Lufia and the Fortress of Doom

Wait a minute, is this screen from Lufia or Dragon Warrior VII?  Don't get mad, I'M JUST TEASING.
Sailing the wide open seas.

   When you ask an avid RPG fan what their favorite RPG series is, you're likely to hear Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, Seiken Densestu, or perhaps even Breath of Fire, classic ongoing series which hold their roots in either the 8 or 16 bit generations. Had you asked the same question four years ago, there would have been another likely contender: Lufia. There was a time when the people who played both entries of the Lufia series considered it Final Fantasy's biggest threat -- unfortunately, limited exposure and a failed attempt at entering the 32-bit generation have let one of the Super Nintendo's greatest RPG series slip players' minds.

   However, most gamers who played the first title of the series, Lufia and the Fortress of Doom, are filled with fond memories of the colorful adventure. Why gamers enjoyed it so much is unclear. No one aspect of Lufia stands out beyond the competition by much of a margin. Certainly, Lufia and the Fortress of Doom is proof of the old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Choose LIFE, Maxim!  Then LIVE!  Oh, wait, that's right, you ide anyways.  Ha ha, sucks to be you.
It's time for a showdown, baby.

   The story follows the journeys of an unnamed hero and his childhood friend, Lufia. The hero is the descendant of Maxim, a brave warrior who fought a group of four evil beings known as the Sinistrals one hundred years ago. Lufia, on the other hand, has no recollection of her past from the times before she wandered into the hero's village as an orphaned child. Two more friends will join the pair's entourage throughout the game: Aguro, a physically strong but magic-less warrior, and Jerin, a half elf. Once together, the group resembles the quartet who battled the evil Sinistrals one-hundred years ago, which is a good thing seeing as the Sinistrals are plotting to return once again to destroy the world.

Baby's got back.
Lufia learns "Bounce."

   The plotline may not be the most original ever seen in an RPG, but it is good enough to provide a sufficient driving force throughout the game. Character interactions, while once again not overly innovative, still managed to provide an enjoyable tension throughout the entire quest. Once into the game, players will find that the majority of the story is driven from point A to point B by fetch quests. The hero will constantly express his desire to chase down the Sinistrals, although doing so will generally require repairing a bridge, rescuing a King, freeing a child being held captive, or repairing a specific mode of transportation. As always, with Lufia, these generic fetch-quests may sound like a definite turn-off for many players, yet certain factors helped the game to remain enjoyable.

   One thing that may have helped many players stay in the game is the upbeat presentation. Unlike many RPGs, Lufia almost completely forgoes the idea of using a moody atmosphere to draw in gamers. Lufia and the Fortress of Doom contains more happiness and bright colors than an entire season of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. Characters are super-deformed in a cartoon style, and every town and overworld area is filled with exceedingly bright and "cheerful" colors. Even the music lends to the effect; most songs found in Lufia are generally a short upbeat tune repeated for flavor. Certainly not the most brilliant score ever, but it does manage to be one of the more catchy ones at the same time.

'Slay the dreaded silver Dragon!'
High-tech meets Knight in Shining Armor.

   Of course, there will be times when you'll appreciate the happy atmosphere, as Lufia and the Fortress of Doom presents gamers with a few challenges along the way, and on occasion one just may need the cheering up. Level building is a requirement for survival, and there's no escaping it. Remember how in the original Dragon Warrior you eventually learned to expect enemies to get multitudes stronger each time you had to cross a bridge? The same basic concept plays out in Lufia -- if you're heading to a new area, be prepared for some tough fights at first. Luckily, the battles manage to be rather enjoyable. Lufia uses a turn-based battle system without an ATB (Active Time Battle) function, so the entire team's actions are planned before the round begins. A degree of strategy is added when taking this approach, as you'll sometimes be required to predict whether or not a heal is necessary to survive. In addition, if a character is told to strike at an enemy who later dies before that character's turn, the character will attack empty air, effectively wasting a turn.

Stoned on the Job
Nothing like a bad premonition.

   Money is never as big a concern, as you'll eventually earn plenty of cash due to level building, and most equipment can be found in caves instead of being purchased. Puzzles also play a large and enjoyable role in advancing throughout the game. Lufia contains a fan-favorite style of puzzles that would later on appear in games such as Wild Arms: puzzles that, while difficult, are not random to the point of requiring a strategy guide. However, just because they're made to be figured out on their own, don't expect to just blow right through them. More often than not, they'll leave you to stop and think for a minute before moving on.

   In the end, Lufia doesn't bring anything overly original to the table. Instead, it presents an overall solid package that to this day remains an enjoyable gaming experience. At the same time, it laid the groundwork for an impressive and innovative sequel, thus kicking off one of the most memorable series of the 16 bit era. While Lufia's stance in the RPG field may currently be weakened, a devoted fan base along with a Game Boy Color title will hopefully help the Lufia series rise like the Fortress of Doom.

Retrospective by Jeremy Steimel, GIA.
Lufia and the Fortress of Doom
Developer Taito
Publisher Taito
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium Cartridge
Platform Super Nintendo
Released 1993
59 screenshots
American and Japanese box art
Scenario Masahide Miyata
Anthony Gurr
Character Design M. Sato
Music Yasunori Shiono
Aki Zaitsu
Naomi Kuroda
Full game credits