Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Land Cursed by Nostalgia.

Much like Hollywood, the gaming industry has realized that profitability does not rest in creating new, innovative games that try something original, but instead constantly rebooting a franchise, or remaking a beloved entry of a certain title.  Sometimes, this works out beautifully.  Other times, it is met with disastrous results.

For you, it was the day your childhood was ruined.  For Universal studios, it was Tuesday.
Despite these mixed results, the gaming industry continues to pump out remake after remake, because let's face it, nostalgia sells:

Over, and over, and over again.
However, when it was announced some years ago that Lufia II would be remade for the Nintendo DS, I was  ecstatic.  The Lufia series (or Estpolis, for you purists) remains one of my all-time favorite RPG franchises (excluding the ill-fated Ruins of Lore, which fortunately, I barely played), with many people ranking Lufia II as one of the all-time best SNES RPGs out there.

For many fans, however, enthusiasm turned to caution, then outright alarm as the details of the game emerged.  This would not be a "remake" so much as a "retelling" of the game.

Strike 1 - They're messing with the story!

Furthermore, this would not be a turn-based RPG:  Instead, it's an action RPG.

Strike 2 - Lufia as an action RPG?  Blasphemy!

As screenshots became available, fans saw most of the cast had undergone..significant changes.

Strike 3 - You've ruined the timeless qualities of beloved characters!

Yes, fans had ample reason to have misgivings about Lufia:  Curse of the Sinistrals.  Reactions about the game have been mixed, with some people enjoying the change, and others loathing the bastardization of one of the greatest SNES RPGs released and the desecration of their childhood memories.  As an avid fan, I was quite pleased with the game.

I'm writing this, however, not to tout the merits of the action game or pick apart the changes in the story -- we'll save that for a later post.  Instead, I'm making the argument that the character changes are actually a good thing, and in many cases, are more in line with each character's overall personality.

Understanding "Zazz"

Hardcore Gaming 101 has an absolutely wonderful piece about Final Fantasy IV that you should check out here. The main piece I'd like to borrow from it, however, is what the author refers to as "zazz".  Think of zazz as that extra bit of spice that can turn otherwise mundane characters or concepts into those exciting and engaging factors that keep you playing the game.  There is a such a thing, however, as too much zazz.

Zazz overload.
Additionally, the article goes into depth by explaining why certain characters worked back in 1991, when Final Fantasy IV was released, they would not work now, due to their decided lack of "zazz".  I mean sure, the idea of Cecil as a Dark Knight is cool, but we all know that real Dark Knights have more spikes on their armor and use scythes:  Form over functionality, people!

Like Haseo.
But when utilized properly, Zazz can breathe life into an old franchise or otherwise unforgettable character.  In fact, these days, it's crucial.  Let's go back to Final Fantasy.  I don't mean the franchise as a whole, but the first game.  If you played it, your party probably had this guy in it:

And if it didn't, you're doing it wrong.

What is easy to overlook is that this guy was in Dissidia.  What's that?  You don't remember some generic guy in red in Dissidia?  Well, he had a bit of a makeover.

Extreme Makeover:  Final Fantasy edition
The Fighter, or more accurately termed, "Warrior of Light" needed the zazz up to be recognized in a cast full of characters with black coats, giant swords, gunblades, tattoos, and world-destroying magic.  Zazz, when used correctly, revitalizes the old.  While the Lufia characters were not quite as generic as our poor fighter, 15 years left them in vital need of zazz infusion.  "Zazz", my friends, is the reason why the new Lufia character designs, while at times questionable, ultimately work, which is what's discussed in the next section.

Comparing the old and the new

Much like Hardcore Gaming 101's piece on Final Fantasy IV, I'm going to make a similar case for why these characters might have worked back when Lufia came out, and why they just don't work today.  Let's start first with the hero of our story, Maxim.


This is the main character, Maxim, as conceptualized in his initial design.  Note the slicked back hair.  The blue clothing, the flexible armor, and most importantly, the CAPE.  Everything about this guy screams dashing hero.  If you played the first Lufia game,you get a snippet of Maxim in the introduction scene where he completely fits the bill as the hero.  Back then, this look worked for the man who would not only save the world from the evil threat known as the Sinistrals, but father a blood line of fiery haired warriors that would go on to continually thwart their plots.

