off by the simplistic Dragon Warrior-style engine of it, the high random encounter rate and requisite level-grinding, and the fact that it generally felt more like an 8-bit RPG than something that was taking full advantage of the 16-bit platform (and also was kinda a giant ripoff of Lunar). It would be a mistake to dismiss Lufia 2 on the basis of the first game, however, because Taito really turned it around with this one, and turned in a game leagues better than the previous effort. And, since it's a prequel story-wise, you don't even need to have played the first game to jump right in to it!
The main reason that this one hangs up there with the best of the SNES RPGs is that the dungeons have you doing as much puzzle-solving as you do getting into random fights. The game features logic puzzles in the style of the stuff found in Professor Layton, and these are liberally strewn about each dungeon area. They start out easy, but soon become quite challenging. You find various tools, such as bombs and a grappling hook, which are employed both in getting around the dungeons and in solving puzzles, but you can also use them to stun enemies (who are visible everywhere except the overworld map) and skip by them if you care to. As the game is not all that difficult, mass level-grinding is not necessary, and it's perfectly acceptable to skip some fights in the dungeons when they start to get annoying.
The story is pretty much cliche fantasy stuff - evil overlords awake from being sealed by the glorious holy sword which must then be used to banish them again - and the game gets a bit laughable in how predictable and formulaic the plot progression is. Literally every area for the first 3/4 of the game is composed of a shrine that is the only path to the next area, which is blocked by some random old man who won't move until you take care of The Trouble in The Nearby Town, which of course originates from The Dungeon also conveniently located nearby. In spite of the rather lazy plot structure, the story tends to work anyway as the characters are strong and genuinely sympathetic. Also, there's a lot of dialogue and the localization is very good as compared to Engrishy peers of the period.
The graphics are on the mediocre side, but generally sharp and much more appealing than those of the prequel. The soundtrack, by contrast, is really nicely done. There's maybe not quite enough different pieces to go around, and you hear certain ones a little more often than you'd like, but it's very well done and up there amongst the top SNES musical scores.
As a bonus, the game also comes with a built-in Roguelike, which you might end up spending more time with than the game proper. There's a bonus area called the Ancient Cave, which is a randomized dungeon that drops you to level 1 and takes away your equipment when you enter. You have to make do with whatever items, weapons and magic you find as you go, but sometimes blue treasure chests appear which contain powerful pieces of equipment that can not only be taken out of the cave with you, but can also be brought back in upon return visits.
Lufia 2 is a bit formulaic in most of its aspects, but the fun dungeon puzzles and generally smooth gameplay (as well as the Ancient Cave) combined with the good music make it a pleasant experience. Anyone who enjoys console RPGs will more than likely enjoy this one.
The Ancient Cave
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