10/31/2022 0 Comments
The Last Hero of Nostalgaia Review
If you've played many Souls likes, you'll probably be very familiar with all the little mechanics and tropes that come with the territory. You'll understand managing stamina, blocking and parrying. You'll instantly recognize the use of "bonfires" as a spawn point, as well as the use of brutal methodical combat and the process of going back to where you died in order to collect the "souls" you've dropped. You'll probably also be used to dark worlds, filled with melancholy stories, and cursed characters. The entire genre seems filled with depressing worlds and narratives that take themselves VERY, VERY seriously….
The Last Hero of Nostalgaia is not like that at all. It's humour filled, satirical in places, packed with video game references throughout and uses the concept of nostalgia to great effect in its storytelling. Basically it takes the Dark Souls concept of a tough but fair action RPG, but goes down the spoof path by parodying other game characters and elements, as well as tropes from the industry itself.
You see Nostalgaia is a "world of videogames". Many elements, from many different franchises, from many different genres and times, have been reincarnated here but have been reinterpreted slightly to fit into the fantasy setting. These heroes have left their mark upon the people and land, with their own stories playing out again. Many myths and legends of Nostalgaia will feel familiar, and as you explore you'll come across artifacts left behind that you may have seen before. Master Chief's armour, a Keyblade inspired sword, Issac Clarke's suit, Prince of Persia’s Dagger of Time, Sephiroth's sword and a gazillion more all make an appearance (slightly changed to fit the new setting) as you explore and finding them is a constant sense of enjoyment. Aficionados of the history of gaming will get a great kick, and a sense of nostalgia, from these discoveries and the game leans heavily into this idea.
The thing is, however, these heroes have stopped coming to Nostalgia. No new heroes have appeared in a long time, leaving the world unable to move forward. At first this just meant the world started to stagnate but quickly things got worse. They slowly started to regress. Its high polygon hi-def worlds began to lose detail, it's textures degraded, it's 3D polygon characters became flat pixel art sprites. They went mad, joining an army of regressed creatures that grew in numbers as this virus broke down the very programming of the world itself…
But perhaps there is hope…
A new hero appears. A champion of the highest definition. A true next gen warrior. A character that a high end PC would struggle to render… Or maybe not.
He's a stickman. The lowest resolution sprite, the original gaming character, they're little more than a few white lines given sentience, and he's all yours to control.
So I did say this was a parody and it instantly becomes obvious when you start off with the Dark Souls style character creation screen. Like you'd expect in many games, you have a wide range of options to fiddle with, height, weight, hair, eyes, tattoos etc. can all be changed but as your character is a stickman, nothing actually changes visually. It seems to be a throwaway joke but I actually took it as a wider comment on the current fashion for character creation. Where you can create these vastly cosmetically different characters that, regardless of what they look like, all end up getting EXACTLY the same treatment and story in-game. You can spend hours creating a character and it has no effect on your experience at all. Many details of the story is like this, a commentary on modern gaming. Even the world's setting of a degrading virtual world is, in my mind at least, a reference to games like Shovel Knight where a modern game is styled to look like a 16bit one. It's a nice little detail that makes Nostalgaia differ from other Souls likes.
The narrator of the story too is different from the usual narrator you see in this genre in that he refuses, at least at first, to even recognize you as a hero, and thinks you're simply the most generic character ever created. Which you are. He ridicules you and experts nothing of you, only really giving info in a "you won't even be able to reach such and such so there's no point even sending you" kinda way. Listening to his commentary was a nice change from the usual super serious and Poe faced guide and, even if not up to the level of something like The Stanley Parable, it was refreshing to see and was one of many elements that made this feel like a different experience.
What wasn't that different though is how the game plays…
However, as the Souls-like style is pretty well refined by now, that's not really a bad thing. A case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" if I ever saw one, Nostalgaia plays like an early From Software game. It genuinely feels, in many ways, like the first Dark Souls. There's no jump button. The whole world is a compact interconnected one, where doors are locked from one side but create shortcuts through areas once opened. They're packed with a wide range of enemies, many sneakily placed, and to overcome them you need to manage stamina, block and parry, as well as trying for backstabs. Bosses are powerful and require you to carefully watch their telegraphing and avoid attacks, till you can get a few opportune hits in with your chosen weapon. It has the exact same messaging system that DS (and later Elden Ring) made so popular, with players able to leave help, hindrance or general trolling all over the place. It has its version of the "Estus Flask" healing mechanic where you can heal a certain amount of times but it takes a second to activate and leaves you vulnerable while doing so. Even the "bonfire" thing is present and accounted for. It's all instantly recognizable and, while not quite up to From Software standards, it works really well. Veterans of the genre will slide in easily and find the mechanics familiar.
