Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals Review
I will admit, when I first reported on this game as Estpolis for the DS, thirteen years ago in Japandemonium, I was not very kind in my opinions. As a purported remake to the most beloved (and perhaps only loved) game in its series, Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals had big expectations to live up to, and very little slack given. This appears to be a common thread in reactions to this game, as even our official review is tinged with opinions based on rosy memories of the SNES title.
So to get to the point: If this game had been presented as anything other than a remake of Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, if it had just changed the names of the characters and locations, or the nature of a McGuffin or two, and left the rest as in-jokes or references to the older games, it would have had a much sunnier reception. It’s just too different in too many ways to be the thing the publisher claimed it to be. Square Enix could have presented it as simply the next Lufia title and left it at that. There would still have been detractors, but many fans would have been readier to defend it on the basis that it’s a Lufia game that is objectively better than the two games that came before it (The Legend Returns and Ruins of Lore) by a grand margin.
Rather than look at what this game is not, it is important to look at what it is. First, it’s an action RPG with a lot of puzzle elements. In fact, the puzzles are what links it most closely to Lufia II. The characters and environments show an attempt at 3D modeling and planning that was impressive for the Nintendo DS, even if it doesn’t always work as well as one might hope, due to inevitable limitations of the hardware.
The controls are straightforward, with buttons for attacks, power attacks (which double as tools for solving puzzles), jumping, and dodging. In the smaller dungeons or against regular enemies, it’s easy enough to control the current party member, with some caveats. In particular, there’s one wind-swept bridge level that can be rage-inducing, but it’s at least short. The platforming elements in other levels vary in their difficulty, and it never felt more unfair than some of the deaths in similarly action-oriented games from many different systems.
The bosses are a different matter, for good and for ill. There are only a few really big battles, but Curse of the Sinistrals goes all-out for them. They’re arguably one of the things upon which this game has truly improved upon the original, because of the epic scope they impart. Gades, Sinistral of Destruction, is no longer just a dude in black armor (though that is how he appears in one battle). In his true form, he is a being of elemental cataclysm rising from the heart of a volcano, like Chernovog in Fantasia‘s “Night on Bald Mountain.” Due to the camera angles and general size of the platform for that battle, half the challenge is figuring out how to dodge Gades’ attacks when they obliterate half the available area.
While the game does cover the same general plot as its forebear, it has cut out practically all the interstitial bits that made the first two Lufia games notable slogs in terms of getting from Point A to Point B. This has the benefit of making Curse of the Sinistrals take a reasonable fifteen hours to complete, but it also removes most opportunities to grind for levels, especially when the plot has locked out certain destinations. Realizing this, the game designers have provided the player the chance to fail upwards with the Level Break system. Upon a game over, the option is given to retry the fight with five experience levels applied to all characters. This is, surprisingly enough, not a major boost, as equipment, magic stone enhancements, and the player’s motor skills play a more important part in the boss battles, but it does help by giving the heroes more hit points and a bit more defense so that they don’t die so quickly the next time. Even with the boost, defeating bosses in this game is an achievement.
There are definitely some things to like about Curse of the Sinistrals. The changes to its visual aesthetics, such as the way the cities were redesigned to have more of a magi-technological look, help remove it from the original game’s SNES roots in a good way. The true forms of the Sinistrals, and the bigger boss encounters in general, dominate their environment. The puzzle elements, while completely different from those of its predecessor, worked well because they made a point of incorporating specific skills from all party members. Because of this, Tia in particular was far more relevant and better presented in this game. Could more have been done overall in the story? Yes, for certain, but it’s no worse in some ways from the opposite problem of plot bloat in the first two Lufia games.
So I guess I have to disagree with Macstorm’s old review of this game. He definitely wrote out of a place of love and respect for Rise of the Sinistrals, but I have come to think that this same love blinded him to the better aspects of this game that should not have tried to replace it. Curse of the Sinistrals never had the chance to stand on its own merits, or be its own individual within the series, and that is truly a shame.
Keeps the original's puzzle-theming in new format
Big booming boss battles
Level Break helps but does not minimize effort
Cuts the original plot rather lean
3D platforming elements variable in difficulty
Not actually Lufia II