It is not uncommon for a game or series to go unrecognized due to big sellers.The Final Fantasy games alone has managed to eclipse several wonderful titles, leaving them to be discovered only by a select few and appreciated "underground." Such was the case for Lufia, a series that made its debut on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Despite the lack of notice, Lufia was still a fan favorite to those who managed to discover its uniqueness and mainstream-unaffected plot. After the sequel’s release on SNES, the series headed to Game Boy, becoming forever lost in obscurity. Now, however, a fourth installment has been made for the Game Boy Advance: a system where die-hard RPG fanatics constantly search for a new game to have with them in their travels. Could it be that Lufia will finally dig itself out of the unknown and into the recognized? Can a game so deeply rooted in classic aspects possibly stand up to the on-the-edge giants of today’s ever growing video game market?
The premise behind the newest Lufia installment, like so many other facets of the game, is straightforward and austere. Though "installment" isn’t the right word to describe this game. The Ruins of Lore is a gaiden - or side story, a branch off the main storyline of the Lufia series. That reason alone may explain why it is more simplified in comparison to its predecessors. The story begins many years before the game opens, as the hero’s father, a treasure hunter, ventures off in search of telltale riches- unfortunately, he never returns. When his son, Eldin, comes of age, he too has became a treasure hunter - hoping one day to find his father as well as follow in his footsteps. After successfully passing the trials to become a treasure hunter, Eldin sets out with his childhood companion, Torma. In their journeys they eventually meet up with a priestess by the name of Rubius, who hails from Nazarre. They soon learn that the nation of Gratze intends to reassemble and revive the body of an ancient demon that was sealed away. Behind this scheme is the mysterious Ragule, a foreigner to Gratze, who wormed his way into the King’s inner circle. Ever since, he has convinced the monarch to launch the necessary attacks to find the beast’s parts. Their adventurous spirits given purpose, Rubius, Eldin, Torma and their companions challenge Ragule’s tyranny and vow to prevent the revival of the legendary monster.
Lufia: The Ruins of Lore’s visuals are a double-edged sword. On one hand, there are fairly impressive environments with very detailed color schemes for a 2D game. On the other hand, the character sprites are very unappealing and extraordinarily super-deformed. There isn’t much change to them in the transition to battle either. Although the level of detail during combat is increased, the characters still remain squatty and unusually-shaped. Taking into consideration the fact that Lufia is meant for younger audiences makes this excusable, but not necessarily a viable reason for such unimpressive sprites. There’s not much to point out in animation or level of detail. The characters do have minor shows in battle, such as Torma’s attack where he throws out a chain and it smacks into the enemy or a character leaps forward and slashes into a foe. These are enjoyable solely on the basis that they’re not tacky like other "old school" games, where the characters slash or punch the air ahead of them and somehow enemies in the distance take damage. The spell effects are also of mixed quality. Some of the spells are fairly pretty, such as the effect of translucent spirits. However, the other more toned-down spells lack creativity and maintain the status quo. Nevertheless, the game is far from painful to look at and can be appreciated for its true "old school" feel by many gamers young and old.
However, graphics are not what draw gamers to RPGs, but rather storyline and gameplay. In almost every fashion, Lufia is a tried-and-true "old school" turn-based RPG. Almost no changes have been made from its predecessors, making Ruins of Lore’s combat outdated and subsequently very slow and dull. All the most basic commands are at the player’s disposal: item, magic, attack, defend, escape, etc. All that needs to be done is selecting the desired choice and watching the characters execute them. There is, however, one major addition - the job class system. While nowhere near as complicated as Final Fantasy Tactics, Lufia’s job class system is best compared to Dragon Warrior VII’s. After a specific class is selected (there are 11 total to choose from), higher rank and abilities are obtained throughout combat. The downside to this is the low number of abilities that are learned, and a miniscule amount of obscure abilities. Outside of battles, characters can use their abilities to help them solve minor environmental puzzles. For example, Eldin can cut through tall grasses with his sword (much like Link from the Zelda series) and Torma can use his whip to fasten around pegs across chasms and pull them across to the other side. Encounters occur on-screen, though enemies will move whenever a character moves, making it strategically possible to avoid battle. Also, unlike the previous Lufia installments, the dungeons in The Ruins of Lore are not randomly generated.
To compliment the already strong eight members of the player’s party, the game also allows for monsters to be trained and assimilated into the entourage. Aside from being discovered within the various locations of the game, monsters can also be exchanged via the GBA link cable ala Pokémon, only more useful. Like the characters, they too can gain experience and grow more powerful. Eventually they will evolve and change form, or even gain the ability to fuse with the characters themselves, making for some deadly results.
Another function the GBA link cable serves in this game is to allow multiple players to explore the Ancient Cave - a 60 level dungeon that has been emphasized in-game as the location of a great wealth of treasure and items. Not to mention, of course, a great deal of experience that can be earned to further strengthen the characters.
There isn't much that can be said about the music in Lufia: The Ruins of Lore. Following an ongoing trend in the game, the music is plain and made with the singular purpose of accompanying a scene or moment in the game. Although a few tracks are mildly catchy, there are no overwhelmingly impressive themes found in the game. However, at the same time, there really aren’t any poor tracks to be found in the game either. Sound effects are at a minimum, with only a handful of sound bytes for when damage is incurred or random character combat rambling.
So what does the latest Lufia hold for those who seek more RPGs for their Game Boy Advance? Well for those who can appreciate a very classic, very "old school" story accompanied by gameplay of the same nature, quite a bit. Followers of the series or anyone who can enjoy an outdated adventure in terms of ingenuity and diversity can still find a measure of enjoyment in The Ruins of Lore. Those looking for an adventure with a bit more complexity and aesthetic appeal with a less cliché plot should probably look at some of the more advanced GBA RPGs. While certainly not mediocre, Lufia: The Ruins of Lore fails to impress, managing to walk a thin middle line in just about every category.
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