For a moment, believe that you’re a game developer and you’ve had one massive hit, one game that made such a splash on the gaming scene that it is regularly regarded as a classic, even 15 years later. What do you do with such a hit? Do you make a direct sequel to it? Do you remake it using modern technology and spruce it up with tender loving care? Or do you take what made it great, remove it, and create some bastardized half baked game that cashes-in on the trend of action RPGs? Well, knowing the current state of gaming it shouldn’t take you long to figure out which choice they made. And with SquareEnix’s fingers in the pot, this game had no chance to be something special, to be fair though Neverland had a hand in it’s development as well, so we should be happy that Maxim wasn’t retconned into some farmer who has one year to raise enough money to keep his farm from being destroyed by Gades. But enough of my bitching, let’s get to the steaming pile— err, game, they produced.
Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals was released for the DS about 15 years after the original Lufia II for the SNES in 2010. It was billed as remake of the first game, an upgrade, an improvement if you will. But we got the wool pulled over our eyes and what we got was instead a Zelda inspired action RPG where you choose a fighter out of a total of six heroes to traverse dungeons, fight monsters, and solve puzzles. The plot and characters remain the same in name only, everything is changed, characterization is completely overhauled and the plot has been thrown into a blender, so even a rabid fan of the original wouldn’t know what plot point comes up next. The gameplay was also completely changed to be more in tune with the modern audience. Gag me.
Everything traditional and classic that fans loved from the first game is gutted and replaced with an action RPG engine rendered in 3D. The player can choose one of the 6 characters fight in battles, and you can switch them out at any time. Each has their own unique play style and “tool” to solve puzzles which leads to some interesting puzzle elements, but most of the time it just boils down to rotating the characters down to see who will let you proceed. This also leads to backtracking because early dungeons will have puzzles and tricks that only late game character’s abilities will allow you to solve. The puzzles were one of the best parts of Lufia II, they were devious, but fair. They really made you stop and think, but now they are very “one note” and you don’t need to think at all to blast your way through 99% of them. Also, only the character that you are currently controlling gains 100% of the experience, the others get only a fraction, so you can’t choose your favorites unless you want some severely underpowered characters, you have to master all six. The IP gauge is back, but now it simply regenerates over time and when it fills completely you can use a special attack. The game uses a Ys or Zelda type battle system where you gain experience and gold for defeating enemies, though if you want to you can continue to beat the enemies to a bloody pulp after they are dead for additional rewards.
The traditional overworld map is gone and is instead replaced with a point and click screen, similar to “Ruins of Lore”. Many locations are completely gone and those that remain are unrecognizable, and the while this does help streamline the game, much of the lore and characterization was cut along with it, not to mention that capsule monsters are kaput as well. The Ancient Cave is also a disappointment in that you can only traverse to the 30th floor on the first play through, you have to beat the game in order to unlock the rest of the 99 floors. Also, beating the game first is the only way to unlock the ubiquitous Dragon Egg sidequest. In this great modern age of gaming with such new and improved technology, what was once a 60 hour game should be so much more! But, it is now a 15 hour game.
I’m normally not the biggest fan of 3D, preferring traditional sprites when I get the chance, but one aspect the game excels at is its visuals, not to say that they are great or pretty, but the artists did a good job making sure that each area had a unique look and differentiation from one another. Unlike the original where the exotic elf town looked just like any other town and all the caves/towers looked exactly the same. The bottom screen is used for gameplay while the top typically shows a map of the area, but every once in a while it switches to a gameplay screen as well, creating a large vertical map, but this really only used during cutscenes and boss fights, which helps make them special. There are some technical problems plaguing the game, such as battle slowdown and an extremely zoomed in camera, making it difficult to navigate even with a map.
The game employs a unique customization system called the Mystic Stone Board, which is similar to grids used in Arc Rise Fantasia or the sphere grid Final Fantasy X, if you’re not familiar with the much superior Arc Rise Fantasia. Basically, as you play the game you collect blocks that you then are able to place on the grid and when you complete a chain of blocks the character gains the ability in question, which can range from stat boosts and passive abilities to special attacks!
The game’s story is much different in this iteration, though some plot points remain the same. This different is evident right from the beginning, instead of going through a half a dozen dungeons before learning of the Sinistrals, Gades is already wrecking havoc right from the get-go. At the beginning Maxim lauches a failed attack on the Gades’ Lair and Lexis joins up to help, though as an NPC. This is shocking to anyone who has played the original. Though the DS version does pay some homage to the original, Tia still cooks a terrible meal for Maxim and has a crush on him, Maxim and Selan still meet at Parcelyte, Bart and Berty (Betty now..) are still your bumbling duo of thieves and the game still ends with the bitter sacrifice of Maxim and Selan. However, the New Game + allows for the choice of a alternate, non-canon, happier ending which is blasphemy if you ask me.
Though the game is shorter, the script is actually longer and many character changes took place in the process. Tia, for example, had a complete 180, the original Tia was a weaponshop owner with a crush on Maxim, she excelled at spell casting and took on the “damsel in distress” role on more than one occasion. She attacked with whips and bailed out on the party once she realized that Maxim only had eyes for Selan. However, in the DS game she is turned into a childhood friend of Maxim who is confident in her battle abilites and beats enemies to a pulp with a giant suitcase. She also stays around the entire time now and nurses a crush on Dekar once Maxim and Selan get married. Iris, rather than popping up every once in a while to give a cryptic clue, now tags along for the whole ride and Selan uses chakrams rather than rods and Artea, guns, rather than bows and arrows. Lexus is totally demoted from a playable character to an NPC as well. Though he’s really more of a mad scientist this time around, looking exactly like the Doc from “Back to the Future” than a level headed guy who helps you out with an airship and submarine.
One major nostalgic connection with the original lies in the music, most of the soundtrack is reused, and, as such, is still amazing. It sounds a little different, but not a in a bad way, it’s just been spruced up a bit.
The main problem here though, is that the plot moves at such a brisk pace that you never really get the chance to become attached to any of the characters that join you. It’s just kind of, “well, they were in the game before, they need to be in this one too!” By the end of the admittedly short experience, you’re just wanting it to be over. You don’t have enough time to gain any sort of emotional connection to the characters, and two of them, Guy and Artea in particular, are reduced to anime tropes and are completely devoid of anything remotely resembling a unique personality. By streamlining the plot the developers stripped the heart and soul from the game and by the end, the New Game + feature will be the last thing on your mind.
I hate to keep harping on the game, and all things told, it’s not bad. It’s just not a Lufia game, it’s extremely polarizing, much like Breath of Fire Dragon Quarter, but while I liked Dragon Quarter, the same can not be said about Curse of the Sinistrals. Having a new and different game isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not what Lufia fans wanted, especially after the abysmal “Ruins of Lore”. People wanted a return to the classic Lufia gameplay found in the first three games, and we know this because the game flopped, in both here and in Japan. Speaking of Japan, their version had “Party Talk” sequences where characters could have optional discussions to flesh out the plot and their personalities, but that was scrapped from the English version, I guess they hadn’t bastardized their game enough. They needed one last “screw you” before they shipped the game out west. However, traces of the voice acting from those skits have been hidden in the game by hackers.