Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals is a game I look back on fondly. It’s kind of like one of your early crushes; you can’t remember why or what attracted you to the person, you just remember that you liked them. That’s exactly how Lufia II is for me. Not too much stands out in my mind as to why I loved it as much as I did; I just know I enjoyed the time I spent playing it. As such, I feel that it’s my duty as a reviewer to let you know up front that my nostalgia meter might not be as high as the ultimate Lufia fanboy’s or girl’s. However, don’t count me out of having nostalgic feelings altogether as I felt those twinges while I was playing Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals (L:CotS) like a giddy little school girl. I must confess, though, I can’t sit here and do a precise comparison of L: CotS to its SNES counterpart.
With that said, when I got an early glimpse of L:CotS at E3, I knew it was something special. I was hoping that feeling wasn’t simply nostalgia with a short demo, because so many times when I hype myself for a game, I end up getting let down. Needless to say, I tried my hardest not to get my hopes up, but at the same time, I was secretly wishing that L:CotS would live up to the awesomeness of the E3 demo. After plowing through challenging time based puzzles that only the most hardcore Guitar Hero player would find easy and challenging boss battles that made me rethink my hardcore gamer status, I just have to say L:CotS is all kinds of awesome and then some. If you enjoy puzzles and exploration in the vein of Wild Arms and the Tales games with an old school feel, mark my words you don’t want to pass up L:CotS. Natsume and Neverland deserve a round of applause for bringing hardcore RPG fans such a worthy game to add to their collection.
Oh No! Gades: The Sinistral of Destruction is Approaching!
L:CotS starts with Gades, “The Sinistral of Destruction,” wreaking havoc upon the world. Maxim, the monster-hunting main character, runs into Gades and they duel. Gades realizes Maxim has a strong power, but is still not strong enough to defeat him. From here on out, Maxim is on a journey to find Gades again while strengthening himself enough to take the foul being down for good. During this journey, Maxim meets up with other characters who help him in his quest to bring ultimate peace to the world. Like most other RPGs, the quest is not only about Gades. There are also other bad guys along the way who derail the gang’s progress as they try to inch closer to Gades.
The story itself is a complete reimagining of Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals. The script was reworked from the ground up, so Natsume had a lot of localizing to do. With that said, I wouldn’t call the story the main focus of the game (and most Lufia fans wouldn’t disagree with me here). It really isn’t anything to write home about and, to be honest, it’s really bare bones throughout. There are scenes here and there as you complete dungeons, but something feels a little disjointed about them and how they function in the whole scheme of the story. I will say that Natsume, for the most part, did an excellent job with the localization of this game. It’s obvious they put a lot of effort into it and it’s free of spelling and grammar errors. My only gripe is the humor in this game. There are some funny moments, but a lot of it seems like the game is trying too hard to be funny in an obvious way. L:CotS almost feels like that kid at the party who keeps telling all the jokes you’ve heard before; you’ll laugh at the first few, but then after a while you’ve had your fill. I’ll admit, I had more than a few eye roll moments. On the other side of the coin, it is nice to have an RPG not take itself too seriously, so if you want an RPG that takes the whole “we need to save the world” thing with some levity and where your characters have some fun along the way, L:CotS may be your cup of tea.
I also wouldn’t go into L:CotS expecting to become attached to the characters. Regrettably, the cast didn’t resonate as much with me as I hoped they would. I’m all about strong characters in my games, so this was disappointing. Perhaps it was the game’s focus on having such one dimensional characters; every character seems to have one big trait and that’s all there is to them. For instance, Tia is insecure because she has feelings for Maxim and Guy is not the sharpest crayon in the box, but outside of those traits – I’m not sure I could tell you much more about these characters personality wise. One character who managed to be more multi-dimensional was Selan. I won’t say why, as I don’t want spoil anything, but she had more layers than the supporting cast. I would have liked a little more depth to the other characters, but at the end of the day what shines best about L:CotS is the gameplay, which kept me playing the game. And I think it says a lot that I was so enamored with that aspect of the game that the story and characters didn’t weigh on me as much as they usually do when I play RPGs.
Puzzles and Bosses That Will Boggle Your Mind
The gameplay recipe in L:CotS is one part puzzle solving and one part dungeon crawling. Most old school Lufia II fans know the biggest change in L:CotS is the battle system. L:CotS scrapped the traditional battle system that Lufia II used in favor of an action-based battle system. Thankfully, the game also lacks random battles; you can actually see what you are getting yourself into. For the most part, the new and improved battle system works well. It makes sense, because you’re exploring the atmosphere and solving puzzles. If the traditional battle system was still in place, it wouldn’t have worked so well since the separate battle screens would wreck the flow of the dungeon. Trust me on this, it was bad enough enemies respawned a few times before they completely stopped, making puzzle completion a pain. I’m pretty sure if you added random battles to the equation, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it.
The only problem that I had with the new battle system was more with the controls and camera angles than with the system itself. The controls lack fluidity and it feels a little clunky to say the least. I never felt like the actions went smoothly and it was difficult at times to get used to the Y as the action button instead of the usual A. Camera angles can get tricky as well, as since environments sometimes get in your way. I noticed this more when I was making jumps for puzzles, but it’s still sometimes obstructive to the player. This isn’t anything new to using an action based battle system. Anybody who has played Kingdom Hearts can tell you that camera angles are the number one gripe they have with the game. It’s just a shame that the controls aren’t as fluid as they could be.
