Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lufia's Prequel

As I mentioned in my last post, the classic RPG Lufia and the Fortress of Doom let you play through the final confrontation between the hero Maxim and the evil Sinistrals, and in doing so created a memorable and interesting group of characters, despite their lack of screen time. As such, it was no big surprise when the sequel to Lufia ended up as Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals, a prequel telling the entire story of how Maxim came to be the hero who originally defeated the Sinistrals. Lufia 2 was a very good game, and despite a few oddities and flaws it surpassed the original to become a truly memorable game. Even if it weren't for the quality of the game itself, it is an interesting game for me because the designers had to make a story that would be interesting even though many players would have already seen the game's final confrontation and learned a lot about the characters.

There are several important facts that are made clear about Maxim's story in the original Lufia. First, Maxim was the hero who wielded Dual Blade in the final battle. Second, the final team that fought the Sinistrals were Maxim, Selan, Guy, and Artea. Third, Maxim and Selan were married and had a child. Fourth, the final battle was fought on the floating fortress Doom Island, against the four Sinistrals: Daos, Gades, Amon, and Erim. A player going from Lufia 1 to Lufia 2 would expect all of these things to hold true, and other than a few minor details regarding the sequence of events on Doom Island, they are. Lufia 2 doesn't even try to twist around events in order to have a "real" final boss battle that takes place after the battle shown in Lufia's opening sequence. The battle fought against Daos at the start of Lufia 1 is the final battle of Lufia 2. In fact, Lufia 2 goes so far as to keep a lot of the same dialog and give Selan the "light" spell she uses to illuminate the dark fortress at the start of Lufia 1. Of course, while the end of Maxim's story is set in stone, the journey itself is a different matter.

Lufia 2 begins with Maxim living in a small town in a region totally unlike anything seen in Lufia 1, where his closest friend is a girl named Tia. As he travels through the game, Tia joins him as a major ally from the start, and he meets Guy, Selan, and Artea on his travels, along with two other major party members. You end up using Maxim, Guy, Selan, and Artea as the final team, but that is hardly the only team available. In fact, one of the new characters introduced in Lufia 2, Dekar, is one of the most entertaining and valuable allies in the entire game. Also, because of Tia's presence in the game, the inevitable romance between Maxim and Selan is unexpectedly made out to be a lot less inevitable and obvious than it otherwise could have been. Because of this, even if the player has the foreknowledge who will join for the final team, there are still many things in the game that would be new for that player, so things remain interesting.

Because Lufia has already established that Maxim and Selan are married and have a child at the end of their journey, Lufia 2 is one of those very rare games in which the love story results in the two lead characters meeting, falling in love, getting married, and having a family all across the course of the game itself. In fact, most of that occurs halfway through the game. Also because of what is known from Lufia 1, Lufia 2 is an even more rare type of game in which a married couple actually adventures as a team, rather than being a more conventional story of a hero who leaves his wife at home. The designers even had some fun with that element of it, particularly in the rather unconventional way Maxim and Selan ended up celebrating their own wedding (which involved the weapons and armor they kept hidden under their wedding clothes). As a result, the relationship between Maxim and Selan is far from being a typical over-used plot, adding to the uniqueness of this game.

My only real complaint about the way Lufia 2 carries over from the original game is the way it depicts the sword Dual Blade and Doom Island. Dual Blade is Maxim's iconic weapon, and is very important to the plot of Lufia 1, but hardly has any role at all in Lufia 2. Doom Island is the site of the final battle and is the main place that links the two games, but doesn't appear until the end of Lufia 2. In fact, both pretty much just appear out of nowhere at the end of the game, with fairly little explanation or build-up, even though Lufia 1 implies that both are central to Maxim's quest. It simply seems odd that a game that otherwise works well as a prequel would ignore two of the most important pieces of the series' plot.

One thing that makes Lufia 2 a truly unusual prequel, though, is the fact that you can go through the whole game knowing that Maxim and Selan will die in the end. The year of peace they enjoy in the middle of the game is a nice touch that gives much of the same effect as a happy ending, but it still is the closest they come to a "happily ever after". Lufia 2 does not dodge around the fact that Maxim and Selan died in the opening of Lufia 1, and it does not do anything to try to undo that fate and give them a happy ending regardless of what was said in Lufia 1. This makes the game feel very bittersweet even in the light-hearted moments, but at the same time helps make those moments seem even more important.

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