Review: Nostalgia (DS)

One of the most unique and enjoyable DS RPGs to date.

The developers of Nostalgia have repeatedly stated that they've been putting the game together for the better part of a decade. While this might seem like an exaggeration at first, when you begin playing the finished product you'll quickly see the many different eras of RPG influences that make up the game. We've already seen quite a few solid RPG releases on the DS system, but Nostalgia attempts to bring a more realistic experience to the system using real-life locations that you'll visit throughout the game, not to mention offering up a very colorful 19th Century theme to further enhance the experience. So was the lengthy development time really worth it, and can Nostalgia offer up the inventive Japanese RPG experience DS owners are expecting?

At its core, Nostalgia plays pretty much like any other traditional Japanese RPG title. You've got one giant story playing out that involves quite a number of fetch quests surrounded by an inherently large number of battles to be fought. The game even tosses in quite a few side quests to make the game a little less linear and give the player more opportunities to level their characters up and earn more money. However, as traditional as many aspects of the game tend to be, there are enough unique twists to make things a bit more interesting.

Instead of traveling on foot to and from the vast majority of locations in the game, you get about on a giant airship, and much like travelling on foot you'll run into your fair share of random enemy encounters along the way, just as you will when you delve inside of the game's many dungeons. You'll even be able to choose to fly your airship at varying altitudes if you manage to upgrade it properly. Of course with these higher altitudes come much stronger enemies to battle as well, and while the enemy battles in dungeons tend to stick with the more traditional turn-based combat scheme, airship battles toss a few new gameplay twists your way and ultimately give the game its fresh appeal.

As with any RPG, outfitting and levelling up your characters plays a key role in your survival throughout the game. You'll be able to purchase better weapons, armor and speciality items in the various cities you'll visit using money you earn in battle. You'll even run across airship ports that will allow you to repair and upgrade the various parts of your airship in order to make it more formidable in battle. Failing to outfit your characters and airship with better equipment can cause a quick end to your party if you're not careful, but you'll also need to take part in your fair share of battles in order to level your characters up. You'll quickly find that keeping your party and airship up to speed combat-wise will play an integral role in your success throughout the game.

There are two different types of battles in the game: dungeon combat and airship combat. Combat inside of dungeons is fairly standard and requires you to take part in a turn-based battle where you'll be allowed to select various commands for each of your active characters. You can attack with weapons, use magic skills and even make use of special items during battle. There is no active time battle system in this game as combat is taken in turns, giving the player all the time they need in order to make battle command selections. You can even glance down at the bottom screen to see the current combat order along with various other stats such as your current hit points and magic points. Winning these battles will earn your characters much-needed experience points and money.

Airship combat is similar to dungeon combat, except that your characters will take control of the airship's various weapons. Your characters don't take damage during an airship battle, instead the airship itself takes the damage: like your warriors, the airship has a certain number of damage points and if this meter reaches zero, it's game over just as it would be if all of your party members were knocked out in a dungeon battle. You can make use of mechanic tools in order to make repairs on your airship during combat, but it will take a turn much the same way an attack would. The effectiveness of your weapons also depends on whether or not you're facing your target or they're off to your side, and you'll even be forced to deal with weather conditions such as sandstorms and blizzards that can decrease your airship weapon's accuracy, not to mention your visibility. In this respect, the airship combat tends to be a much more strategic battle than your typical dungeon fight.

The play control in Nostalgia gives you all the tools you need to be successful. The turn-based combat system is very easy to use, yet offers plenty of variety to give the battles a very strategic feel to them. Likewise, the added dimensions of the airship battles also make for a nice diversion in the game's enemy encounters and keeps things feeling fresh. The game even makes more trivial functions like purchasing and equipping weapons very intuitive and much less tedious than that of other RPGs. It's clear that the developers have learned from past mistakes of the RPG genre and tried to implement many of the more successful and useful gameplay ideas in this title, and the end result is a very playable RPG system that allows you to spend less time trying to come to grips with the control system and more time enjoying the adventure that's unfolding around you.

At times the graphics in the game are truly amazing and show a solid degree of detail, while other times they look like they just stepped out of an early Playstation title. By choosing to go with 3D visuals, the developers have created a very smooth visual experience, but it often lacks the type of detail we've come to expect in more recent DS RPGs. That's not to say that the visual presentation is below average, it's just a bit inconsistent and given how impressive some areas of the game are, you can't help but be a little disappointed those times when the visual quality dips a little. Thankfully, the quality visual moments greatly outnumber the bad, so at the end of the day, it's difficult to be too critical of the visual performance in the game, especially given some of the extremely impressive touches that pop up from time to time throughout the game.

Over the years, we've heard some monumental musical scores in various RPGs, but very seldom do we hear a soundtrack that so perfectly fits not only the game itself, but the individual locations of the game they're featured in. Not only are the musical pieces in Nostalgia extremely melodic and epic in nature, but the style of each track is somehow able to perfectly complement the city or dungeon you're currently located in. You can almost tell where you are in the game just by listening to the current musical track. Of course some tracks are better than others, but there honestly isn't a bad tune in the entire game and they tend to get more diverse and catchy the further into the game you progress. In fact some of the tracks in the latter portions of the game are absolutely amazing. It certainly would have been nice to have heard some voiced dialog in a game of this caliber, but it's difficult to fault the game given the top-notch musical score.

Conclusion

While Nostalgia never strays too far from the more traditional gameplay elements that have made Japanese RPGs so popular with fans of the genre, it does toss in enough unique design elements to make it stand out from the many other DS RPG titles available. In fact, aside from being a bit predictable at times, it's honestly difficult to find much to complain about: the real-life locales and fluid story-driven quest offer RPG fans something to really sink their teeth into, and the side quests turn an already epic main quest into an even meatier adventure for those who choose to take them on. Combine all of this with not only a very well-executed traditional turn-based combat system, but also some extremely enjoyable airship battles, and what you have is easily one of the more refreshing RPG releases to hit the DS system and a game that no RPG fan will want to miss out on.