2019-08-28: Lennus II: Maybe with a Paladin?
Hot on the heels of Lennus AKA Paladin's Quest, I looked toward Lennus II as my next game to complete. Unfortunately I waffled on streaming it because of its status as a fan translated title from a translation group with... well... let's say "a history". I weaved Shining the Holy Ark into my stream list while probing out for thoughts from others on if the translation was good... or at least not-objectionable... enough to warrant playing through. I largely received positive responses, so I fired it up a couple of weeks ago.
It definitely shows that Lennus II is a sequel, rather than just another game with the same concepts (like, say, Final Fantasy and Breath of Fire). You're largely expected to grasp the magic system from the original, and it's reprised almost identically in the sequel: each party member has certain spirits with competency levels in each, and those spirits combine to form spells. Spell strength is determined by the levels a character has in the spirits used to create that spell. This part is a straight port from Lennus and anyone who played the original should feel right at home. The lack of MP in favor of using HP to fuel your spells is also here again, as is the usage of bottles, and the weird equipment system that lets you use boots, helmets, and shields as "weapons" in battle.
The differences are rather important, and largely improvements. Instead of having to use spells of a specific element to level that element, you now gain elemental affinity by defeating enemies of a certain element. After an enemy is defeated, it will drop elemental sprites that will be distributed as points to your party after combat. This means you're not limited to using specific spells if you want to level up a given element; you'll gain in that element naturally by fighting battles. Additionally, the weird spells with unique mechanics are gone. Now each offensive element has four tiers of spells: the old "Single" "Group" and "All" from Lennus, as well as an "Ultimate" tier-- though I never used the Ultimate tier as I never leveled the element needed to power it very much. This is a fairly big change as it was the "weird" spells like Storm and LStorm that made up most of my casting in the late game of Lennus.
The protagonist, Farus, is now limited to four elements. While you can get all eight, he can only carry with him four at a time and must switch them in town. This limit results in having access to only ten spells at any given time; to make up for this, the protagonist is significantly more adept at physical damage than Chezni was in Lennus. One of the most practical approaches is to give Farus all the support elements and make him melee, like an actual Paladin. To assist him, you can hire three mercenaries, just like in Lennus. These mercs can actually have their equipment upgraded, though their elements are set and cannot be changed. They're all generic mooks though just like in the original. Lennus II lacks a female protagonist side-kick: you'll always be traveling with three mercs.
Lennus II keeps a lot of the same strange alien motif as its predecessor, though it dulls the color palette a bit. Still, you get that feeling of being in a completely different world. The opening is fairly unique by SNES era RPG standards: you wake up in some kind of temple, being worshiped as a savior by a cult of people who are trying to bring about something called "The Great Union" and are sent to gather four orbs to make it happen. What the union is, no one know for sure-- just that it's supposed to bring happiness to the world. Once you gather the orbs, however, you find the union is a cataclysmic event that tears a hole in the sky and floods the world with lava. The "sky" parts to reveal the entire world thus-far has been underground, and you can now access an overworld called Eltz, overseen by an evil tyrant trying to destroy the world. To stop him, you have to gather eight seals.
Yeah okay, a lot of macguffin collecting. Still the intro is neat. Another unique thing is once you're on the overworld, about 75% of this leg of the game takes place around a giant mega-city called Nigel. It's from this city that you set out to find most of the seals, and return to find your next directions. Nigel is huge, taking up a good 10-15% of the overworld map and having a good ten or so screens of just sprawling city-scape within. It's pretty rare in CRPGs to have one big central mega-city like this, I think. I found it kind of cool. This leg of the game ends once you have all eight seals, and activate a space bridge to the world of Lennus: the world of the original Paladin's Quest.
Once on Lennus you can roam to most of the cities from the original game. Daphne's Cave is even still there. Most of the locations have seen better days though; the entire world is crumbling and run down. Here you have to collect the eight seals again, though they're in batches of two this time. Once all eight seals are in your hands (again), the final dungeon opens and you climb the Throne of Immortals to fight the big bad. The Throne is exactly the same as it was in Lennus, which is another neat throwback. During this final leg of the game, the "True Great Union" occurs: the merging of Lennus and Eltz into one massive world map. You know how in Lennus, an entire half of the world was ocean with one or two islands in it? Well Eltz smashes right into this giant oceanic void perfectly, creating a single massive world that can be freely explored.
Lennus II's strengths lie in the fact that the developers took what worked in the original and built upon it, while tweaking the things that didn't. The strange inconsistent spells like LStorm have been replaced with the more consistent ultimate tier spells, elements no longer level per-use so you're not locked into spamming spells to level them, the solid music from the original has been jazzed up with some really awesome battle and dungeon themes, and the general aesthetic has been sharpened with little details like displaying your party for a moment before they pan off-screen to begin battle each fight. Several quality of life improvements have been made, such as the addition of the "Health" button, which instantly utilizes your bottles to fully heal your party at any time. It does it in a pretty reasonable manner too: bag first, then party, using bottles of the correct size to heal efficiently.
Where Lennus II falls short is primarily in direction and difficulty. For direction, several segments of the game you are left with no idea of where to go or what to do. This could be the translation at fault, admittedly. I spent a good chunk of time wandering the Nigel Slums with no idea of how to escape. Eventually I stumbled into one NPC (out of maybe fifty) that told me what I needed to do. In another case, I stumbled upon an item in a chest in a random dungeon, only to find some time later I needed that item to progress the plot by giving it to a random NPC in a tavern. I managed to do this correctly blindly on the first go-around, but if I'd missed the NPC, or missed the item, I would have been quite lost.
As for Lennus II's difficulty, it's... strange. I'd rate the game as on the easy side if you just go through normally, but once you discover the spells Grava and Spela, the game just gets ridiculously simple. Grava and Spela summon creatures that protect you from physical attacks and magic respectively, much like Golem from Final Fantasy 5. They will tank any hit sent toward your party until their HP runs out, then they'll disappear having blocked all of the hit that kills them. That means even though Grava may only have ~1000 HP, he'll happily tank all of a 4000 damage attack. This means for a good chunk of the game, as long as you spam Grava and Spela every turn, no boss can touch you. Eventually you get boss fights with multiple foes, or bosses who can attack multiple times a turn, but even then Grava and Spela can just block massive hits for you every turn as long as you keep summoning them. I'd highly recommend trying to get as far as you can in the game before ever casting these spells; they make fights way, way too easy. You can even get a shield in the late game that casts Grava for free when used, just before the final boss that is mainly dangerous because it packs a massive physical attack that can be completely absorbed by the spell.
Another thing with the game's difficulty curve is the extremely spiky character power gain. Every two levels of elemental affinity, your spells change significantly. Once you max out a given offensive element, its representative single target attack spells gets super-charged, gaining the ability to splash across an entire group, and doing approximately triple the damage of its prior level. If you're rather loyal to your mercenaries, this can happen really, really early, giving you the ability to one-shot everything for about half the game. While your mercs are exploding everything with 5000 damage element casts, you can also find some really over-powered weapons like the Multi-blade, Tsunami Sword, and Death Cutter that let Farus (or any fighter) deal 4500 damage that almost nothing resists. The game's difficulty seems to assume you change mercs a lot, and end up having to re-level elements.
All in all though, the game's solid. A very faithful sequel with the weak points of the original polished up. The plot kind of leaves off with a dangling thread, lampshading the intention of producing a Lennus III, but alas that never came to be. It's a shame really, the Lennus universe is so incredibly unique in not just aesthetic but mechanic and lore that I would have loved to have another installment to chew on.