But that's not to say the Last Hero of Nostalgaia doesn't do unique things too. It has little moments of style all of its own and a particularly nice one appears each time you hit a "bonfire". Remember how in Dark Souls your character would light the fire and then sit down as the UI appears? Well here we get something much more stylish. You see the world in Nostalgaia has degraded, being covered in low level textures and flat sprites. As you activate a "bonfire" for the first time though, it's light expands out from it and restores the world to its true 3D glory. It doesn't expand far but seeing the world return to its true self, even in a small way, is unique and rewarding each time it happens. It's a cosmetic only touch but gives a glimpse of what the world "should'' be like and reminds you of what you're fighting for. There are nice little touches like this all through the game and it goes a long way towards world building. Magic for instance is, in this world, framed as the ability to create glitches and bugs in the videogame worlds underlying programming. All spells have strange command code names and descriptions, all of which are interesting to read.
Oh, and speaking of interesting descriptions…You know how the descriptions for items/etc. in From Software games often have lore or world building in their descriptions? Well Nostalgaia has taken this idea a stage further, creating a unique mechanic that I'd love to see adopted in future Soul like titles. Remember those weapons, armour and such I mentioned earlier? The ones from "lost heroes'' that are actually references to other franchises and games? Well those play an interesting part in exploration and progression. Each one has a story or clues in its description that hints towards a location or situation in the game world. When you find the answer to these little quests, it's icon in your inventory will begin to shake. By then going in and activating the item, its damage and scaling will increase, changing it into a more powerful version. The thing is though that you aren't warned if you have the right location, so you have to actively read each description carefully and seek out the solution in the world. Some are easy, like the Keyblade style sword which "remembers being plunged into the heart of an old man" but some have much more difficult to work out solutions. It leads to you checking your inventory when you encounter new locations, checking for the telltale shaking icon signaling an upgrade is possible. What's even better though, each weapon you upgrade in this fashion goes towards unlocking permanent passive upgrades for your character, meaning it's worth doing for all weapons, even ones that aren't suitable for your build. It's a lovely little addition to a game that takes so much inspiration from other franchises and really made you explore the environment and look out for all the little details around the well-designed world.
To be fair though, I don't want to over sell things here. This IS an indie title, from a smaller sized team and with a budget price tag. Do not go thinking this will be up there with Elden Ring or Sekiro. While definitely an interesting and fun experience, it does have some little flaws. Combat feels a little less precise than some more polished examples, with some weapons feeling off when using them. Some feeling too light or floaty, while others seem to have fractionally off collision detection. It's something you quickly adapt too but I did find a couple of useful weapons that I just didn't like the "feel" of. The world geometry, like it's retro retrograde style, can sometimes feel jagged with you not quite sure what you can walk over and what you can't.
There were a few ramps that I was positive I should be able to walk up but couldn't. Enemy AI for some enemies is a bit mindless too, with many enemies simply running towards you the second you enter range and swinging wildly. However this does make enemies like the giant armoured warrior, with search light eyes, who pursues you only if you enter his cone of light, more fun when you encounter them. No map, and no real fast travel system are an annoyance too, especially when backtracking to search out weapon upgrades.
All in all though, The Last Hero of Nostalgaia is an interesting and fun addition to the crowded Souls like genre. While its gameplay is very "Dark Souls", its interesting "video game world" concept, its cast of weird characters and all its references to gaming’s past and present, make it one fans of the genre should definitely take a look at. Its low poly presentation is a nice change from the usual crumbling high fantasy setting. Although it doesn't quite reach the high heights of the games it emulates, it comes close enough to be a contender. Especially when the budget price is taken into account. One for Souls like fans, IP freaks and those who love gaming history, I really hope more people check this one out!
*Note: A copy of the title was provided for the purposes of the review
FINAL SCORE: 7/10
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