If I were asked to describe Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals in a few words, I would call it a mini-RPG. This has nothing to do with how I finished the game in 15 hours, or how there’s no world map.
The problem with Lufia is that the whole time I’m playing it, I feel like I’m looking at a game that was stripped down to its bare necessities.
The story starts with a Sinistral, a god-like humanoid, who announces that he’s going to rule over all of mankind. Maxim, red-haired swordsman extraordinaire, confident he can beat the tyrannical baddie, challenges Gades (the Sinistral) and promptly gets his butt kicked.
Of course, he isn’t killed because Gades feels they’re fated to have a “destined” battle. Besides, killing someone without a fair struggle isn’t any fun at all.
It is then up to Maxim to gather some strong companions, prompting him to journey across the world while getting tangled in various political issues, gathering party members, and eventually finding love.
That seems to be a pretty complete plot in and of itself, and yet that summary only covers half the game. So why do I say Lufia is minimalistic if it has an extensive story?
For starters, the dialogue goes by very quickly. I don’t mean that because I button-mash A every chance I get, but because Lufia seems to adore the storytelling philosophy of “Tell, don’t show.” Everything is rushed, such as when Maxim confesses “I love you,” to Selan. I had to do a double-take of the screen and wondered just when, exactly, this romance developed.
After the defeat of the first big boss, too, everyone’s celebrating and all of a sudden, the game fast-forwards a year or so in quick snapshots. My reactions went along the line of, “Look, they’re married … and now they have a kid! And now, those two are going out too? And I totally didn’t expect there to be another enemy.”
What bothered me the most is that everything is told with all the care and attention of someone going, “The prince went to the castle and defeated the dragon. He took the princess out of the castle. They kissed. The end.” Where’s the emotion and the drama behind these events?
Then again, while this does detract from your emotional investment in the game and from fully empathizing with the characters, it’s also surprisingly refreshing in an odd way. I was surprised that there wasn’t any of the ubiquitous angst that seems to pervade through RPGs nowadays. It’s a small favor, considering how many games are just bogged down with melodramatics. And despite the fact that the dialogue is very bare in content, they are often interspersed with humorous one-liners.
The tutorials, too, are presented using cute drawings that look like they belonged on a 4koma strip. These made playing the story portions of the game more fun, so the flat storytelling isn’t completely harmful.
Even the adventuring portion of the game is toned down some. As I mentioned before, this game has no world map. This isn’t usually something I care about, but it’s very obvious that Lufia should have had one. There were two separate times when I had to go to one city/town/kingdom, make my way to the back of the place, talk to the leader there only to have him reply with a simple “No” to my request, and then go to the next location to rinse and repeat.
I enjoyed the game; really, I did. The characters are unique, and the voice acting (when it’s present) isn’t especially annoying. I even liked Maxim’s voice actor, which is saying something.
Lufia also has some of the best dungeon designs I’ve seen in a long time. My favorite one is the Logismos Temple, where the platforms rise up from an abyss as you move forward. There’s another one where you have to play duck-and-cover with laser-sighted missiles while hiding behind crates and in secret passageways. Each dungeon is littered with puzzles, and these actually take some brain power to solve. Sometimes it consists of taking a key from one side of the room to the other, but that’s not as easy as you think, since the “other side of the room” is generally several moving platforms, switches, and a chasm away.
In dungeons, you control one character, and you switch which party member you want to use by tapping the touch screen (the one time you’ll be using it in the game). Each character has his or her own special attack that aids you in the puzzles as well as in fighting enemies.
For example, Maxim’s is a dash attack that can get him across large gaps that are otherwise too large to cross. Tia’s is a grappling hook that can either pull her across to grappling poles, pull items and crates to her, or pull enemies to her as she does massive damage in a pummelling attack. Guy has a powerful special attack that can destroy normally indestructible objects. You have to make the most of each of your characters to trek through the dungeons successfully.
Battles are in realtime. Maxim and his friends can do four separate actions, each assigned to one of the DS buttons — regular attack, special attack (explained above), roll, and jump. You can also use the R button to charge before using a regular or special attack for different effects and more damage (Oddly enough, the regular attack button is Y, causing no small amount of confusion for me.) The battles are fun, although I distinctly found myself preferring to use some characters over others. Guy was too slow for me, and Dekar just didn’t stand out.
Each character’s equipment is simply limited to a weapon and a set of armor, but the characters also have a shared skill board. Special items called Mystic Stones unlock abilities for the characters, such as faster recovery time from status effects, taking no damage from falling, increased HP, and increased attack. Mystic Stones also grant stat increases depending on the type of Stone used. These stones can’t be bought, but they can be upgraded so that they’ll grant more of a stat increase.
While this system works, the one problem I encountered was that, sometimes, with a change in party members, the entire board would be reset with no indication. I never noticed that all my stat increases were gone until I realized I was doing 100 less damage than I should’ve been doing.
Lufia likes to help players out to prevent them from pulling their hair out in frustration, too. The game itself is by no means too easy, since the puzzles are hard and certain bosses require lots of patience and strategy to defeat.
However, if you really want to find out what happens next in the story and don’t want to grind because you happen to be too low-leveled, you can choose to retry a boss with a permanent level boost.
Yes, you can automatically add 5 levels to all your characters just by pressing an option after you get a game over on a boss.
It certainly does make the battle easier, but, as the game warns you, you must use it at your own discretion because it detracts from your own sense of accomplishment in the game. In dungeons, if you mess up a puzzle irreversibly or simply want to start an area again, the game even provides you with a Reset button to start from the last Checkpoint, which the game records automatically as you progress, usually when you enter a new area and right before the start of a puzzle.
There’s also the Return button that reduces the need for excessive backtracking in cities and dungeons as it sends you straight back to the airship. If you have no idea where to go to continue the story, the Talk option when you’re on the world map immediately tells you where to go next.
Overall, I enjoyed Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals a lot. The puzzles are definitely the highlight of the game for me. However, I can’t help but feel that, while it has potential both story-wise and character-wise, this isn’t acted upon and ultimately makes the game feel amusing at best, because of the blasé way everything is delivered, and rushed at worst.