There was a time when the phrase “role-playing game” would immediately evoke thoughts of turn-based battles, dungeon crawling, elemental spells, and plenty of grinding. This was a formula that has worked for decades, but in this generation, traditional RPGs have been few and far between. Developers have been trying to change up the role-playing formula in order to avoid becoming antiquated, but Matrix Software, who previously developed the remakes of Final Fantasy III and IV for the DS, brought back some of the more conventional RPG aspects with Nostalgia. As an interesting twist, however, the game is set in an alternate 19th century, creating the unusual juxtaposition of airships and monsters with familiar locations like London and Cairo. Nostalgia does a good job of mixing the conventional with the unusual, but after several hours of repetitive battles, the game does start to feel a bit archaic.
In this steampunk version of Earth, each major city has ports for airships and a headquarters for the Adventurers Association, of which all great adventurers are members. The world’s most famous adventurer, Gilbert Brown, has gone missing, so his young son Eddie sets out to find him, in the process becoming an adventurer himself, and gaining a few friends to join the fight. Before long, he becomes involved in a much bigger mission, trying to put a stop to a sinister enemy and attempting to uncover some of the world’s deepest secrets. The plot itself is interesting enough, though the dialogue can be a bit cheesy, and it’s a little hard to believe that the fate of the world would be put in the hands of a few inexperienced children. Still, video games, particularly in this genre, are about the suspension of disbelief, and Eddie and his friends certainly aren’t the first underage kids to make up an RPG party.
Before learning that the developer of this game had previously worked on the Final Fantasy DS remakes, my first reaction was that the character sprites looked exactly like those in FFIII. That’s not a complaint, and indeed caused me to feel a pinch of nostalgia for a fantastic game, making me want to play this one even more. The rest of the game looks nice as well, working with the system’s graphical limitations to create large, detailed cities and seemingly endless dungeons. The game’s score also feels familiar; though you haven’t heard it before, it seems like the kind of music that would have been taken straight from an RPG from the late 1980s or early 1990s. The only problem with the presentation is that the developer simply didn’t do enough to make Nostalgia really stand out, or move forward in any way.
This is part of the game’s main problem as well. The battle system is extremely straightforward, and the game doesn’t waste any time trying to explain it to you, assuming the player is more than familiar with turn-based RPGs. Four party members (and occasionally a guest who will not be under your control) take turns attacking foes based on speed, and can select from straightforward assaults, special moves, or magic spells. Eddie serves as a swordsman, while Pad is equipped with a gun; Melody can use damaging magical attacks, and Fiona rounds out the party as a healer. These roles are very clearly defined, and are standard RPG fare. Many great RPGs have had turn-based battles, but added a little something extra to make the game more memorable, such as the timing in Lost Odyssey, or the draw system in Final Fantasy VIII. Other than showing the player the order characters move on the bottom screen (and even that has been done many times before), there is nothing at all unique about the battle system, at least when the characters are on solid ground.
In the air, however, is a different story. Airships are more than just a means of transportation in Nostalgia—they are equipped to fight off sky pirates and whatever flying creatures may be roaming the skies. Eddie gets access to his father’s airship early in the game, and as he progresses, he is able to upgrade the vehicle, making it able to travel higher in the air, passing over mountains. Each character handles a different airship weapon, and though the sky fights also follow a standard turn-based formula, there are a few variables to make it feel different. Foes can attack from the front and sides, and each weapon has strengths and weakness depending on which direction in which it strikes. Enemy attacks can do more than just drain the airship’s version of HP; they can also disable weapons and have lasting damage if not dealt with quickly. The fights are harder the higher you get in the air, and generally speaking, more difficult than the standard dungeon fare. Airship battles bring more than just a change of scenery, adding much needed variety and some originality to the game.
In addition to the main storyline, the Adventurers Association will provide you with plenty of side quests to undertake, providing your characters with more experience and gold. The more assignments you take on, the higher your adventurer rank will be, allowing you to complete more and more difficult tasks for the Association. Reminiscent of the hunts in Final Fantasy XII, these quests can be very addictive, and allow your party to gain more money and experience without directionless grinding. The assignments are rewarding in terms of gold earned, but will usually end up sending you to explore the same dungeons over and over again. I didn’t mind at first, as my party quickly leveled up after completing the first few side quests, but after the fourth time through the pyramids or the Tower of Babel, it can feel just as repetitive and monotonous as typical RPG grinding.
Nostalgia lives up to its name in more than one ways, being reminiscent of some classic role-playing games from the eight and sixteen-bit eras. The turn-based fighting system was certainly welcome, though I think the developers could have done more to really make it stand out. Airship battles added more originality to the game, as did the setting, by overall, this is a very by-the-numbers RPG. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth playing, but there are many stronger games in the same genre in the DS, and Nostalgia is likely to be overshadowed by remakes of Chrono Trigger and games from the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series. There is enough content in Nostalgia to keep you occupied for a long time; the question is simply whether or not you will remain interested long enough to get there.