December 6, 2009

As I understand it, the original design for the game that would ultimately become Nostalgia was created about ten years ago. It was shelved as the developers took on other tasks (including the DS remake of Final Fantasy III), and when the opportunity presented itself they were able to add to their plans to make better use of the improvements of the intervening decade, like the DS itself. As a result, what we get is a curious blend of old-school RPG tropes with a few interesting twists.

The world of Nostalgia is an alternate-version 19th Century Earth, filled with steampunk, airships, magic, and above all an emphasis on exploration. The main character is Eddie Brown, son of famed adventurer (and thinly-veiled Indiana Jones knock-off) Gilbert Brown, who has gone missing. Before long Eddie has assembled the tradtional four-man band of himself (the fighter), Pad (the rogue), Melody (the wizard), and Fiona (the cleric) that sets off to eventually thwart a shadowy cabal of extremists like all 17-year-olds do in this genre. Along the way each will discover who they really are and reconnect with their parents, all while discovering ancient wonders and battling fantastic monsters.

Where Nostalgia does things a bit differently however is the overworld. As soon as you leave the starting town (and main hub) of London you are given your father’s airship. All travel in the overworld is done via an airship, and you can be attacked by other airships or flying monsters as you move from city to city (and, indeed, continent to continent). Ship combat is a bit different than normal dungeon combat, as each team member (wo)mans a different armament and acts independently, but you all share a single HP total. When you’re being triple-teamed, you either quickly learn to adopt a defensive stance or die. Eventually you gain the ability to climb to higher altitudes to bypass obstacles like mountains, but incredibly dangerous enemies lurk at those heights; expect several surprise Game Overs, as running away is usually not possible. Until you get some stronger gear, I advise you to stick to the lower altitudes unless necessary and save often.

Nostalgia’s other primary innovation is the visible turn order. Along the left side of the bottom screen you’ll see seven panels depicting your party and your enemies. Whoever is at the top is the one currently active, and the order goes down the list. Different moves (like magic) have longer wait times, and there are some moves you can use to add wait time to your enemies or grant additional speed to your own team. Shrewd management of this feature will allow you greater control over your battles.

Finally, Nostalgia uses a skill tree to learn new techniques. In addition to XP and GP, you will earn SP from battles. That SP can be spent on a character’s skill to improve it in some way (better effect, less MP cost, lower wait time, etc.). When certain skills are improved to a specific level, it will unlock a new (often related) skill, often well ahead of schedule compared to when the character would normally learn it. Some skills are more important than others, and knowing what you’re doing here can really affect the difficulty of the game. To the game’s credit, I never felt the need to grind up levels, cash, or skills, although hitting every side quest offered goes a long way towards that.

While all of that seems impressive, all of those innovations tend to meld into the background as you progress through the somewhat bland story. I didn’t really care about any of the developments in the plot, more than a few of which were fairly obvious to anyone even partially genre-savvy. It felt like I had played this game before, and in many ways I have. Nostalgia doesn’t really break enough new ground to stand out among the crowd, and there were several times where the only sense of nostalgia the game instilled in me was for the similar but superior Skies of Arkadia. Still, it’s a quality enough  title that should occupy you for about forty to fifty hours if you’re willing to overlook the inherently dated nature of most of it.

(…and if it will let you, that is. While I was playing the Nostalgia I learned about a game-breaking bug that is believed to affect about 1/3rd of all US carts. About 2/3rds of the way through the story, there is a two-part boss; in the bugged carts, the second part of the boss does not spawn, rendering the game impossible to complete; since the bug is apparently in the code and not something you can correct, you can’t even start over and try again. I was right near that point when I discovered this, and breathed a heavy sigh of relief when it was there as scheduled. I still think the game is worth picking up, but be aware that this problem exists, especially if buying a pre-owned version.)

ESRB: E10 for Mild Fantasy Violence. 19th Century Earth was a big time for hand pistols; every non-magic user who isn’t a sword-user is packing heat.

Pros: Some neat features, and a solid if unspectacular story

Cons: finding “Ancient Treasures” is nearly a pixel-hunt, ship combat is surprisingly lethal until late in the game

Plays like
: most other turn-based RPGs

Score: 3/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.