Old RPG Review #36: Lufia: The Legend Returns

NuMetalManiak Woo! Got two games done in the same day! Although this review came out today, I had finished this and Wild ARMs 3 just yesterday. I spent much of my time playing one game in the day and one in the night, and that's how it will likely go from now on until something happens. I started playing Lufia: The Legend Returns around the time I was finishing up Odin Sphere (#34), and only just now, more than a month later, I can now fully review it. There is surprisingly a lot to cover for the third installment of the Lufia series on the Game Boy Color, published by Taito, Natsume, and Ubisoft.

Gameplay: Overall gameplay is pretty much the same as in previous installments, except the battle system. Here, a total of nine characters in a square formation can participate, three in a row and three in a column. However, only three characters per column may make a move. The ones in the front of the formation can deal the most damage, but also receive the most damage. The converse is true for the back row. The general strategy in battles is to place the hardest hitters in the front while the squishy wizards and healers stay far back. An odd gimmick is if the front three characters die in battle it's a game over, even if the other six characters behind them are alive and well.

One very new thing is Spiritual Force, which can be gained by Learning Points (LP) which are received by winning battles. On the S.F. submenu, characters can level up their SF as well as gain IP skills. Those work differently than they did in Lufia II. Instead of equipping certain equipment, the player needs to find Ancient Texts in the dungeons, find the characters who can learn the skill, and use the text to have them permanently learn it. Due to how battle formation is lined up, characters can get the benefits of others' spiritual force, and each character has one of four unique colors: red (attack), blue (magic stats), yellow (speed and MP), or green (HP and defense).

Oh and speaking of dungeons, remember how the Ancient Cave in Lufia II was filled with randomly generated floors? Well, EVERY dungeon in the game is composed of randomly generated floors, with monsters roaming and hidden treasures to find. The layout changes each time. And there are also a number of floor traps, which generally don't mean much if the room is devoid of enemies. It can honestly get a bit taxing at times, but the game manages to offer some replay value off of this aspect.

As for sidequests, this game can easily be broken by them. There's quite a few items to find by doing sidequests, the Dragon Egg one from way back in the first Lufia makes a return, and the Egg Dragon can give the player some really good stuff. Another sidequest nets a Cat Ring which gives an incredible speed boost to female characters. And of course, the Ancient Cave, 100 floors where the player is stripped of everything and has to deal with them all without saving. I forgot to mention I still haven't gotten through the Ancient Cave in Lufia II yet; here, I went down at least four times. But I went down to get the master slime to grant me the best weapons, in another shrine where the player gets four ultimate pieces of equipment each. And if that weren't enough, by fighting the slime it's possible to traverse 100 MORE FLOORS, which I didn't do, but there's a very hard boss and a killer reward by doing so. As far as most other game-breaking items go, they are received by winning what are supposed to be unwinnable boss battles, so with either grinding or item farming, it's possible. Gameplay Grade: A

Characters: This game features up to 13 playables, and 9 can be put into the battle formation.
Wain: The main hero of the quest, expect the main hero tropes, good attack and defense as well as some spells. The typical descendant of Maxim and a front row fighter. However, he has a low REG (magic defense) and speed. His SF color is red.
Seena: For much of the game she's the best mage, accessing all good spells. She is weak on the regular offensive though, and her speed is even slower than Wain. Her SF color is blue.
Dei: Dei is the fastest character normally, he can have a few spells and being a thief he can use thief weaponry like knives and bows. Overall, he isn't too strong, but he learns more IP skills than most characters which can be beneficial. His color is yellow
Aima: Probably the strongest character in the game and the monk archetype, Aima hits the hardest with great HP, defense, and attack, with alright speed. Magic isn't her strong suit of course, but she really doesn't need it. Put Aima in the front row, give her a few powerful IP skills and some boosts in speed, and she steamrolls the enemies. Her SF color is green.
Melphis: Melphis is the first designated party healer, learning spells that heal the whole party. She's got great MP total and magic stats are up there. Apart from that, she's not much offensively at all, learning at most ice elemental spells and only equipping staves. I actually really boosted up her stats in my game, even giving her Iris equipment. Her SF color is blue.
Randolph: He's built for power, but nowhere else is he really good. Randolph has the slowest speed, one of the lowest HP totals, and surprisingly low defense and magic defense. But his attack is through the roof since he can equip the heaviest of weaponry. I didn't really find Randolph useful at all, though I'd use his red SF.
Deckard: Doesn't he look familiar? He looks a lot like Dekar from the second game, except he has one thing Dekar didn't have, and that's speed. Deckard is one of the fastest in the game and has the attack, defense, and HP to last him in the front row. Put simply, he's one of the absolute best, with a red SF to further boost attack power.
Mousse: Mousse the spiritual animal functions like the capsule monsters from Lufia II, it takes its actions on it's own without command. That way, players get a fourth move out. He's got some unique moves, such as the overpowered Tail Illusion. I should mention that his ultimate item, the Capsule Ring, increases his stats by an astronomical amount. His SF color is green.
Yurist: Not much to say about him, his stats are all average, but he neither sucks nor excels at anything. He can learn the party-wide healing spells that Melphis can learn, and also the killer IP skills that Aima can learn. He can even equip some female-only stuff and his ultimate weapon isn't even a weapon but a free healing item. His SF color is blue.
Ruby: The gambler joins and is mostly a squishy wizard, with very low HP and defense, but some spells. Most of her IP skills center on some gambling aspect, like dice that damages her to boost other stats. Her Double Up IP skill is, in theory, is the deadliest attack in the whole game at maximum power, killing all but two bosses in a single hit. Her SF color is yellow.
Isaac Shaia: Continues the Shaia line. A lot like Lexis, he has unique weapons and learns spells, but he's rather slow. Highest INT stat in the normal game however. I rarely use him though since he doesn't have anything that others don't have. His SF color is yellow.
Milka: If you haven't noticed, Milka's been in all three Lufia games, starting out as a child in Lufia II, and caters to Artea in Lufia I (where her name was misspelled as Mirka). Here, she's finally a playable character, and she's very much like Artea, excellent speed, can learn most of the magic. This is at the expense of her other stats being rather bad, so putting her in the back row and using the green SF is fine enough.
Egg Dragon: Yes, the Egg Dragon can be a party member, but you have to fight him for it and he's the hardest boss in the game. I didn't bother because I pretty much broke the game already and all his stats are 999 when you get him, or so I'm told.

