Nostalgia Review for Nintendo DS

Nostalgia Review for Nintendo DS

A Classical Ensemble

With two classic Final Fantasy remakes and the innovative Avalon Code for Nintendo DS under their belt, developer Matrix Software returns once again to the roots of role-playing games. Nostalgia lives up to its name in almost every sense of the word, but do its age-old-gameplay conventions hold up to today’s standards?

Nostalgia screenshot

At the beginning of the tale, you’re thrust into the shoes of Gilbert Brown, a renowned adventurer from London. He’s on a quest to rescue a young girl, but Brown soon falls to his doom when attempting to make it safely back to his airship. You, therefore, take up the role of Gilbert’s son, Eddie, for the duration of the game, and along with a few newfound friends, you set off to save the world from an evil organization known as the Cabal.

Like the remake of Final Fantasy III, Nostalgia’s story is paced well, and you’ll journey throughout an expansive world. The game takes place is a reimagining of our own, real world, and you’ll travel to many known countries, including Egypt, Japan, and Russia. The story itself is pieced together fine, but the writers make too many broad strokes with the characters, with dialogue that is often laughably bad. There are few comical moments, but without a strong story, Nostalgia is forced to lean almost entirely upon its gameplay.

Thankfully, the role-playing elements and combat are tight and polished, and it doesn’t hurt that the game is presented with stellar production values. That being said, Nostalgia does little else to distinguish itself as a modern RPG.

Your party will generally consist of four characters, though other key players in the story will often accompany you for long stretches of the game. These extra characters lend support during combat, but you won’t have any direct control over them. Battles are turn-based, with the usual selection of options on tap.

Nostalgia screenshot

Unlike the old-school Final Fantasy games, the classes for your characters are chosen for you in Nostalgia. It’s typical fare, really; Eddie’s melee, Pad uses guns, Melody is a black mage, and Fiona works her healing magic as a white priestess. Though you’re limited in the sense of your characters’ vocations throughout the game, there’s a neat, little skill tree in place to allow players to build up their characters as they see fit. You’ll acquire new skills and spells based on leveling and contextual moments throughout the story, but you can divvy up skill points (SP) any way you like. You’re also graded for your performance during combat, and a high ranking at the end of battles will earn you additional experience, SP, and gold.

In addition to traditional combat, you’ll engage in airship battles when making your way around the world of Nostalgia. You’ll outfit your airship with various types of weaponry and armor, as well as have the opportunity to upgrade its “End” (essentially the ship’s health) from time to time. Just like in ordinary battles, each character can man certain types of weapons, and they’ll also learn specific skills related to airship combat. This isn’t Skies of Arcadia (Dreamcast/GCN), however, and for the most part, combat in the air isn’t all that different from combat during dungeon-crawls.

Nostalgia screenshot

If you’ve already played your share of traditional, turn-based RPGs, most of what Nostalgia has to offer will likely feel like old hat. However, one thing we especially appreciate about the game is the almost pitch-perfect balance. Unlike many other adventures in the genre, you won’t be forced to grind for hours on end. Bosses aren’t pushovers, but they generally won’t take a half hour to beat, either. A single run through a dungeon will usually offer ample opportunity to level your party sufficiently, and the overall experience moves at fairly brisk pace. The only time the game’s difficulty jumps around a bit is in the air. When making your way to new parts of the world, it’s not uncommon to be greeted by airships and/or flying monsters that feel a bit overpowered.

The dungeons themselves are designed to be a tad more interesting than the usual RPG fare, with a few simple puzzle elements and traps that help to keep things interesting. Zelda this is not – but exploring the world of Nostalgia is fun and often exciting. One of the drawbacks of the more complex dungeon design, however, is that you’ll constantly get stopped by random encounters when simply trying to find your way around. This is, without a doubt, the most frustrating element of the game, and it’s a constant reminder of just how far along RPGs have come over the years.

Nostalgia screenshot

In spite of its decidedly antiquated composition, there’s plenty to do and see in Nostalgia. The main adventure is a respectable length for a handheld RPG, and there are tons of optional missions to pick up along the way. Each non-playable character has some unique tidbit of information to offer, and there are hidden items in almost every nook and cranny of the world.

Additionally, there’s an incredible attention to detail in terms of the user interface. Though there are no DS-specific gameplay elements of note, the developers make great use of the system’s real estate. There is an attractive map system that displays each area of the world, and easy-to-use menu options, as well as an indicator that displays the order of turns for each character and opponent during battle, serve to streamline the experience nicely. Our only minor quibble with respect to the menu system is that selling items could have been made a bit easier.

Visually, Nostalgia is another stunning production by a developer who really knows how to maximize this particular hardware. Folks who’ve played either of the Final Fantasy remakes for DS will instantly recognize the signature style, and it’s one that works incredibly well on the dual screen. Matrix has actually managed to one-up themselves, though, with more detailed and luxurious environments, as well as plenty of breathtaking variety. There are minor bouts of slowdown, but they’re rare and have no real effect on gameplay. Top to bottom, Nostalgia is a great-looking game.

Meeting the graphics right in the middle is a wonderful soundtrack, conspicuously influenced by many Square Enix classics. Themes are moving, oftentimes playful, and always topnotch. However, in terms of the game’s audio, the sound effects definitely take center stage here. The old-fashioned motif might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s served up quite elegantly. Everything from the simple clicking of gears when choosing battle options, to the explosions heard when a ship falls in battle – the aural elements add a wealth of personality to the adventure.

If you’re someone who feels RPGs have strayed too far from what once made them great, Nostalgia is a gift to you from Ignition Entertainment and Matrix Software. It’s very straightforward, closely cropped, and there’s almost nothing of innovation to be found here. It is, however, a refined product with rock-solid gameplay that will last a good, long while. If you’re in it for the story, this probably isn’t the adventure for you. But folks looking to take a ride aboard a well-oiled machine will do well to check the game out.

A gorgeous-looking 3D game for Nintendo’s handheld. There are a few minor bouts of slowdown here and there, but nothing that ever mars the adventure. 4.0 Control
A simple system based on RPGs of old, but everything feels really tight. The collision detection during dungeon crawls is spot-on. 4.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Though themes offer little in the way of originality, the orchestrations are impressive and moving, with plenty of variety to boot. Sound effects are excellent and add a lot to the overall presentation. 3.5

Play Value
The story holds together fine, but poor dialogue and structure make it almost impossible to care about Nostalgia’s characters. The gameplay – though completely old-school – is polished and very well balanced.

3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Ambitious, fully 3D polygonal graphical engine offers dramatic, sweeping camera angles and impressive vistas rarely seen in a DS title.
  • Cohesive, anime-inspired art direction that effectively captures the game’s turn-of-the-century charm.
  • Travel to incredibly unique, non-traditional RPG locales via airship including London, New York, Cairo, Africa, and Russia.

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