Posted by Ron DelVillano
The trouble with nostalgia
In 2008, Matrix Software and Red Entertainment teamed up to develop a turn-based Role-playing game for the Nintendo DS appropriately titled Nostalgia. Incorporating classic JRPG gameplay and mechanics with modern visuals, this game was designed to tug at the heart strings of ageing gamers while still managing to provide an experience for the younger among us to enjoy. As our review shows, Nostalgia's intended charm was effective, proving that there's plenty of room for classic goodness to sneak its way into the pantheon of modern gaming. Following in this trend, Kemco designed and developed Grinsia, a mobile game that employed similar gameplay to the classic JRPGs of old, even going so far as to incorporate a 16-bit art style reminiscent of similar Super Nintendo forays. Now Nicalis, a developer best known for porting and publishing indie hit Cave Story, has brought Grinsia to the eShop, finally giving 3DS owners the chance to experience a game that should feel right at home.
Following a family of archaeologists turned treasure hunters, Grinsia puts its players in the shoes of a young man in charge of guiding his clan on a fantastical quest to uncover ancient ruins and protect the world. The plot isn't original or even that interesting, following many tropes and plot devices that are often seen in RPGs, but it serves its purpose in guiding the action forward while still leaving some decisions up to the player. There are plenty of non-player characters that are eager to dole out entirely too much information and set you on the right path towards your goal of discovering ruins, but at times it can feel contrived. As the plot progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that you're really just participating in a series of fetch quests that link together to keep stringing you along until the end. In spite of this, the dialogue is surprisingly modern, making use of current slang and peppering in plenty of jokes to keep the otherwise wordy game from feeling entirely too mundane.
As this was originally a mobile game, it’s safe to say that Grinsia has received its fair share of scrutiny from opponents of mobile platforms. One of the biggest issues that decriers of mobile games point out is the lack of physical inputs; though touchscreen technology has advanced an incredible amount in the past decade, it's still difficult to surpass the tactility that hard buttons provide. Upon playing Grinsia, it becomes immediately obvious how it effectively stood out as a success on the iPhone, and that's because it's gameplay and controls are so basic that there's never any real need for precision. Movement around the map and within towns and dungeons is all based on a grid, only allowing for travel in four directions. As a turn-based game, action in battles is commanded through a series of menus, again, not requiring any form of strict movement that can’t be undone or ruined with the accidental slip of a thumb. For as simple as the controls are, we would be remiss not to mention that they work well; it would be baffling if they didn’t, but at least there are no issues in this respect.
Gamers experienced with turn-based RPGs will find the battle system familiar, almost to a fault. Of your menu selections, the standard options are all preset with little variation on the formula. Your characters can attack, use special skills or access items, along with a handful of other options that can be found in any game of the genre. There’s not much depth to the battles beyond choosing when to best attack, use magic, or heal, meaning that the bulk of the actual gameplay leaves very little to be experienced. During battle players can optionally set the action to be automatic, giving the game permission to choose targets and attack for you. This is an easy way to quickly run through battles for the sake of level grinding, but it also takes away from the necessity to actually play. The automatic option is like the game recognizing that its own battle system isn't very much fun or particularly engaging, so it wants to give you the option of setting your 3DS down for some time while the programming takes care of everything for you.
As you progress through the campaign, new characters with varying specialities who can equip new weapons will join your party. Only four members are allowed on your team at once, so choosing the right characters to strike a balance is necessary in order to be competitive and survive. Despite the variety in characters, the complete lack of a class or job system coupled with monotonous battles makes the game feel flat. It’s not a requirement that every game make an attempt at reinventing its respective genre, but any effort to make the gameplay feel fresh was completely lost here. Grinsia does well in its attempt to emulate early turn-based RPGs, but it ends up feeling much more like a relic than a magnum opus forgotten by time.
Not only does the gameplay reflect a bygone era, but the graphics and soundtrack also play contributing factors in pushing the nostalgia forward. The first thing that anyone should notice upon loading this one up is that it looks a lot like the 16-bit RPGs of old. Pixelated sprites plastered on top of flat environments with the illusion of depth give this one the appearance of a game that could be 20 years its senior. It's an artistic style that will feel comfortable and familiar to those who grew up with a SNES plugged into their parents' CRT television, but it may not entice younger gamers who never had the chance to experience games such as Final Fantasy II – FF IV in Japan – or Chrono Trigger in their original formats. Battle animations aren't fleshed out and consist mostly of characters swinging their weapons forward in the general direction of their targets. Story sequences also lack any visual flair, employing still images of characters accompanied by boxes full of blocks upon blocks of text.
The 3DS' ability to take flat images and transform them into full environments with tangible depth is the only thing that launches this game into the 21st century, but even that is used subtly. The 3D effect leaves the characters and environments flat, instead opting to push the map and text boxes forward for a more refined but still very attractive and clean look. As such, even Grinsia's use of modern technology is done in an effort to reject what is expected from games today and stick to the classic roots. For what it is and what it aims to do, the aesthetic style works well, but it leaves a bit to be desired — the influences from the past are all present and clear, but Grinsia lacks the polish that accompanied the games it aims to imitate.
Despite a nondescript update to the game available from the eShop — presumably for stability — there was still an instance when our game crashed, causing the entire 3DS console to shut itself down and losing us a significant portion of unsaved play. Saving is as simple as choosing the option from a menu wherever you are in the world, so it’s important to save often as this game is not without its bugs. There are also several spelling and grammatical errors, which isn’t entirely surprising in a game with so much text, but it’s far from problematic and provides little more than a minor nuisance. Slight issues aside, Grinsia is nowhere near broken and its faults shouldn’t be considered as hard-and-fast rules for immediate rejection.
Grinsia does well to bring classic 16-bit era RPG action to the 3DS eShop, but what it fails to do is make dated gameplay feel fresh or interesting. Gamers looking to relive their glory days full of RPGs on the SNES will definitely have a good time exploring the world within, but that shouldn’t be taken to mean that this is an experience that will appeal to all fans of the ever-changing genre. As time goes on and games advance further both aesthetically and in depth of gameplay, the demand for games like this that call upon nostalgia as a selling point is becoming smaller and smaller. Despite its flaws and repetitive nature, Grinsia effectively nestles itself into the void that it aims to fill, but it’s up to the player to decide whether or not another throwback is what they’re after.