Review by · October 27, 2009

Nostalgia is a JRPG for the DS with a unique 19th century steampunk setting on an alternate Earth. This type of setting is rarely seen in JRPGs and as such piqued my interest as well as that of other RPG fans. Screenshots evoked thoughts of Wild Arms and the promise of airship battles evoked thoughts of Skies of Arcadia. Unfortunately, Nostalgia does not live up to those beloved classics. The game’s unique setting and airship gameplay elements are used superficially at best, making what could have been a dynamic, forward-thinking game just another standard fare JRPG that I found completely unengaging and mediocre at best.

Nostalgia stars a rich kid from London named Eddie Brown, the son of Gilbert Brown – the greatest adventurer of all time. Gilbert goes missing when an attempt to rescue a girl from an evil cult called the Ancient Father’s Cabal goes awry, and every adventurer is too scared to look for him. So in true JRPG protagonist fashion, Eddie proclaims that he will become an adventurer and find his dad. Eddie’s mother and their family friend Evans offer some token resistance but decide to let Eddie take the test to become a certified adventurer. The test lands Eddie in the city sewers where he meets a streetwise hoodlum named Pad, who holds a mysterious medallion his mom gave him. Pad quickly decides to join Eddie’s adventuring party since the search for Gilbert might lead to answers about his medallion. As soon as Eddie and Pad exit the sewers and get the stamp of approval from the Adventurers Association, Evans readily tosses the keys to daddy’s airship, The Maverick, to Eddie and his hoodlum pal. And thus the adventure begins. Eddie’s quest to find his dad not only coincides with Pad’s quest to find his mom, but also coincides with a witch-girl named Melody’s quest for revenge against a high ranking member of the Ancient Father’s, and the quest of finding a bunch of ancient tablets before the Cabal does so Fiona, the girl Gilbert rescued, can regain her memories and prevent the Cabal from taking over the world with the ancient power stored in those tablets.

Nostalgia’s plot is that of a typical JRPG and, unfortunately, is not a very compelling example of one. Eddie’s party, the villains, and the important NPCs all fall into basic versions of typical JRPG archetypes. Eddie himself is a pretty boring hero with little personality, and it seems like he’s quickly yanked by the neck from one circumstance to another. Plot events happen too quickly and often with no development. Even moments that are supposed to be emotional are introduced and resolved very quickly and nonchalantly. To make matters worse, the pacing and progression simultaneously manages to feel slow and draggy as well, particularly in the first half of the game. That a plot can be both rushed and draggy at the same time is a rare and unenviable feat.

I know suspension of disbelief is a complete requirement for JRPGs, but it still feels odd to me that strangers, including figures of authority, are willing to either join a ragtag group of meddling kids and/or entrust them with stuff like vital information, their lives, other peoples’ lives, keys to sacred grounds, keys to daddy’s airship, and eventually the fate of the world… only five seconds after talking to them! The second half of the story is slightly more involved than the first half, but it still remains predictable JRPG fare.

On the up side, this is Ignition’s best localization effort to date. Blue Dragon Plus and Lux-Pain had some rough English writing (Lux-Pain especially) so it is good to see that Ignition got its act together and delivered a localization with few technical errors and more personality in the dialogue than such limp characters and plotlines deserve. Ignition did a good job with the localization and is showing much improvement in this area, which is why story gets a higher score than it really deserves.

The unique 19th century steampunk setting on an alternate version of Earth is ripe with all kinds of potential. Sadly, the setting is only used very superficially and does nothing to separate Nostalgia from all the “me-too” JRPGs out there. There could have been some truly amazing worldbuilding in the game, but locations are pretty humdrum and major cities like London, Cape Town, or Delhi only consist of 2-3 teensy weensy areas that barely take up a couple of screens and fewer townspeople than you can count on your fingers. Even in the 19th century, these were bustling metropolises, so these sparse, tiny versions of major cities are a huge disappointment. Another disappointment concerns the dungeons, which are often very linear and not very lengthy. At least this makes dungeons less tedious to escape since the party usually has to hoof it back to the entrance after besting the boss. Ultimately, the theme of exploration promised by this game is almost moot thanks to the tiny towns, not enough meaningful locations, and boring dungeons. To make matters worse, dungeons sometimes get recycled to progress the plot. The game has plenty of sidequests to undertake, but they amount to nothing more than arbitrary fetch quests that do little to enhance the world or its inhabitants. It also does not help that movement both on foot and in the airship feels a bit slippery sometimes. The upside to exploration is that the random encounter rate is pretty low and that saving is convenient. Players can also save anywhere on the overworld and in towns, but dungeons have healing save points. Fortunately, there is a convenient auto-save feature in the game that can be used anywhere and any time outside of battle.

