In the past we’ve seen some excellent role-playing games on the Gameboy Advance. Many of you will instantly think of the Golden Sun games, which are great, but a bit competition doesn’t hurt. Lufia: The Ruins of Lore continues a series that started on the SNES sporting cute characters, an interesting story, lots of fighting, and a good dose of humor.
The story takes place in an alternate world – a landmass that consists of several nations separated by water. People were living peacefully until the militaristic nation of Gratze began attacking innocent people. Long ago there existed a supremely evil beast that was split into several pieces and scattered throughout the continent. The goons of Gratze want to reassemble the beast to win the war, but you can be sure they’re in for some resistance. Rufia, a priestess of Nazarre is appointed the task of finding the beast, and doing so requires her to get magical stones. At the beginning of her journey she bumps into a young fellow named Eldin and his friend Torma, who have just acquired their hunter’s license, which lets them adventure throughout the continent. Rufia joins up with the two on a quest that’ll take them, and a handful of other adventurers, to burning hot deserts, to freezing mountains, to steamy jungles and to friendly villages.
In most ways imaginable this is a role-playing game much like they used to be on the Super Nintendo, only with some new and interesting possibilities. Your gang can consist of up to eight members, but unlike most role-playing games the members of your gang don’t necessarily have to be human, or even someone essential to the story. When you’re fighting a bear in some dense forest, then you can choose a Mountain Disc, which, at times lets you “capture” monsters, and use them like a normal member. Your monsters gain experience and skills just as normal people do, but you don’t have any direct control of them in combat, except being able to heal and replace them.
The battle system should be very easy to learn for anyone who have even just barely touched an RPG before. When moving around in a cave you’ll see creatures moving around, but what’s important to master is how you approach them, because the monsters only move when you do. It’s smart to get combat initiative, and managing that means approaching the creature either from behind or from the side. Doing so will give you an extra attack, which can be a good advantage. When facing a creature head-on you’ll attack at about the same time, and essentially; when creatures attack you from behind or from the side you’ll take a good load of hits before you get to retaliate.
At the combat menu you can choose to attack normally, using items to heal or attack, use spells, defend, or choose to switch one of the four active fighters with one of the passive. As usual, spell attacks are generally more effective than normal attacks, but drain what’s the equivalent of mana, so you can’t use them indefinitely.
Most of the characters can also be assigned jobs, which is like classes. There are eleven jobs to choose from, but only some are available at first. You can choose martial arts or offensive magic, or perhaps becoming a thief, or a priest. When the character has become proficient enough in the job then he or she can visit a master trainer, who will “upgrade” your job from priest to bishop. Getting a job will usually give you a boost in strength or intelligence, but will also let you learn certain skills that are unique to that profession. There are also a few elite jobs, which aren’t very easy to obtain, but will obviously boost your character considerably.
The continents you venture across are filled with villages, towers, and more or less dangerous places to visit, but from the start you’ll often have to travel across fields and forests until you reach the villages where the plot progresses. The towns work very much like in similar games, because you can visit a weapon/armor store, a potion (etc) store, an inn, cottages of the people who live there, a church that lets you save and get rid of diseases, and usually a somewhat larger house, which usually belongs to the major, tribe leader, or whoever is important at that area. Additionally, in one of the towns you can enter an ancient dungeon, which consist of quite a few levels, each with a floor master, or boss if you will. The farther down you get the more expensive items you get, and reaching the bottom is obviously the goal.
Finding out about the characters, their background, and how the story progresses was largely what motivated me to keep playing, because the gameplay does get repetitive. Like in most role-playing games you will have to face a huge amount of monsters, but it’s definitely interesting to be able to make a gang of people with the jobs you feel you need the most. In my experience a combination of fighters, monsters, and a priest worked well, because you’ll do considerable damage, and if you run out of potions you’ll usually have someone to heal and rid characters of poison etc. Alternatively you could base your strength on magic, perhaps coupled with a thief to get more wealth. I do however wish there was more depth in the combat system and the items, because upgrading an axe to a better weapon won’t give you a huge boost in pure damage points. In my opinion role-playing games are more exciting when the characters have a lot of health points, because when a weapons does 357 damage points when the game is half-done it feels more exciting than 76. This is of course just my armchair game designer opinion, so yours may differ, but it’s at least something I feel would make the combat more exciting.
Console RPGs usually share a distinct artistic style, at least when it comes to those that were released on the SNES, and the more recent games that used them as inspiration. Lufia is a prime example of that cartoony style, with the tiny spiky-haired characters, and the rich use of bright colors. It wouldn’t be right to say that Lufia is prettier than Golden Sun 2, even though they share much of the same graphical style, because Lufia just can’t come close when it comes to the combat effects. Lufia does have an extensive list of spells, with accompanying effects, but they fail to impress as much as what Golden Sun 2’s effects.
Lufia’s audio is far from shabby too. There are plenty of sound effects to make the game more believable, and the conversations are done either by using high/low pitch sounds that sound like something the character would say, or just using silence. The background music is also well composed, and the selection is pretty decent, but the problem is that this is a rather long game, so even though you get a new background tune when you enter the jungle you’ll usually have to stick with one or two (normal and the combat music) for several hours.
The first day I started playing this game I actually did an eleven hour session, which forunately isn’t normal. Lufia doesn’t have the best graphics, audio or story, but there’s just something that makes you want to progress in the story, get better items, fight increasingly devious monsters, and maybe even end the whole thing one day.
Those looking to feed their RPG need should definitely have a look at Lufia, even though it’s not technically better than the two Golden Sun games. I’m sure some may even like Lufia story more, but I can at least assure you that this game will keep you occupied a lot longer than any mediocre platform game on the Gameboy Advance.