In this day and age, veteran gamers hunger for a nostalgic experience in their video games. Whether the experience comes from remakes of classic games like Bionic Commando: Rearmed, or new games using a tried and true style of game play like Shadow Complex, nostalgia sells. Nostalgia for the Nintendo DS is the latter of the two. This game features an original storyline and has a couple features from RPGs of later generations, but overall it is gift wrapped in the classic turn-based RPG style. Since this old school style of game play is rarely seen today, fans will appreciate the throwback to the simpler days of “Attack – Skill – Defend – Item – Flee.”
One of the first things I found interesting about Nostalgia was the setting. Instead of making up a fantasy world, Nostalgia takes place in an alternate version of our world. The world map looks like a map of the Earth and you can visit famous cities such as London, Cairo and New York City. Some of these cities are large and make you really feel like you are in a city, while others are disappointingly small and cramped. The rest of the world map is home to various dungeons you will visit, mountains that conveniently impede your progress early on in the game, and many monsters that you will inevitably do battle with. The alternate Earth setting is a creative idea, but the absence of so many landmark cities of the world keeps it from coming alive.
Throughout most of Nostalgia you follow the main character, Edward Brown. He is the son of the great adventurer Gilbert Brown, and when Gilbert goes missing, Eddie takes it upon himself to find him. The story starts out a little slow since at the beginning you are confined to London, but once you finish the initial tutorial missions and find the first of your three partners, you are given an airship and some freedom to explore. After a few hours, the story dives into very familiar territory. The main plot is to gather six tablets, which form the key to having absolute power, to prevent an enemy organization from taking over the world. Sound familiar?
In addition to the main story there are also plenty of side quests available. The first and most prominent set of side missions are the ones given to you by the Adventurer’s Association. Throughout the game, they post missions that NPCs want completed. These range from collecting stuff to killing optional bosses. Most of these require backtracking to dungeons you have already been to, but they are a good way to disguise grinding, and the people that give you the quest usually pay you rather well. The other notable side quest is finding world treasures. These are iconic landmarks found throughout the world and when you fly over one, a scene occurs and a picture of the landmark you find appears. If you collect enough of these, the museum in London gives you rewards. These are completely optional, but most of the time they are fun and they add replay value to the game.
One thing that is not nostalgic about Nostalgia is the 3-D. Instead of going full circle and making this game 2-D with sprites, the developers chose to make the game 3-D, and considering the DS’ graphical constraints, the game looks great. Most of the cities look unique and detailed, every weapon and airship part looks different and most of the monsters you encounter look pretty intimidating. There are some palate swaps with the monsters, but it’s not overused. Also, each dungeon is unique and most of them are entertaining to explore.
Although there is no voice acting in Nostalgia, the soundtrack more than makes up for it. The music in the game sounds epic and it fits really well with the idea of adventuring to unfamiliar lands. The most notable themes are the ones for the cities you visit. Each city has its own unique theme and the themes fit the culture of the city itself. For example, London’s theme sounds grand and regal, while New York City’s theme sound jazzy and upbeat. This soundtrack ranks up with The World Ends With You as one of the best I’ve heard on the DS.
Even though there have been bits of nostalgia in the story and the lack of voice acting, the real nostalgia bomb hits when you experience the game play. The part that stands out the most is the combat. Instead of the enemies being on screen at all times, Nostalgia takes the random encounter route. Just about everything you remember from classic RPGs are in these battles. The only thing remotely modern about the combat system is the way the characters and enemies take turns. Instead of the battles being active time based, a column on the left shows which character or enemy is going to go next. This means there is no holding the L and R buttons to run. Also, the game grades you on how quickly you finished each battle at the end of it. The better the grade, the more experience you get. Thankfully, the encounter rate isn’t too high and the random battles don’t get annoying or difficult to manage.
In addition to the random battles on the ground, they also happen in the air. Since the airship is the only way to explore the world outside of cities and dungeons, everything from flying lizards to sky pirates in airships that dwarf yours will try to shoot you down. Each character on your team mans a different weapon on the airship, such as the machine guns or cannons. However, since your airship is only one target for multiple enemies, a little more strategy goes into these battles than the ground battles.
The difficulty in Nostalgia is like a roller coaster at times. After the first dungeon the game can get pretty challenging, but after you get your full party together the ground combat is pretty easy from then on. Airship battles are a different story. At certain points in the game you are permitted to fly to higher altitudes to get past obstacles and continue on with the story. When you are introduced to the higher altitudes you are introduced to new monsters that will probably wipe the floor with you until you get better equipment.
By killing enemies, you earn experience to level up your characters and skill points to level up their skills. Each character gets their own set of unique skills and by leveling those skills you improve their attack power or ability to benefit your party. Leveling your characters earns you the run of the mill stuff like stat boosts and HP and MP increases. The pace at which your characters gain levels is far enough apart to feel like you have achieved something significant, but not too far apart to make leveling a chore. Best of all, there is almost no need to grind for hours on end just to complete the next dungeon. As far as the airship goes, to “level” it you purchase new parts and weapons to increase its attack, defense and hit points.
The way you get the rest of your equipment is exactly what you would expect from a nostalgic RPG. You go to one town, buy the best of everything they have, and then find some better weapons or armor in the next dungeon. The only problem with this tried and true method is since you have an airship you have access to multiple towns at once, so you might buy the best equipment in one city, only to explore and find another city with better equipment and have no money to spend. Luckily, money usually isn’t a problem and you come by it often enough to be able to afford most of the equipment you can purchase.
Overall, Nostalgia is a great combination of old and new. Things like the 3-D graphics, the soundtrack, and the addition of airship battles keeps things fresh while the rest of the game is a look back in time to RPGs of older generations. The world map is a little bland with only a few landmark cities, but most of those cities and the dungeons you visit are fairly large and fun to explore. The story is classic and you will probably be able to guess most of the twists before they happen, but when it is coupled with the turn based combat and dungeon crawling style of game play, it definitely gives players a truly nostalgic experience.
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Published by: Tecmo/Ignition Entertainment
Developed by: Matrix Software/Red Entertainment
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
Release Date: October 27, 2009
Genre: Turn-based RPG