Eddie and his cohorts get the keys to an airship early on, which is good since all overworld travel is done via airship. Initially, the airship can only fly at low altitudes but upgrades obtained over the course of the game allow flight at medium and high altitudes to get to inaccessible places and fight stronger monsters in random battles. Unfortunately, no one thought to put a reverse function on the airship so when players overshoot locations, doubling back is like turning an 18-wheeler.

Battles occur randomly on the overworld and play out in a standard turn-based fashion. Instead of the party being out on the deck fighting monsters, they man each of the airship’s four weapons: blade, gun, cannon, and magic orb, to take out airborne enemies. There are certain items and learnable character skills that pertain exclusively to airship combat. The idea of fighting in a vehicle is pretty cool, but the turn-based battle engine used in airship battles is no different than the standard battling used by the party in dungeons, which itself is by-the-book turn-based battling. Like in Final Fantasy X, turn order is displayed during all battles, which may either please strategy-conscious gamers or displease gamers who think it makes battles too predictable. The balance in the game is generally even, although, for the most part, it’s skewed toward easy, especially if you take the time to build up each character’s most useful on-foot and airborne battle skills. There are, however, a couple of balance hiccups where random airship battles can decimate a party without much warning.

The game’s interface is nothing out of the ordinary and anyone who has played an RPG before should be able to use it effectively. My only issues are that in the mostly brown color scheme in the mostly icon-based menu, some icons are a bit small. In the main menu, battle menu, and conversation boxes, the text is also a bit small so it can be a minor strain to read, especially if you use a “fat” DS whose screens are not as bright as those in the DS Lite or DSi.

The brightest spot in Nostalgia is clearly its graphics. 3D graphics are often hit or miss on the DS and the polygon characters atop polygon environments look very clean without any sort of clipping. I would say the game looks as good as a mid to late era PlayStation game, if not better. The game is mostly seen from a top-down perspective, but important conversations and cutscenes zoom in at more dynamic angles. Most cutscenes use the in-game engine and look fine, though a few have hand drawn stills. The battle camera always selects good angles after the player selects actions and resets itself back to normal between turns, much like in Wild Arms. Whenever characters or the airship obtain new weapons, the current weapon is shown in the battle models, which is nice. The color palette captures that alterna-19th century feel the game is going for, even if the colors look more drab and less bright than in comparable games. The most drab graphics belong to the overworld, which has a pseudo-Mode 7 look and a very washed out color scheme. Admittedly, it was cool seeing other airships flying around as I took the Maverick to new places.

Although the graphics are excellent on a technical level, the style leaves something to be desired. Character and enemy designs are not bad, but they are quite generic and forgettable. Towns also have very little style and hardly reflect the distinct cultural leanings of their geographical regions. Given the game’s unique 19th century steampunk setting, I would have liked more dynamic towns and characters to look more stylized than cookie-cutter anime people.

Nostalgia’s sound also lacks dynamism. The orchestral music is nicely composed, sounds terrific through the DS’s speakers and even better through headphones. Unfortunately, the compositions are not memorable at all. Again, it’s generic, cookie-cutter JRPG music with anemic hints at ethnic diversity to reflect the various regions of the world. Stronger compositions based around a variety of world music would have gone a long way toward adding life to the game’s rather lifeless world. At least there are different overworld themes depending on how high the Maverick is flying and different battle themes for airship and land battles. Nevertheless, the soundtrack still remains a forgettable and generic one.

I’m a big fan of nostalgic “old-school” style RPGs as my catalogue of reviews suggests, but honestly, Nostalgia fell completely flat in almost all areas. I was hoping that given the game’s unique setting that the game would be deeper and more dynamic instead of horribly generic, wrought with clichés and, worst of all, rather boring. I feel that the promise of steampunk and any kind of potential for uniqueness is completely wasted here. If you want a nostalgic traditional RPG experience with an atmospheric setting, solid worldbuilding with lots of fun exploration, challenging dungeons, a protagonist with some personality, some dynamic elements (like a varied soundtrack and creative character art), and an overall more engaging experience, skip Nostalgia and go check out the indie RPG Millennium: A New Hope by Aldorlea Games instead.

Overall Score 73
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Neal Chandran

Neal Chandran

Neal is the PR manager at RPGFan but also finds time to write occasional game or music reviews and do other assorted tasks for the site. When he isn't networking with industry folks on behalf of RPGFan or booking/scheduling appointments for press events, Neal is an educator, musician, cyclist, gym rat, and bookworm who has also dabbled in voiceover work and motivational speaking.