Sean’s preview for the The Last Hero of Nostalgaia summed up the appeal of this new Soulslike entry perfectly. Instead of the typical dour, nihilistic and moody atmosphere that accompanies these titles, Nostalgaia serves up a more fun-loving, comedic and light-hearted tone.
It’s a breath of fresh air for a genre that was desperately in need of some levity. I love all things Souls but damn can they be a depressing punch to the gut. Make no mistake, however, as while Nostalgaia has a lighter, friendlier edge to its story and writing, the combat retains that razor sharp challenge that contrasts its humorous writing.
Certain death is assured. Game overs are guaranteed. But can Nostalgaia channel the best of the genre’s soul to make a fulfilling video game? Time to get pixelated and discover your inner digitised stick man to find out.
Venture Forth, “Hero”
I’m going to come straight out and say that I absolutely love everything Nostalgaia does with its world building, satirical humour and narrative. Ever wanted to be berated by the very narrator of the story you’re attempting to be a knight in shining armour for? Nostalgaia has you covered, and then some.
It starts at the character creator screen. You’re provided with the usual sliders and options for customising your weight, age, tattoos and the like. Slight issue – you’re a pixelated stick man, so none of it matters nor changes your character. Your personalised hero of the story is no more personalised than a plain Primark hoodie.
The satirical take on typical Souls stories continues from there. You’re a newly resurrected Hero plunged into the city of Nostalgaia, which was home to many-a-hero in days gone by. Now, however, things have turned: the heroes have gone villainous, the town has lost its memories and all that’s left is you to help this raptured place rediscover its history.
The NPCs spout nonsense that provide no direction, sometimes breaking the 4th wall to great effect. The aforementioned narrator (reminiscent of the one in The Stanley Parable) will nonchalantly remind you of how inconsequential and pointless you are, deviating from dull disenchantment at the very concept you’re even bothering, to actively shaming you or making fun at your expense. He also has a strange and lethal love of trains, which will crop up often when he decides to (uhem)… derail your progress.
The Last Hero of Nostalgaia had me in stiches numerous times, the narrator belittled me relentlessly to my own glee and the story itself is an excellent example of riffing on an inspiration with just enough individual spark to make it unique. It’s Dark Souls’ story, only funnier and quirkier.
Welcome to Yhardran, Also Known As Nostalgaia
It’s not only the story and writing that make liberal use of the Souls formula, the level design, world building and visual styles do too. Nostalgaia once again has its own spark to set it apart though, using a pixelated retro texturing approach alongside a crisp aesthetic. It juxtaposes really nicely, with scenic backdrops and vibrant environments meshing with a blocky wall or undefined face.
Playing through The Last Hero of Nostalgaia’s campaign will feel like a greatest hits album of locations from the Souls series. Ranging from Sen’s Fortress (not quite as much of a nightmare, but nonetheless still a horrific dream) to Bloodborne’s Grand Cathedral streets and beyond. It’s both a surreal and awesome experience, as the visual style is so different to the mainline series, but the architecture and design is so on point to replicate those locations beautifully.
Bloodborne’s Old Hunters DLC also had a fan-favourite boss involving a certain clocktower. Said boss battle is recreated in Nostalgaia and it’s just as epic, even if it does feel like a repeat.
Most importantly, those who yearn for a return to Dark Souls 1’s interconnected labyinthian world can count their lucky hollows, as Nostalgaia channels the exact same design philosophy. Due to Nostalgaia having been a hosting city for various heroic stories, it’s set up akin to a theme park, with Staging Areas that connect each zone to each other.
Aside from the fact they allude to the world having been one big theatrical set to make heroes feel good (nice allegory for video games in general), they allow the world to constantly wind back in on itself. Ascend the top of a ginormous tower and you’ll find an elevator that takes you all the way down into the Depths. Reach the end of the final area that’ll give you flashbacks of Lost Izalith and you’ll find a doorway returning you to The Last Hero of Nostalgaia’s equivalent of Firelink Shrine.
The level of interconnectedness is genuinely impressive and DS1 lovers will feel right at home here. It does have a couple of minor issues though: a lot of the shortcuts end up pointless (why would I want to go back to the Depths once I’ve cleared it?) and the way Beacons (read: Bonfires) work actually disincentivises going back to other zones you’ve already completed. More on that in a bit.
As mentioned before, venturing out into the worn away and forgotten city of Nostalgaia on your quest to restore heroism won’t be a task for the meek. I recently played Steelrising and lamented the distinct lack of challenge that Soulslike experience suffered from. No such issues in this land.
Combat works as you would expect. You have your usual mix of light and heavy attacks, a dodge roll (with “Fat Rolling” and all), sprinting, blocking, two-handing weapons, dual wielding, the Souls-y works. There’s a large variety in enemy types, from traditional, slow-moving grunts to lightning fast, combo-chaining werewolves and 2D knights who can’t be staggered.
Foes will be placed in blind spots, with your environment once again proving your biggest adversary. I fell off the map more than once, got mobbed into a beating in a corner half a dozen times and got mashed in by a Smough type POS with the willful abandon of a lumberjuck on steroids.
There’s a huge array of weaponry to find within the world, with heart-warming nods to other video game series. Cloud’s Buster Sword, Master Chief’s (called Master Chef here, heh) armour set, Link’s shield, the gusto with which this game busts out references is glorious. I’m a relatively boring Souls player so I stick with the same equipment and weapons once I find ones I like, but the range you have on offer here is great.
