Never before has there been a more appropriately named game. Nostalgia is the latest release from Ignition Entertainment and comes from the development team of Matrix Software (who had their hand in the remakes of Final Fantasy III and IV). Knowing that going in, it should be no wonder that Nostalgia is one of the best role-playing games on the Nintendo DS. That’s saying something considering the system has fan-favorites such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest available. But, just what makes Nostalgia so gosh-darned nostalgically good? Everything.
This game brings back those memories of a sense of wonder and adventure from when one was younger. There are random battles aplenty, a flying airship, a familiar skill system, gameplay is turn-based, and there are some familiar monster types (the first monster that one encounters is a rat for crying out loud!). The structure is also very similar to other Japanese role-playing games (JRPG) in that the player has to hit a town to advance the plot, gain experience via battles, and use loot to buy equipment. The game hits just about every other expectation one would have for an RPG.
One thing about Nostalgia that will strike players right off the bat is the setting. The game takes place in the 19th century and begins in London. The world is rife with magic and there’s a definite steampunk vibe throughout. This alternate history of the world takes players from London to other major cities in the world as they follow the exploits of Eddie Brown and his cohorts on a quest to find his lost father, Gilbert, and save the world in the process. At the start of the game Gilbert is attempting to save a girl from a mysterious cult named the Cabal and goes missing during the rescue. His airship is recovered, but his whereabouts remain unknown.
To be honest, the story is kind of flat. It lacks that draw that pulls users in, and aside form the rich setting, there’s really nothing dynamic about it. The plot has many stereotypes and doesn’t have the emotional development typically associated with some of the more robust RPGs. Still, the true beauty to Nostalgia is the experience as a whole, so thankfully the game isn’t being judged on the merits of its story alone.
When Nostalgia begins, Eddie is all alone and heads off to become an Adventurer. In the first mission the game quickly introduces all the mechanics, and believe me when I tell you that this is completely unnecessary. Even though this is a new title, it will all feel familiar, including the mechanics. A random encounter in a dungeon reveals a turn-based combat engine — when a character steps up to the plate they can attack, use a skill or an item, defend, or run. If you have played a turn-based RPG at some point since the original Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest this should be nothing new.
As players go through the game they’ll unlock additional party members, each with their unique brand of attacks and skills. It doesn’t take long for the party’s ranks to be filled, which is a good thing because gaining levels is paramount in Nostalgia. Enemies don’t really rise in level with the characters, so as players progress through new environments they’ll receive more of a challenge than when they retrace some of their steps. Even so, there are still a lot of random encounters to deal with, in fact, the quantity Nostalgia brings to the table is a little higher than the norm. Going from point A to point B can be kind of frustrating at times, but thankfully there are save points scattered along the way that refresh the character's HP and MP.
One particularly nice addition in the game is the inclusion of airship battles, which are definitely a throwback for the genre. Eddie’s floating boat is equipped with a massive sword on the front and each of the party members can man other weapons as well. During these skirmishes, the enemies are larger, seemingly tougher, and come at the player from in front and the sides. The battle system for the airship is roughly the same as it is for regular party battles, but there is a little more strategy involved.
While the other facets of this game are, at their core, standard RPG fare, the game also utilizes Skill Points. These can be allocated to strengthen the abilities of characters and to set them down a path to learn new skills. As players build up some SP it’s necessary to head into the sub-menu to perform some upgrades. While this exact system wasn’t exactly in RPGs of yesteryear, it’s one of those alterations that makes Nostalgia feel somewhat modern. Another example of such an improvement is a ranking system which grades how the player performs in a battle. The better players do, the more they’re rewarded, so there’s definitely some incentive to perform better.
The campaign in Nostalgia is fairly linear, and for the most part users are carted from one location to the next. There is also a selection of side quests to dig through and the variety is pretty good as well.
It is worth mentioning that for a DS game Nostalgia has a decent length to it. The game enables a quick save anywhere, and real saves in the overworld, in towns, or at special spots in dungeons. This helps minimize the frustration of playing a handheld RPG, but on the DS one can also just close the DS as well and resume their progress when they’re ready (just be sure there's enough battery power to do that!).
What about how the game looks? Well, things are on par with other RPGs on the DS. The top screen displays characters and movements, while the bottom brings up vital information, battle stats, and an area map. Everything gels and it’s safe to say that if you enjoyed the work done on the Final Fantasy revisions, you’ll appreciate what was done here. Characters are large, detailed, and nicely animated, and monsters are equally impressive. Some of the environments can be a tad bland and seem recycled from time to time, but overall, the unique designs outweigh the sparseness of the textures. One other thing that stands out as problematic is some of the text in the menus and maps — it’s simply too small for the screen and the brown color palette does not make for an easy read. Despite these nitpicks Nostalgia is a solid looking game and an impressive DS title.
The sound is great as well, and the music is rich and memorable. Everything from the overworld tunes to the theme and battle music is spot on with what one would expect, and it’s even better that it comes from a DS cart. The game’s effects are also whimsical and charming to boot.
It could be said that the game doesn’t do anything original. I mean, Matrix Software takes everything a fan would expect from a classic J-RPG and rolls it into one package. The combat, exploration, and structure all scream “hey, I’ve played this before!” However, that realization comes through as a nostalgic sensation, almost as though the developer was paying homage to the franchises that came before it. Because of that, Nostalgia is the most aptly named games in recent memory. Sure it may have its flaws, and yes it’s not the most creative RPG ever, but it’s such a joy to play that it’s an instant classic.
Nostalgia is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Mild Fantasy Violence.