When simply holding a controller in my hands still felt new and exciting, the loosely defined JRPG genre quickly came to epitomize videogames for me. Ever the precocious child, I gladly lost myself in their depth as I admired their vast storyscapes that often saw groups of outcasts or eccentrics grow into found families. Despite the usually slapdash localization efforts of the 1990s, I was given more than enough to mold these early videogame experiences into meaningful adventures filled with characters whose arcs added a greater significance to the events unfolding in response to my inputs. And through decades of evolving interests and predilections, the breadth of the role-playing genre has continued to feel like the most novelesque take on the videogame form to me.
Among the earliest JRPG entries in my personal videogaming biography was Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, a first taste of the many fascinating possibilities videogames were learning to embrace at the time. Yet, although I replayed Lufia II for countless hours when I was younger, there had always been one fairly large part of it that I mostly ignored: The optional dungeon known as the Ancient Cave. Here, players were tasked with traversing 98 randomly generated floors before defeating the Master, a giant jelly awaiting spelunkers at the very bottom of the cave that must be defeated in three turns to receive a reward. All of this was completely unrelated to the main story. And as somebody who deeply valued the emotional connections that tie gameplay and narrative together, the Ancient Cave felt empty to me as a child, almost pointless; and I rarely gave it a second thought whenever I returned to Lufia II.
More recently, however, as I have become fairly active on Twitch, I discovered that this optional dungeon has a remarkably dedicated and talented speedrunning community. By getting to know some of its members, I learned a lot about this peculiar place that I had shunned for so long. My newfound knowledge came at a time when I had generally grown more accustomed to (and interested in) tackling gameplay-focused challenges in videogames — and thus, as I was replaying Lufia II at the beginning of 2022, I found myself in a very different situation: Now, I was curious to see if I, too, could make it to the bottom of the cave at long last.
Guided by a reliable streamer friend, I set out to try my best at applying what I had learned from watching others. During my attempts, which each lasted over eight hours, I was now receptive to the satisfying feeling derived from the very deliberate steps that are necessary to survive in the cave, from all the patience and planning it takes. And after three unsuccessful battles against the Master, my fourth excursion yielded the desired (and unexpected) result: The jelly was defeated and the Ancient Cave conquered.
Contemplating this final battle, I can sense how my personal story with Lufia II has become more nuanced as it now combines two very different ways in which I tend to appreciate my time with videogames. This exploration of a path I chose not to tread at an earlier point in my life has turned this story into a more complete reflection of how I engage with videogames almost three decades later. And it also serves as a reminder that there are still plenty of worthwhile experiences waiting for me — even where my past self least expected them.