Lufia: The Legend Returns Review
Why Did It Bother?
Most would agree that the Lufia series peaked with its second installment which was released in the later years of the SNES, but it nevertheless continued to exist with a few more games afterward. I attempted to play through the GBA and DS titles of the franchise and didn’t make it to the end of either, leaving Lufia: The Legend Returns as the one game I’d never given a shot. Having finally done so, I can at least say that it’s better than the GBA entry, but that’s not much of an accomplishment. The Legend Returns makes the first title seem close to decent in retrospect, something I did not expect to ever concede.
A century after the events of the first Lufia, a young man named Wain has a yen for adventure. This urge is kindled and supported by a magician named Seena, who comes to town and enlists Wain to join her quest of uniting many worthy individuals. The reason for pulling strong people together becomes clear when the Sinistral Gades appears to unleash the destruction that is his modus operandi. The demigod antagonists of the first two games called the Sinistrals are indeed returning to menace the world once more, and stopping their onslaught is of paramount importance.
For most of its length The Legend Returns tells a tale only slightly more complicated than something from the NES days. Some of the dialogue is amusing, but the lackluster 2001 localization does it no favors, particularly when obvious typos were left in the text. Character development is nonexistent much of the time, with most of the cast signing up to have an adventure and displaying no further personality traits than what was there upon introduction. The conclusion tries to tie this title in with the established canon of the series, but in an unimpressive way that doesn’t make much sense.
Most of the playable cast actually appears in battle thanks to a party size that tops out at nine. This party is arranged in a three-by-three grid where only one character in each column can act per turn, probably to prevent easy victories. A number of special moves gained through dungeon exploration differentiate the cast, but otherwise combat will be instantly familiar to anyone who has experience with a turn-based RPG. Something inherited from the second Lufia is that enemies are visible in dungeons and can be avoided, with random battles only occurring on the world map.
This Lufia flubs a number of aspects in its combat though, starting with the difficulty balance. Perhaps in an attempt to make up for them generally being outnumbered, enemies often get multiple actions each turn. Numerous adversaries later in the game get to heal themselves before attacking the entire party or summon a reinforcement without expending the turn. A double standard also exists when it comes to getting the initiative. Enemies always get a surprise attack should they catch the party from the rear, while the reverse is not consistently true. Since the player’s formation is scattered randomly when taken by surprise this is not a happy occurrence. It is also incredibly useful to keep one specific computer-controlled ally in the party, because even though this character may do nothing at all it still means the potential for a fourth action each turn instead of just three the player can direct.
Exacerbating the monotony of combat is the dungeon design, which uses randomly generated layouts for everything in the game. The scenery changes a little from place to place, but every dungeon comes with enemies wandering around rooms with patches of grass on the ground. Under the grass can be traps, chests or most likely nothing at all, and except for available special moves the contents of treasure chests do not vary between locations. Trudging through up to twenty-five floors of the same scenery per dungeon ceases to be enjoyable long before the game has even reached its midpoint. This random nature makes getting through the game partially dependent on luck, although thirty-five hours should be sufficient to complete the quest.
Grinding is a wise idea in this Lufia due to the character progression system. The purpose is not solely for increasing character levels, because battles yield a currency called LP in addition to experience points. LP is used to purchase new spells from priests, and also increases character statistics through enhancing elemental affinities. LP is gained rather slowly though, and there is no other way to obtain it except crushing every possible enemy. Money for new equipment is also not gained at a rate that will allow the party to stay effective without taking time to grind.
Inventory is a troublesome subject in The Legend Returns, with the issue of limited Game Boy Color screen real estate exacerbated by poor decisions. The single most frustrating aspect is that the screen constantly displays the ability to press Start in order to reveal details about anything currently selected, and this text with pertinent information vanishes once that button is released. Precisely why the relevant description was not on the screen all the time will likely never be known. Other issues are also present, such as descriptions that don’t make sense even when they’re displayed and a menu system that is unnecessarily obtuse at times. There is also the irritating insistence of the dungeon chests on providing the same items throughout, the bulk of which outgrow their usefulness before the game is halfway done.
Considering the Game Boy Color’s limitations, the visual presentation is solid. Plenty of palette swaps await but a reasonable variety of unique enemy visuals will be encountered. Dungeon appearances become monotonous very quickly thanks to seeing the same general layout umpteen times, but the developers did at least include several different looks to reduce the tedium a bit. Character sprites don’t have much in the way of animation, but their actions in battle do get depicted in moderately interesting ways.
Some of the compositions to be heard are quite catchy, and others achieve nothing more than being promptly forgotten. Most of the music is at least inoffensive, but the sound effects are not so easy on one’s ears. Their quality is nothing great even by GBC standards, but a bizarre programming choice means they often overpower the music. Hearing the same obnoxious sound crowd out battle music nine times, once for each character, when healing a full party is an unpleasant experience.
I was actually able to complete The Legend Returns instead of giving up after being enraged, which makes this game superior to Lufia: The Ruins of Lore on GBA. It’s still a massive step down from the second Lufia, and even makes the first look somewhat better in retrospect. Nowadays the Lufia series seems to be dead, and this game is not a hidden gem to argue it should still get another chance.
Tries out some interesting ideas
Has quite a bit of content
Dungeon exploration is extremely monotonous
Infuriating icons and inventory