When you first head out in Lufia, you'll find yourself with a party of four, in the middle of a dungeon, with all of your characters being high levels, with excellent equipment, plenty of items, and everyone else one can imagine. This might come as a bit unusual. What this is, in reality, is the backstory leading up to the beginning of Lufia 1. About 10 minutes in, you'll complete this, head 90 years into the future, and this is where the actual story of Lufia 1 picks up. What you had started out playing, in reality, was what was to become the ending of Lufia 2. More on this nearer the end of the review.
In any event, with that beginning out of the way, you head into the storyline of Lufia 1. You find yourself 90 years after the happening of what you had just played, and the story now centers around a young boy (no default name, so, his name is whatever you decide to name him. Like "Eric" for instance. In any event though). He's outside playing, when a mysterious girl named Lufia comes up to talk to him. Of course, being young, no one thinks to ask questions like "Who are you?" or "Where did you come from?" or whatnot. His only question is "Do you want to play?" So, with that, off they run to play. Time passes, and it's suddenly 10 years later. It's now 100 years after the events at the start of the game, and the hero and Lufia are now grown. The hero is a knight in the kingdom's forces, and Lufia is his good friend. Things are peaceful, everyone is happy, and there's hardly a thought given to what took place 100 years ago. That, of course, is when all the trouble begins. The storyline is excellent to say the least, and I could go on for quite a while about it. I don't want to give anything further than a few minutes into the game away though, so, you'll just have to find out the rest for yourself.
As far as the actual gameplay goes, one thing to get out of the way right away. Lufia is an RPG with random encounters and turn-based battles. If that isn't your thing, then, quite obviously, you aren't going to like this game regardless of anything else. If random encounters drive you insane, or turn-based battles bore you to tears, you're not going to like this game. There really isn't any way around that, any way to sugar-coat it, or anything. In order to like this game, you have to like those basic elements. So, if you don't like them, probably best to just avoid the game, since that is a rather critical point. Assuming you don't mind them though (or maybe you actually like random, turn-based battles. I happen to be quite fond of them), or if you haven't played a game like that before and think it might be interesting, then read on.
So, yes, at its core, Lufia's gameplay is centered around the fairly typical gameplay of many other RPGs. If you've played others, you have a good idea of what to expect here. That doesn't have to be a bad thing though, as, if you like it, it's quite enjoyable. In this game, you start out by yourself, but soon after add a second member to your party. As you progress in the game, you'll add two more members to your party, rounding out your group of four. As you fight monsters, you'll gain experience, which in turn will cause you to gain levels, which will cause you to advance in statistics, gaining health points, magic points, agility, and the other components that make up your characters. You'll gain gold from fights, which you can use at shops in town to buy weapons to increase your attack, armor to boost your defense, or a (very) large variety of items to use in many different circumstances, from refilling your health to temporarily boosting a statistic in battle, and many other situations. The thing about Lufia isn't so much that it's different from many other RPGs, it's just that, everything that it does, it does so very well.
In Lufia, you make your way through towns, talking to people, gathering information, and interacting with people. Then, you make your way outside, to the world map, where you'll wander about, fighting enemies, and finding the next area that you need to go. Along the way you'll come across various dungeons and caves and other such areas that you'll need to explore, to find a certain item or to pass between areas or whatever. Unlike later Lufia games where dungeons were largely focused on solving puzzles, Lufia 1 doesn't really focus on puzzles in dungeons, instead it's just you trying to find your way through the dungeon or other area, finding the items hidden in it, or whatever else you need to be doing there. These areas are far from drab however. The graphics and style of Lufia really bring these places alive, where it really is very interesting to explore, you wonder what is hidden, and it's very enjoyable to just wander around a dank cave finding out what it's like. Likewise, the music always fits the areas well, further drawing you into the dungeon, or the town, or wherever you happen to be exploring. So, along the game goes, exploring towns, through dungeons, accomplishing assorted tasks, working toward your goal.
