Out of all the reviews you'll read for Natsume's Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals, this is probably the only one written by someone who hasn't played the the SNES classic Lufia II—which this new DS title is a reimagining of.

What I do have is an appreciation for the developer behind the game, Neverland Co. (primarily through their work on the Rune Factory series), my positive impression of the brief time I spent looking at the game at E3, and—of course—my love of action RPGs in general. With these thoughts in mind, I accepted a review copy of the game from Natsume, and gave it a spin. I found a game with a good action battle system, entertaining characters, and some pretty neat dungeon-puzzling—though there are a few things to be annoyed by as well.

The cast of characters stood out immediately as a good thing. They're all likable, memorable, and have great lines—even if what they're actually doing in the story gets pretty WTF at times. The text localization in particular turned out rather well, I thought. The voice acting is a little less great, though on the videogame scale it still qualifies as above average when taken as a whole. I most had trouble with it a few cases where there's purely voiced dialog over level sections. I had to use contextual clues to figure out which of the women were talking, since their voices were too similar-sounding for me to guess otherwise.


But for me, the most critical part of any RPG—action or otherwise—is how well the battle system works. Lufia's works very well, and it's no cakewalk. You have a fairly wide variety of attacks at your disposal depending on which character you're playing as; you can switch between any of them that happen to be alive at almost any time. Each one has a slightly different fighting style that I can't help but note are reminiscent in feel to the different types of weapons from Rune Factory 2, but with new and more complicated moves added into the mix.

What makes Lufia unique and interesting is that you aren't hammering away (or swording away) at enemies the whole time. About half the time—maybe more—you'll also be making use of the varied skills of the characters in your party to solve the many puzzles that the local dungeons are filled with. It gives the whole thing a bit of an RPG-heavy Zelda feel, particularly as you switch from character to character instead of swapping in-hand items to solve the puzzles. The puzzles are pretty cool, too; nothing too taxing, but definitely creative.

Unlike a Zelda game, though, Lufia can feel a little unpolished at times. Even though combat flows really well and hits connect as I expect them to, there have been a number of times where I've found myself fighting something behind a tree or some other scenery, leaving me completely blind. Similarly, puzzles generally work well, but there have been a few times I've found myself having to shove a block I'm pushing in several directions to get it to click into place or having to reset a puzzle because something broke—back to a badly-placed checkpoint, at times.


Your typical monsters in the game are tough but fair. Some of the bosses, though, are another matter—I was sure one fight in particular was supposed to be a scripted loss until the Game Over message popped up. There's an option at Game Over to take a 5-level boost for your entire party, if you want. I swore I wouldn't... but I did. I feel a little ashamed, but there was just no way, even with crazy dodging, that I could handle some of these guys at my then-current levels. They were still really tough even with the boost, and the rest of the game felt allright from a balance perspective; it seems probable the experience curve is just a little out of whack. Clearly, it'd have been best if it had been put right from the outset, but the level boost smooths it all out well enough—there is no shame in taking advantage of it if you're not a masochist.

Overall, it's a pretty good game. It's got an entertaining cast and is great fun to play. In particular, I'm a huge fan of the randomly-generated Ancient Cave, which slaps you down to level 1 with starter equipment as you walk in the front door, giving you progressively more-difficult monsters to fight on the way down. I plan on tackling the New Game+ when I get a shot, without reservation (though for now, the impending release of the other Neverland game I want to play this year, Rune Factory 3, will delay that for awhile.) And if you've been looking at Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals—whether or not you've got an attachment to the series—I recommend you give it a shot; chances are you'll like it too.