And of course, everyone's favorite Sinistrals are back, and there are a few not-so-memorable NPCs to cater to in the story. But still, Lufia 3 has the widest selection of playables, and a lot of variety. Grade: A

Plot: Did I say Lufia 3 earlier? It is the third game in the series, but it feels like a proper sequel this time around (because Lufia II was the prequel to Lufia I). Wain is yet another descendant of Maxim, and in his hometown, Seena approaches him, and Gades, the first Sinistral, wants to just cause destruction because he thinks it's the cool thing to do. But it isn't cool to the heroes of course. The first time ends in failure (also Gades has an unforgettably horrible translation line during this part, he says "frue destruction", yes you heard right), so Wain and Seena look for more friends to find on the continent. They find thief Dei and monk Aima, and eventually take down Gades for good.

But of course, there's three more Sinistrals to find and kill. The party meets a wounded Randolph on the next continent, who rushes off to save Princess Melphis from some bug in a lighthouse. Then she gets kidnapped by pirates and we are introduced, briefly, to another pirate, Deckard. Mousse is met short after, and Melphis and Deckard help gain the Alstadt Kingdom back from a corrupt priest. Turns out Amon, Sinistral of Chaos, is manipulating that guy, so the party off him next.

Another continent, so the party helps some dude kill a dragon, then Daos shows up and kills the dragon for them, but being a Sinistral of Terror, why would they think he's a good guy? The casino town the party goes to has an eccentric gambler named Ruby, and another segment shortly after has Wain and Dei rescue the party from some weird idiot who likes winners a little too much. Back to Daos, where some NPC actually "kills" him, but since Daos is a cunning villain, strikes back at that guy's wedding and he dies. Yurist joins at this point, and Isaac is gotten in a cave soon after. With a large party like this, Daos is eventually beaten.

At the climax of it all, Milka joins, Isaac rebuilds the ship into a submarine, and we all go down into the submerged Doom Island. Pretty familiar considering Lufia I did it also. Erim is fought and defeated there, but the three others are alive! At the final tower, they combine into Guard Daos (the final boss from the first game) one final time. Then, bombshell. Let's say that Erim was alive the whole time, then "spirit" Daos absorbs her into a new Lufia villain, Zalbak, god of Infernos. That's the final boss. It's a bittersweet ending for Wain and Seena, even if she's revived in the end, and everyone wants to go to a new continent for some reason.

Overall, the plot is probably the weakest point of this game actually. Not helping was the continued utterances of "stupid". That's a word used a lot, especially by Seena towards Wain. The way cutscenes are played out was also stale, even for a GBC RPG. The subplots are a staple of the Lufia games, where random NPCs do something and the heroes get involved, but it never really was that interesting to begin with anyways. Grade: C

Music: Now for a GBC RPG, Lufia: The Legend Returns has a pretty darn good soundtrack. It's likely that the player will get tired of hearing certain types of dungeon music when traversing the many randomly generated floors that the game throws at the player, but I like it in a way. Not so much regular battle themes, which I heard about 30,000 times. Boss theme is alright, Sinistral boss themes are actually pretty cool, and the final bosses have unique themes. I also enjoyed how towns and continents on the overworld each had their own unique tunes. The one thing is, due to the GBC's limitations, sometimes the tracks slow down (the whole game actually slows down too), but overall, the music was pretty nice. Grade: A-

Overall Grade: B+

Chances are, you won't find this game easily, but the genre-savvy RPG player as well as the Lufia fan could enjoy it. There's a lot of replay value with the randomly generated floors, even if everything eventually becomes stale at certain points. The large selection of characters, battle formation, and IP skills contribute to making this possibly the most unique of the Lufia games yet.