As you explore dungeons, you’ll run the gamut of standard RPG staples: you’ll fight enemies, level up, and get new gear. The armor and weapons you purchase increase your stats and some weapons even net you additional abilities in battles. Standard battles can be difficult in L:CotS and it seems like the game forces the player to always be prepared. Almost any status ailment that can hit you will hit you. In L: CotS, there are very few times that you are lucky. Limited inventory space doesn’t help combat this issue: you can only carry nine of each item at a time, so those of you who try to bulk up on items as a strategy need to think of a different one. Yes, this game is not for the feint of heart.
Boss battles are just as intense and are quite varied. That’s probably where this game stands out: you’re never in the same boss battle and always possess some new strategy to net a win. Whether it’s throwing a bomb at just the right time to blow up a tank or destroying several towers as an evil Sinistral jumps from one to another, there’s never a dull moment in a boss battle. One thing is always consistent, they are never easy. In fact, the game even knows this because it has a feature where, for no penalty, you can choose to raise all your characters five levels and try the battle again if you fall. Honestly, using it doesn’t make the game that much easier, either. That just goes to show where this game lies on the difficultly meter.
Another way to remedy the toughness of the game is to take advantage of the Mystic Stone Board. Using the Mystic Stone Board, you can customize your characters a bit by giving them certain stat boosts as you see fit. Each character has their own board that you can connect the stones together on. The key is that all the stones must be connected to one another to be activated. It’s another part of the game that is almost like a puzzle to figure out, you want to strategize what is best to do with your stones, i.e. what will get you the most bang for your buck and to split them accordingly between your party members. It’s not the most complicated character customization system, but it works for what it is.
Besides tough as nails boss battles, as you explore dungeons you’ll experience another type of toughness &ndash this time for your head: puzzles. Now, none of the puzzles are too difficult, but they do require some brain power. The majority of the time when I was stuck on a puzzle, I would go back and realize how to figure it out and feel ashamed that I hadn’t thought of the solution sooner. A nifty feature of L:CotS is that each character has their own unique ability to help you solve puzzles. For instance, Selan has a boomerang that can activate far away switches while Guy can crush large boulders that stand in your way. Often during dungeons, you switch back and forth between characters to complete the puzzles. The best part of the puzzles in this game is that they aren’t redundant and don’t rely on similar solutions to advance. There’s a good amount of challenge here where you’ll have to think outside of the box. There are also time based puzzles as well, which require some extra skill. Some of the dungeons you’ll have to revisit during your journey, but the puzzles you have to complete to advance in them will always change. And, thankfully, if you mess up a puzzle there is a reset button to start you up at your last checkpoint. My only complaint is the lack of a save anywhere feature. They really should be obligatory in handheld games, especially when trying to solve a puzzle you can’t figure out. I had to keep my DS on sleep mode on the charger a lot just to ensure I didn’t lose any of my data.
I must confess, the best part of L:CotS is the variety within the game. This could have been a very generic game relying on nostalgia alone, but it has so much jam packed into it that it never got dull for me. And, yes, long time fans, the Ancient Cave is even there for you. For those of you who don’t know what the Ancient Cave is, you start back to level one and lose all your equipment and basically have to dungeon crawl your way back up to the top and regain all your equipment. If you leave the cave you lose your progress. It’s intense, but a fun challenge at the same. Back to my point, there is something for everyone in this game. Heck, at one point, I even got to control a tank. I wasn’t expecting so much out of the gameplay, but it truly was a treat to play a game that constantly changed things up as I played it. Things never got boring and I always felt a challenge with L:CotS. The gameplay truly is what makes this game stand out.
A Facelift and Familiar Sounds
L: CotS features brand new 3D character models and in-game character portraits. The newer character models do look better than they did in Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, and yet compared to what’s out in the market today, they don’t stand out too much. The 3D graphics are a nice addition and do give it an up to date feel, but sometimes they do appear pixilated on the DS screen. Each dungeon stands out from the other, but within any given dungeon there isn’t much that separates one area from the next. Unfortunately, that’s disheartening because you have to revisit some of the dungeons in the game.
Hardcore Lufia fans might recognize some of the tunes in L: CotS; some tracks from Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals have been rearranged. This no doubt keeps the nostalgia flowing as you’re playing the game. In fact, the soundtrack has such a great way of pumping you up for battle and keeping your ear in tune throughout the game. This is quite a sanity saver when “battling” a difficult puzzle. Something that’s completely new for Lufia fans is voice acting. It’s not the best I’ve heard, but it’s not terrible. It’s adequate and it supplements the game like it’s supposed to. I’ve always seen voice acting as just a bonus and not an end all be all, so that’s how I view it here.
One of the Better Offerings On Your DS
Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals may fall short in a few areas, but it more than makes up for it in its dynamic gameplay. For a reimagining of a classic, this game sure does get it right; it does just enough new while preserving just enough of what people loved about Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals. The most impressive part of Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals is the amount of variety packed into its gameplay, there really is something new with every dungeon, puzzle, and boss battle you encounter. There’s something here for the hardcore Lufia fan and the RPG fan who has never played a Lufia game. There’s really no excuse not to experience one of the better games to hit the DS this year.