Nostalgia - Staff Review  

It's Gonna Take You Back to the Past
by Mike Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Exploring the globe by airship is enjoyable...
- Except when overpowered enemies appear
+ Skill acquisition is interesting
- Earth's topography has changed a lot
+ Huge quantities of optional material
- Story is cliché-ridden
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   Nostalgia seeks to be a sort of RPG comfort meal. The name informs prospective players that nothing particularly innovative will be found within, and the concept of navigating the entire game world by airship from the beginning is highly reminiscent of Skies of Arcadia. If the goal of its developers was to deliver a perfectly serviceable but unexceptional RPG, Nostalgia is a success.

   Its name alone implies that Nostalgia will be traveling the well-trodden road of tradition in its combat, and thus random battles aplenty await. Nostalgia's unexpected supplement to ground combat is a turn order that is not random, with characters getting their next action sooner if less demanding moves are made. The only problem with this system is that the game's screen displays the next six moves of all participants, not every move that will be made based on the current action selected. Having just a portion of the next few moves visible is annoying if an enemy is about to get successive actions. Otherwise, nothing that RPGamers will not have experienced numerous times before awaits in Nostalgia's ground combat, though it is carried off with no glaring issues.

   Outside of dungeons, Nostalgia uses an airship for navigation and also features random battles while flying. Its obvious inspiration for this design is Skies of Arcadia, but several key differences drag the airship combat in Nostalgia down from being anywhere close to its forbear. First, aerial battles in Skies were always one-on-one tactical affairs: Nostalgia often throws multiple adversaries at the player that require no strategy except healing when necessary. Second, airship combat was rare and noteworthy in Skies, with the player fighting random grunts on the deck of the ship in battles identical to those on the ground. Nostalgia fills its skies with long, random battles against the same adversaries using the airship, and it exhausts the novelty quite quickly. Third, and most crippling, is Nostalgia's highly unbalanced enemy power in the air. Skies' aerial combat allowed for even a ship without the best equipment and upgrades to pull out a win with good tactics by the player, but Nostalgia will send the player's airship down in flames if the wrong enemies are encountered too early. The fourth issue is that Skies eventually allowed the player to avoid random battles in the air entirely at certain elevations, but Nostalgia never has the same consideration.

   At least Nostalgia's means of learning new techniques is fairly interesting. Battles yield SP, which are kept in a group pool instead of accruing to each character. Using SP on any spell will increase its effectiveness, along with usually lowering its MP cost. Some new abilities are learned automatically, but others will only be revealed once necessary antecedent techniques have been strengthened enough. This system is rather enjoyable and lets the player pick and choose which techniques are most important to success. Its only real downside is a cap on the SP pool of 9,999, demanding that players frequently upgrade skills to avoid SP awards going to waste.

Many inappropriate jokes come to mind with a picture like this, but actually writing them down is excessive. Many inappropriate jokes come to mind with a picture like this, but actually writing them down is excessive.

   Interaction is a mixed bag. Shopping is fine, with the effects of all items visible before purchase and the player able to immediately equip them without going to a separate menu. Using items and spells outside of combat is more annoying, however, particularly with regard to the airship. Items and skills that affect the airship are grouped below all other items, and in this game pressing up at the top of a menu does not instantly place the cursor at the bottom. Keeping the airship well maintained is vital but doing so is a constant irritation.

   Nostalgia's story begins with the adventurer Gilbert Brown (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Indiana Jones) saving a girl from a mysterious group called the Ancient Father's Cabal. His son, Edward Brown, learns of this when the escape goes somewhat awry and determines to learn what happened. To do this he must first earn his own adventurer credibility. Along the way Edward is joined by Pad, a young man searching for his mother; Melody, a young orphan from a reclusive magical village in the south of France; and Fiona, the amnesiac girl saved by Indiana Jones' double at the beginning. These characters are likable enough, but the plot is just one cliché after another, and the villains are a dull bunch, becoming tiresome early on.

   Nostalgia's setting is supposedly that of Earth in the late 1800's, an interesting choice that required close attention to detail. The world map is indeed that of Earth, though some details such as all the Caribbean islands are missing -- but only in two dimensions. The third dimension finds that Earth has mysteriously sprouted mountain ranges in unexpected places, such as the eastern coast of South America and along the Franco-German border. Earth is also quite sparsely populated to judge by the locations that can be entered. China, Canada, Italy, Germany, Indonesia, Australia, and many other nations lack anything the player can interact with.

Well, there we have it -- New York is the only city on the east coast of North America.  Funny how all the maps elsewhere disagree.... Well, there we have it -- New York is the only city on the east coast of North America. Funny how all the maps elsewhere disagree....

   Exploring the Roman aqueducts or the Great Wall of China may be out, but there is quite a bit of optional content in Nostalgia to investigate. Some of it involves lengthy backtracking through old dungeons, but not all. There are extra dungeons scattered around the world, often with little bits of story and new bosses. Trying to finish everything will easily take at least ten hours more than the twenty-four or so just finishing the game requires.

   Matrix, the developer of Nostalgia, had plenty of practice with DS 3D prior to making this game, and it shows in the result. Enemies may not have a great variety of animations in battle, but they look good, and so do the player characters. Dungeons show some visual variety, with their standard locations being enlivened by little extras to catch the eye. Disappointingly, the world map isn't very interesting to look at, especially considering the source material, but the rest of the game redeems that part. As for the music, there are some good tracks that are entertaining to hear, and some that simply serve as forgettable incidental pieces. Some pretty good tracks and some uninteresting ones equates to an average score.

   Nostalgia is not a bad game, but it is not particularly good either. Its attempt to ape Skies of Arcadia's aerial setup is poorly executed, and its story cannot match the infectious energy and ebullience of that game. Aspects of the game are quite good, and Nostalgia is far from unplayable, but it just fails to stand out from the crowded DS lineup much.

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