Magic is translated into “Source” in The Last Hero of Nostalgaia, what with it being digital and gaming themed and all. There’s a bunch of different Source powers to uncover and devastate the enemy with too, though I wouldn’t know as I never levelled it up. Who uses magic? Be a proper player and get battered endlessly as a melee character.
The combat is solid, though it has some issues around hit detection when fighting on different levels of elevation (you straight up can’t hit anything even half a yard above you) and a couple of enemy types that don’t have to play by the same rules as yourself, creating uneven combat encounters. Overall however, it’s a deep, challenging and engaging Souls formula, with a variety of options and fun cosmetic possibilities.
Stick The Exploration
As you battle and defeat the
hollowed, madness afflicted worn out and forgotten foes that stand in your way, you’ll accrue another worded version of souls to spend on levelling up your character. Upgrading happens frequently, with the usual suspects of health, stamina, equip load, strength, dexterity and luck on show. Weapons and equipment are tied to certain stats, while weapons can be upgraded to scale with stats or infused to give a higher basic value regardless of them.
In order to get the most out of your equipment, you’ll need to engage with one of Nostalgaia’s unique mechanics – remembrance. Almost every weapon or piece of armour you find will have lore and bonus stats attached to it which can only be unlocked if you find the location it’s linked to. Doing so allows you to “remember” them, providing lovely lore descriptions depicting the world forgotten and embracing their full damage potential.
It means you’re subtly nudged into paying attention to your surroundings, figuring out the story of the world more organically and as an off-shoot upgrading your power. It ceases to be quite as effective once you have a favoured gear set, as after that there’s little reason to pay attention, but still.
Scattered about Nostalgaia are NPCs with their own unique questlines, items and consumables that will aid your quest and other fun little Easter Eggs. NPCs are handled as is typical – they speak in riddles, appear and disappear at set points and are more easily missed than a needle in a haystick on a misty day, in the middle of the ocean.
I’d love to tell you more about the questlines but the truth is I couldn’t finish one as I lost track of every character or failed their requirements before the end. This isn’t unusual for me, I’ll admit, but it will likely promote repeat playthroughs to see how things can turn out with each character.
The biggest problem I have with exploration, is that there’s little reason to return to previous areas you’ve scoured through. Not only that, but going back to the Blacksmith to upgrade or finding a remembrance point can be an utter pain due to the “Tethering” system – effectively fast travel. You can only “Tether” to one Beacon at a time, you can’t warp freely. Meaning if you reach a long distant part of a zone and want to go back to upgrade at your Blacksmith-tethered Beacon, you’ll have a loooooonnnggg trip to get back to where you were.
Now, I will happily admit if there’s a part of this system I completely missed, but this was my experience based on what I understood from the game and my use of it. Consequently, I rarely fast-travelled, if at all, for fear of having to trek back to my most recent place of progress. I appreciate it’s supposed to compliment the interconnected world, but it feels like a poor replacement for warping.
Nostalgaia is also home to a handful of boss encounters. When I say a handful, I really do mean that. Don’t go into this amnesiac city expecting the ludicrous number of big baddies as Elden Ring offered to cave your skull in with.
They’re fairly well designed, with clear tracking animations for predicting attacks, mixes of fast-paced action and slower-paced surprises. Mid-phase switch-ups happen in most of them and each one again feels like an homage to a Souls staple, some of which are on the awesome end, some on the “really, you picked THAT boss?!”.
Luckily, they’re fair fights which don’t descend into some of the cheap tricks that have slowly infested mainline Souls games. Provided you keep up your levelling and upgrading of weapons, you’ll be grand. I felled about 3/4s of them on my first try, but there are a couple tougher fights woven in here. If the humiliating beatings you suffered against the Nameless King have put you off, you’ll be pleased to know The Last Hero of Nostalgaia’s villains are on the whole are much more forgiving.
Ready Player Null
The Last Hero of Nostalgaia is a condensed and distilled Souls game with irreverent humour, complete with wonderful, witty writing and a lighter shade of fun etched into its fabric. At 8 hours, my first playthrough was a satisfying adventure, though I am remiss at how much of the side-content I inadvertently missed.
It’s a wonderful homage to Dark Souls 1 and Bloodborne in its own right, but has enough of its own personality and charm stamped into its digital footprint that I couldn’t help but fall in love with its utter ridiculousness. If you’ve dreamed of a lighter, more upbeat Souls experience without the concession of less-challenging combat, you’ll feel right at home in Nostalgaia.
It has some issues and some of the risks it does take with its exploration mechanics corrupt the experience somewhat, but none of these prevent this “Hero” rising to his distinctly humble middling success. Aside from a weird framerate bug where getting a critical hit would freeze the game for a second it ran smoothly at about 100fps and I didn’t encounter any other bugs, which is honestly impressive.
Despite its issues, I loved The Last Hero of Nostalgaia. If you love all things Dark Souls 1, I’d stake my souls that you’ll thoroughly fall in love with this forgotten city too.
Not content with the miserly atmosphere in the usual Soulslikes, The Last Hero of Nostalgaia shows that we can have challenging, entertaining combat and a witty, amusing and fun tale alongside the endless deaths. Minor issues with exploration and gameplay aside, this is a fantastic and whimsical take on a genre that had been crying out for some levity. You died, but you’ll laugh about it this time.
The Last Hero of Nostalgaia is available October 19th on PC via Steam, Xbox Series S/X and Xbox One.
Developer: Over the Moon
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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