But if you played through Lufia II. . Maxim's design was at odds with his actual character, even back then.  The story of the second game (a prequel to the first) showcases him as a hot-headed monster-hunter, who throws himself in the face of danger without a thought in order to save the day.  When you really think about it, the noble night pictured above really doesn't cut it.  Plus, capes are out these days.  It's all about badass coats.

To your right is Maxim's redesign.  Note the wild hair, the stylish jacket, and the big ass sword.  I wasn't a big fan of the "Xtreme Maxim" look initially, but the more I thought about it and the more I played through the game, it fit.  We're not looking for a polished knight here, we have a hot-blooded hunter who lives by the blade and his instinct.  True, he looks a bit younger, but it's more in line with his attitude in both the original and the remake.  This version of our hero puts the "maxim" in "maximum".  Before you ask, yes, his sword does shoot fire.  You know.  Because he's red.


Selan, much like Maxim, has a character design that's at odds with her actual character.  Judging by the picture on the left, you could easily peg Selan as some fragile mage that needs ye olde noble knight Maxim to protect her.  Thing is, she's the furthest thing from that.  She's the captain of the Parcelyte military, and heck, her initial meeting with Maxim has them clashing swords in a sparring match -- yes that's right, swords, not sword against staff, as the picture to might mislead you to believe.

The new Selan, who I do not have a catchy nickname for, remains mostly loyal to her original design, at least in terms of color scheme.  Note the top reminiscent of Lightning from FF13.  And what are those weapons she's carrying in her hand?  It's some.. icicle discus..dirk, sword type thing.  Whatever it is, it's multipurpose.  Now this version of Selan looks believable as a military captain ( Japanese fantasy standards) and has the appearance of someone who kicks some serious ass, which she does.


Oh poor, unfortunate, Tia.  Within 5 minutes of meeting her, a few things are painfully obvious:  1 - She has unrequited feelings for Maxim and 2 - She is never, ever going to win the guy's heart.  Originally, Tia's design worked in a way.  Her feelings for Maxim weren't over the top, she actually has the appearance of someone that could conceivably work out with him, and heck, in addition to being an independent businesswoman (she manages the town's item shop), she also uses whips in combat.

The problem with Tia now is that considering how things turn out with Maxim and Selan, Maxim either ends up looking like a jerk or an idiot.  Sure, Selan's a military captain and strong woman in her own right, but Tia owns her business, well, pretty much has a monopoly on things in Elcid.  So great, Maxim's threatened by a woman who makes more than him and might tell him to stay at home while she pays the bill?  Jerk!  By contrast, look at her:  She's innocent, has long flowing hair, and is the perfect picture of innocence for the fanboys.  And because she uses whips, it's fair to assume that she has a bit of an, ahem, playful side.

The designers, therefore, needed to come up with some way to make Tia seem like a non-contender from the very outset by virtue of design alone.  One route that could have taken was playing up the whip thing more:  Give her an insufferable way of speaking, a high pitched laugh, and violent tendencies, much like the original idea for Tia's redesign.

 Instead, the designers took the route which made her look reminiscent of Rita Mordio from Tales of Vesperia, while lugging around some version of Anise's Tokunaga from Tales of the Abyss.  I know you're thinking it's crazy, but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense:  When you place this version of Tia next to Selan, she looks absolutely generic.  Now, when Maxim thinks of Tia more like a sister than a potential lover, it's more viable:  Heck, she looks like his kid sister!  Really, the redesign was a way of making Maxim's decision much easier.  Sadly, the redesign also makes it seem more like she's just running the item shop while the parents are out, rather than being it's proprietor. 


Ah, Guy:  The first of Maxim's stalwart companions whose name would go down in legend aside his own.  Originally, Guy is introduced as a soldier in search of strong opponents.  Back then, the heavily armored look worked out well.  Plus he's using an axe -- something only strong guys use!  And he has that sort of honest, if simple, face that makes you know this is a man who'll have your back in battle.

But face it -- Guy won't work now due to a serious lack of zazz.  Everything about his design now screams boring.  Armor?  Who needs armor when you have style.  A battle axe?  Yawn.  I hope you're chopping down trees with that thing, man.  Now how do we fix this problem?

