I've never much liked RPGs with cartoony big-head characters, but after
about an hour of play, Lufia and the Fortress of Doom drew me in and kept
me playing to the end. There was an interesting and mysterious bond between
the red-haired hero and Lufia, his female companion.
As the game opens, you have control of a band of four great warriors who
have entered an island floating in the sky; the Fortress of Doom. It's
occupied by four tyrannical wizards called the Sinistrals who must be
defeated in order to free the oppressed populace below. Our warriors are
armed to the teeth with various items and magic spells, and it's confusing
at first to figure out what they all do. It doesn't take long to beat the
Sinistrals, and as a result the island falls and sinks into the sea. Now
the story jumps ahead 100 years to the young hero, a descendant of Maxim
(one of the original warriors,) and his new friend Lufia, a little girl who
has wandered into town and has no memory of her parents or home. They grow
closer over the years until monsters invade a nearby town and our hero (who
you can give a name) sets out to investigate. When rumors circulate that
the Sinistrals are being resurrected, Lufia joins the young warrior on his
journey to discover the truth. Eventually they pick up two more travelers.
Aguro is a strong knight from a local army who can't use magic, and Jerin
is an Elfin girl who wields magic as well as a bow that can hit multiple
enemies at once.
While traveling the colorful but blocky and simplistic countryside, you're
occasionally thrown into battle mode. Your characters appear at the bottom
of the screen with five command icons, and the monsters appear at the top.
Attacks go in turns, and you have to plan your moves carefully because once
an enemy is dead, any further attacks that had been directed against it
will hit empty air. This basically amounts to a wasted turn and can mean
life or death for somebody if it happens at a bad time. Each character's
five commands are attack, use magic, use item, defend, or flee. The magic
spells are strong and useful but not very exciting to see, and the
sometimes goofy-looking monsters aren't really animated at all. It makes me
wonder if the game was intended for younger players, since the enemies have
names like "Huge Bunny" and "Frogula," and the adventure in general is
pretty straightforward and simple. You can never get to the next town until
you fix a bridge, find a boat, explore a tower, get a key, or whatever. And
each town is one step closer to your goal of locating the Sinistrals and
stopping them from recapturing your world.
Leveling up happens easily and often, and monsters carry plenty of money.
Halfway through the game it won't matter if an inn asks for 10 gold or 200.
It will hardly make a dent in your purse. You'll rarely need to buy items
either, since caves are packed with treasure chests. More than once I
bought the latest weapons and armor, and then found it all for free in a
nearby cave. The bosses aren't very difficult and if you're completely
defeated, you're returned with half your total money to the last town where
you saved. The music was usually light and forgettable, and the sound
effects were also rather plain. Enemies were eventually recycled; their
name, HP, and color being the only changes. Townspeople were re-used too.
It seems like every armor shop was run by a blond guy in a green shirt and
sunglasses. But all the way to the end, which took me about 39 hours, the
story was good, or at least good enough to keep me playing. Sometimes
amusing, sometimes sentimental, the story was always the heart of the game
and the reason to work toward the end. After all, you've got to solve that
mystery: who is Lufia really?