As you gain levels, you'll also earn a number of spells which you can use in battle. Defensive spells to help your party, healing spells to recover health, and offensive spells to attack enemies. With the offensive spells, some of them can attack groups of enemies while others just attack a single enemy. In battle, turns are determined by agility, you select where you want your characters to attack, the enemies will attack and you will attack. One thing to note about Lufia's battle system. Similar to some older games, the enemies are broken up into groups, and you select which group to attack. Say, for instance, there was a group of 2 rats and 3 skeletons. For each person, you could either direct them to attack the group of rats, or the group of skeletons. The issue arises in, say you have all 4 people in your group attack the rats. Now, if the first two people kill both of the rats, the second two people in your group, instead of moving their attack over to the group of skeletons, will instead continue to try attacking the group of rats (which of course doesn't exist anymore), and miss. While this might seem like a huge pain to people who are used to the battle system taking care of these details for you, once you get used to it, it simply works itself into your battle planning. It does take a bit more thought of course, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just means you have to think, alright, the first two people will probably kill both the rats, so I'll have the second two people attack the skeletons. It's just something else to take into consideration. I felt it was worth mentioning in a review just so it doesn't catch anyone off-guard, but, it really isn't a "problem" so to speak, just something that'll need to be taken into consideration during battle.
Getting back to the game itself, there's one other key part of the game that needs mentioning. If you've played other Lufia games, you might already be familiar with a place called the Ancient Cave. Now, the cave takes a slightly different form in each of the games, but, the goal is the same. It's a cave that gets progressively harder as you work your way down. Once you first come to it, you'll probably only be able to go down one or two levels, but, you'll keep coming back to it as you progress through the game, testing yourself, trying to go further. It's not required at all, there's no item in it that you need in order to complete the game or anything like that. It's simply a fun extra thing to test you. In this game, you can head down one level for every five levels your characters gain. On each level will be a number of chests scattered around the floor with some very good items to find, as well as a special chest hidden away somewhere in which you can find an item that a person back on the surface will pay you a good deal of money for. So, the Ancient Cave is an excellent place to get some quick gold, find some very good items, or just continue to entertain you, seeing what's on the next level, and how far you can go.
One thing to touch on before the end, which was mentioned at the beginning of the review. The beginning part of Lufia 1 is actually the end of Lufia 2. That is, the events of Lufia 2 lead up to the beginning of Lufia 1. So, the question might logically follow, which game should you play first. Well, Lufia 2 does come chronologically before Lufia 1. Nonetheless, you don't see all of the ending to Lufia 2 in the beginning of Lufia 1, so, it's not like the entire thing is spoiled for you. Obviously in the end the choice is up to you, it's not like there's a "wrong" way to do it or something. Nonetheless, I would recommend playing Lufia 1 before Lufia 2, just because the gameplay flows better that way. Lufia 3 (Lufia: The Legend Returns) also fits into the storyline, as does Lufia 4 (Lufia: The Ruins of Lore) to a lesser extent. All of those games are certainly worth playing, and of course you will get more out of the story as a whole if you do play all of them. Nonetheless, it's by no means required that you play all, or any, of the other ones if you don't want to, and the order you play them in really is up to you. To have four games linked so tightly into a story, though, it really does make the world come alive even more. Again, while this is only a review for Lufia 1, all of the other games (especially 2) are, most definitely, worth playing if you get the chance. If you like this game, odds are you'll like the others as well.
Lufia's quest is rather lengthy, probably in the area of around 30 hours or so, depending on how much side stuff you decide to do (you could easily spend another 10 hours or so working through the Ancient Cave alone). There are so many people to talk to, things to find, places to explore, and everything else, that you can just take your time wandering around, exploring, having fun, and put in well more time than that. Lufia is a game where the storyline will pull you in right from the beginning, and hold you until the very end. The game certainly isn't too short, but, you'll never want it to end. You'll have fun exploring, you'll become attached to the people in your group, and the game will quite easily become a lasting memory for you.
If you like RPGs, odds are you'll love Lufia. Even if you've never played an RPG before, Lufia is certainly a good place to start. A fun game, which never seems boring, always has new and interesting stuff to find, places to explore, things to discover, and many more things. A gripping storyline, which will keep you interested the entire way through. Lufia is an absolutely spectacular game, one of my favorites ever, and a game that everyone should try.