Now this is what I'm talking about.  The new Guy has eschewed his bulky armor for muscles, which we know does more to deflect an enemy attack than flimsy iron and steel.  And let's take a look at that weapon!  It's like a battle hammer combined with some sword of pronged. . thing.  Either way, it makes things dead.  In addition, they've given him a bit of scruff on the face to up his manly quotient.  There's no question that this Guy is the party's strong man.  Heck, if the option existed, I'd have renamed him "Biff".


Let's face it:  Originally, Dekar was a clone of Guy in many ways.  They used the same weapons, they both frequently sought strong opponents, and both were frequently at odds with each other.  These days, however, we don't need more than one designated strongman in our band of adventurers.  Back then, all that Dekar really had to set himself apart from Guy was a cape, and a remarkable lack of intelligence.  As we've established, while capes worked back in the days of the SNES, it still doesn't quite cut it now.

Dekar, thus, presented a challenge.  The developers needed to find a way to distinguish him.  A way to give him something that made him stand out from the proposed savior of the world (Maxim) and your lumbering, battlehammer wielding muscle (Guy).  Their solution?

..Alright, I know, and I thought the same thing too when I saw him: "Pink?  Really"?  But think about it:  We've already beefed up Guy with some 'roids.  In the original, Dekar wasn't really distinct from Guy:  Just another musclehead.  Now, however, he has more style, as well as the ability (presumably from that magic gauntlet) which lets him use any weapon in the game.  The self-proclaimed world's strongest now fully lives up to his title -- then again, when your hair is pink, you kind of have to.  Also note:  Stylish coat.


Face it:  Artea was in the game because the party needed an elf.  He's the last of the party to join you and doesn't receive much in the way of development.  The original Artea did put a slight spin on things by being a purple haired-elf, but that was about it.

Look at that design.  It's evident that Artea wouldn't work in the present day.  Well alright, maybe he would.  As one of Yoshitaka Amano's concept sketches, which we both know rarely reflects what the characters really look like.

Artea's new design makes him a blond:  Yes, I know, it screams Legolas, but here's where the developers took a clever turn:  They gave him a gun, which quite frankly is brilliant.  Look, it's no secret that elves live longer than humans, but for once, we have an elf that takes advantage of all those years of knowledge:  Yes, he still lives by the elven principle of living with nature and refraining from combat when possible.  But he's also smart enough to pack a firearm alongside magic in a world where everyone else (sans Dekar) is swinging around ye olde melee arms.


There are countless other examples of how various members of the Lufia:  Curse of the Sinistrals cast have been made over for the better.  The titular Sinistrals, the villains of the game, are quite a bit more frightening in appearance compared to their original incarnations (most notably Dhaos).  Lexis, the zany inventor that's friends with Maxim, while no longer a playable character, has been changed in the most awesome way.

Presumably, he's busy designing a really awesome car for Maxim.

While many fans may protests the change in designs, they are certainly not a reason that you should refrain from playing this game.  As for matters of gameplay and faithfulness to the original?  That's a meatier topic that I'll tackle in a future post about the game (which yes, I actually have finished).

Until next time friends, keep playing.

1 comment:

Marco said...

Very good review/article/text/whatever-it-is!!! XD

I played Lufia II almost half a game back in 2004 or 2005, wahtever... I assume I was about half a game since I was around level 40... And when I saw Lufia I found out this remake, I felt that nostalgia along the feeling of "now, I will finally beat this game"!!!

But since the game was so different from the original version, after a couple hours I left the game 'cause I wasn't getting that nostalgia feeling since the differecnes kept from remebering and comparing to the original one...

It was just by these days (november 10th 2012 if I remeber correctly...) that I found this game again and decided to give it another try I started to really like it. So I started searching for info about comparisons/reviews and people opinions for these major changes in the game and found your text which is brilliant! Made a lot of things really clear and got me to definitelly love this new (old) game! XD

Now I can finally tottaly accept it! Even though my mind and fashion design are still stuck in the nineties... I really prefer armor and capes over coats and jackets... But you proved me this game have to be this way. By the age, personality, social position or job of the characters, it's tottaly understandable and reasonable why they dress like they do!

I'll really finish this game and then do it gain back on the original game!! Ialways felt this game was kind understimated since I liked it so much few years ago and most people seemed to not know or talk about this game and nothing new related to it was ever released... But now it your words and this remake it seems that this game can easily be packed with Final Fantasys, Chrono Trigger and some other SNES and RPG classics, top 10 RPG and maybe even top 20 senes games ever or something like that, I guess...