Review: Nostalgia

Nostalgia.jpg Nostalgia, as it turns out, couldn’t be a more fitting title for Ignition Entertainment’s new DS JRPG, launching at retailers nationwide today. I was fortunate enough to receive an early review copy last Monday and have spent the past week glued to my DS captivated by all the nostalgic feelings this game conjures up.

From the moment I popped Nostalgia into my DS, I felt all warm and fuzzy inside, recollecting similar feelings from when I first played classic JRPGs like the early NES/SNES Final Fantasy games and PS1 favorites like Wild ARMs and Suikoden. Whether you grew up playing console RPGs like me or not, though, this game will grab you all the same.

Tag-team-developed by Red Entertainment and the DS RPG whizzes at Matrix Software (Final Fantasy III and IV remakes, Avalon Code), Nostalgia is a traditional-style JRPG telling the story of a young adventurer named Eddie who initially embarks on a quest to find his father (who happens to be a famous adventurer himself) but quickly forms his own ragtag bunch of adventure buddies and becomes embroiled in an epic conflict against a sinister organization seeking seven magical tablets stashed away in secret temples and dungeons around the world.

I know, that all must sound incredibly cliché, but somehow the game makes those clichés seem fresh and exciting all over again. A large part of that is the setting, with the game world taking place in sort of an alternate history steampunk-themed 19th Century and the storyline placing you aboard an airship bouncing around the globe to real-world locales like New York City, Tokyo, Egypt, Siberia and the Amazon. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously, either, so it’s easy to just kick back and enjoy the whimsical ride.

All told, the story takes around 20-25 hours to complete if you blitz through the main quests without much deviation (as I did), but as in any good JRPG you can spend tens of hours level grinding, discovering hidden World Treasures in your airship, completing optional side quests for extra loot, and filling out your Adventurer’s Notebook to 100% completion long after the story has ended. Throughout those many hours of play you won’t find any gimmicky features, touch-screen mechanics, voiced dialogue, or extravagant anime/CG cutscenes (Matrix once again did a phenomenal job producing appealing 3D visuals on the DS, though, and the soundtrack is great as well), but what you will discover is a highly satisfying and thoroughly entertaining slice of retro role-playing that’ll bring back fond memories of all of those great console RPGs of yesteryear.

The gameplay will feel very familiar to anyone who has played a JRPG within the past ~20 years. You travel around a world map, explore dungeons, open treasure chests, hit random encounters, slay monsters with weapon attacks, spells and special abilities in conventional turn-based battles (your party is on one side, the enemies are on the other, and the turn order is listed on the screen), earn experience and skill points to level-up your characters, visit towns to chat with the locals and buy new gear, and, well…I think you get the picture. Again, we’ve seen this all many times before, but through proper pacing and sense of progression, a balanced random encounter ratio, fun turn-based battles and interesting level designs, Nostalgia captures all the old stuff console RPG fans grew up on and gives it a satisfying new flavor.

One thing Nostalgia does emphasize more than most other RPGs, however, is overland combat and exploration. Rather than slowly trudging across the terrain to your next destination, you take to the skies in a mighty airship and engage in many tough battles with flying critters and sky pirates. During airship battles, each of your party members represents a different weapon on the airship (it’s outfitted with a frontal spear/blade for melee attacks and machine guns, cannons and lasers for ranged attacks), and from the airship hanger in the nearest town you can buy new weapons and shields to upgrade your ship with (all weapon upgrades reflect graphically on your ship/characters in battle too). Also, when you are distributing your skill point pool each character has both land and airship abilities for you to develop how you see fit.

Airship battles are great fun, but they do lead to really my only complaint with the game, and that is the difficulty balancing. For the majority of the game, the standard dungeon encounters put up enough resistance to be worthwhile, but are fairly easy overall – I died a few times, but generally always felt in command of every battle. However, airship battles are the complete opposite. Early on they aren’t too tough, but as your ship gains the ability to fly higher into the atmosphere you become bombarded with unexpectedly difficult random encounters that feel almost like boss battles. I don’t know, it just seemed strange to me to go from somewhat easy-going dungeon crawling to punishing aerial battles. And I’m not sure if it was just bad luck or what, but I found escaping airship battles nearly impossible, while running from land encounters was relatively easy. I died quite a few times trying to flee from powerful sky pirates I just wasn’t prepared for in certain situations, which led to some frustration-fueled cursing on my part as I loaded my last save.

But even through these occasional bouts of frustration, I loved every second of my time with Nostalgia, and frankly, I’m feeling a little sad now that I have to put it down and move on to other games that need finishing up. Nostalgia doesn’t reinvent the wheel here by any means, folks, but in a lot of ways that’s what makes it so great. Oftentimes gamers (myself included) become too swept up in the demand for innovation, but sometimes games are best left focusing on and perfecting the basics. A game like Nostalgia successfully proves that point.

BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Good, old-fashioned JRPG gameplay done right
+ Fun mix of dungeon crawling and airship exploration
+ Cool steampunk 19th Century setting
+ Beautiful 3D graphics and soundtrack

Cons:
– Difficulty balancing and flee rate seem off between land and air battles

Game Info:
Platform: DS
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Developer: Matrix Software/Red Entertainment
Release Date: 10/27/09
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!