Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
Just finished this great game. At first, I was a bit skeptical about the whole game, mainly because they revised the battle system and made quite a few changes here and there. Now, having spent about 90 hours finishing the game (that's about 60 hours of actual storyline and nearly 30 hours spent in the 99-level Ancient Cave minigame), I can say that Lufia II truly is a sequel worthy of the Lufia name.
The battle system benefitted from the addition of the IP system (Item or Ikari Points; not sure which) which assigned different special abilities to all the weapons and other gear that the characters can equip. They trigger these IP abilities by spending from their IP Gauge which is a expressed as a percentage. Their IP Gauge increases as they get damaged, the amount gained depends upon the character's GUT attribute. So a whole new dimension is added to gameplay because sometimes you'd have to pick between a better item with a crappy or even no IP ability, or a lesser one that has a very useful IP ability. Sometimes, proper management of a character's various IP Abilities can make the difference in winning a tough battle.
Another notable change is the increased amount of puzzles (called "tricks" by the translation team) present in dungeons. Lufia 1's dungeons featured a rudimentary form of puzzle, implemented via switches that open new areas as well as teleporters that move the heroes to otherwise inaccessible places. Lufia II took those puzzles to a new level. Blocks that must be arranged in a certain order, pillars that must be moved, and many other new dungeon elements add to the gameplay. Instead just hacking their way through the dungeon until they get to the final boss, Maxim and his companions had to solve the dungeon's puzzles. Most of the puzzles are of easy to medium difficulty (thank the designers) though I've been stumped for a few hours by one or two tough ones. Also hidden in one of the final dungeons is an optional killer puzzle they call "The Most Difficult Trick In The World" which actually took me a whole weekend to figure out (I was so frustrated about it, I almost surfed for a gamefaq).
With the various puzzles sprinkled through its dungeons, Lufia II has changed its encounter system. Back in the previous game, you'd have encounters every few steps in the dungeon. Now, Lufia II's dungeons featured monsters that walk in the room, which means you can avoid them if you don't want a fight. And who wants to fight when you're too busy trying to figure out that pesky puzzle?
To aid the heroes bypass the obstacles in dungeons as well as solve certain puzzles, you find several "tools", starting with the Arrow, which can trigger switches from afar as well as immobilize monsters it hits. You'll find more as the game progresses: the Bomb, which can be used to collapse certain parts of the wall, as well as blast weeds apart; the Hook, which can be used to get the heroes across chasms and pits; and many more. These definitely add to the gameplay, incorporating a Zelda-like dungeon action.
Graphics are better than the first, and is definitely quite top-notch as far as SNES goes. Heck, sometimes, it even looks better than Square's Final Fantasy VI! However, the translation team goofed up somewhere, resulting in a couple of messed-up areas (Level B99 of the Ancient Cave where you fight the Master, and the Submarine Shrine where Maxim tries to get the Dual Blade). I don't actually go for graphics as far as games go, but a bug is a bug, and it's really annoying. Kudos for the Sinistrals though. They've never been more larger than life than ever.
Story-wise you get the standard console RPG romp through the world's various continents, fetching this McGuffin and delivering it back to whoever wants it, or just going through dungeons to get to the next town. What makes it enjoyable is all that Lufia heart. This is Lufia and the Fortress of Doom's prequel. It tells the story of that hero Maxim, the final tragic chapter of which we witnessed in the prologue to Lufia I. There are certain sequences that made me smile, and one that almost made me cry. This is epic heroic fantasy at its best.
Lufia II is a very different game from its predecessor, but it is these same changes that enhanced it, making it perhaps the greatest console RPG on the SNES.
Fudge Ratings (Scale of -3 to +3)
Gameplay: Great (+2)
Graphics: Great (+2)
Story: Superb (+3)