Lufia is one of those series that makes me incredibly happy, and yet so sad. The original Lufia, while great once upon a time, has aged far too poorly to be enjoyable anymore. Lufia: The Legend Returns (Lufia 3), on the other hand, was never anything more than an abomination created solely to bring more pain and suffering into this world. Fortunately, Lufia 2 is so incredible that it more than makes up for the existence of those two. That brings us to Lufia: The Ruins of Lore, a side-story set two decades after the events of Lufia 2. Are the two games similar, or is this yet another attack on everything I love?
Well, it’s definitely not that last thing, but it’s not really Lufia 2-esque, either. In fact, it shares many elements with previous games, but never really feels like those games. Part of this is due to the game having nothing to do with the constantly-reviving Sinistrals, which is a first because those jerks resurrect more frequently than a coked-up Jesus. It hits many familiar points and does a lot of the same things as previous games, but all that really means is that it’s taken a lot of the flaws of previous titles along with their virtues.
The characters in Lufia: The Ruins of Lore are somewhere between Lufia 1 and Lufia 2 in terms of likability. They have their moments where they shine, but it seems like the opportunity to really get to know them never arrives; dialogue between characters is almost always to-the-point and lacking a personal touch, so while you may get kind of attached to one or two characters, it’s easy to feel detached and indifferent toward the lot of them. No one ever seems to get fleshed-out—not even many of the antagonists, which keeps parts of the story from resonating like they should. Strangely, the person who gets the most back story is a random ghost girl mid-way through the game; while running around her monster-infested house looking for keys and stuff, you’ll find small excerpts from her diary that come together to make that section of the story come alive. It’s not exactly Shakespeare, mind you, but it’s a nice touch.
Puzzles exist in this game, but they’re rare and never as complicated and interesting as they are in Lufia 2. It’s disappointing; the necessary ingredients are obviously all there, yet every puzzle you’ll stumble upon will be easily solved without any real effort. Some may consider that a good thing, but I personally wish that they had been a bit more complex. In the puzzles’ defense, I do like how they require you to use different characters in different situations; similar to Lufia 2 where Maxim had to use different items to solve puzzles, each character in your party brings their own unique ability to the table, and it’s frequently necessary to switch between them in order to move on.
Combat is very similar to previous games. What can I say? Lufia games always have Lufia-esque combat. It’s turn-based, the kind of typical stat-based jRPG fare that you’d probably expect. Like Lufia 2, combat is only initiated when you touch a monster. Unlike Lufia 2, it’s not possible to paralyze them. It is, however, possible to catch them from behind or the sides, giving yourself the first strike and thus starting the fight in your favor. On the other hand, it’s also possible for enemies to do the same to you, and many of the later enemies are clever enough to maneuver themselves for this.
One interesting element of combat is the ability to catch enemy monsters kind of like in Pokemon and have them level up with you. When your IP meter goes up enough, it’s possible to fuse with your monster temporarily, a move that comes with pros and cons and lends a nice layer of strategy to the whole thing. There’s also a job system that determines stats, available magic, special moves, and all kinds of fun stuff. You can make anyone a healer or tank, or just switch jobs a few times so that your characters are nice and diverse. It allows for quite a bit of flexibility in how your characters develop.
It’s worth mentioning that overworld exploration is now gone, replaced with a map. You choose your location and are automatically sent there, though most of the time progressing to new areas means having to go through a mountain or field full of enemies first. Really, I can’t hate the map—the random battles on the overworld could get a bit tiring in previous Lufia games, and this keeps that particular brand of bloat down.
Graphically, Lufia: The Ruins of Lore has nice, bright, colorful sprites. Of particular note are the backgrounds when you’re fighting; while the game is pretty average graphically in terms of a Game Boy Advance game (it captures a bit of that not-so-detailed SNES Lufia vibe, in a good way), many of the backgrounds are quite pretty and detailed. Of course, there are some less-interesting ones here and there, but the vast majority are nice to look at and make battles much more enjoyable. I tried to capture a bit of both in the screenshots, so check there if you’re curious.
Also making battles enjoyable are some old battle themes from Lufia 2. While the soundtrack as a whole doesn’t capture the magic of Iris’ theme, no game ever really does. Still, there are several points in the game where I found myself just sitting back, listening to the music instead of continuing on. Make no mistake—the soundtrack is very much Lufia music, always fitting the scene and contributing to the fun of the game as Lufia music tends to do:
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