One game stood out from the crowd thanks to its satirical, shameless humour and surprisingly enjoyable gameplay during my trip to EGX, and that was The Last Hero of Nostalgaia, an action-adventure Soulslike that became a favourite of the show. Having now played the full game, I’m happy to say my initial, positive impression of the game was well-founded, and I finally found a Soulslike I can be good at.
The opening was all too familiar to me, as it was the same experience I had during my EGX demo. Taking place in the world of Nostalgaia, this world of video games is falling apart, slowly regressing into a pixelated nightmare, and you as your remarkably bland stick-figured self must fight and journey to save the world — It’s all quite epic, or at least that’s what I was expecting. What you get is a much more subdued and solemn experience which lines up with the whole Soulslike shtick, and whilst there are comparisons to be made to FromSoftwares titles, there is plenty that gives the game its own identity.
That becomes clear right from the off, as you are greeted by the mishmash of graphics, textures, and models that permeates the game throughout and make it quite a unique world. You’ll see high-resolution, well-made models alongside pixelated lumps that all blend into this weirdly cohesive style, all whilst selling this dark fantasy aesthetic that draws on influences from its peers and puts its own spin on them in creative ways. It made it fun to explore and to look at, which is part of the whole experience with this genre, so they earned some points there.
As brooding as that may make the game sound, it also made sure to remind me that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. For starters, given your unremarkable stick figure appearance, the “full character customization” does absolutely nothing to customise your character, instead keeping you as a plain old stick man, an unimportant one at that, if the narrator is to be believed. During your quest, you’ll be constantly belittled by a cynical narrator whose quips and insults were softened by the articulate tone and manner of his voice, which made his jeering more comedic than harsh, and strangely worked well in the context of the game and setting. It was also quite amusing to see some of the lengths he would go to hinder you, or at least pretend and attempt to, one notable moment involving a cow stands out to me, but I’ll let you experience that yourself.
Aside from its humour, the game had some chops when it came to its soulslike-inspired gameplay. There were five classes to choose from, but I instantly went for the Datadin, the tanky shield user, to help me given my shall we say lack of experience in soulslike. Though to my surprise, it wasn’t quite as bad as other games in the genre. Combat had the same hard but fair approach, having you manage space, stamina, and carefully observing and figuring out how to handle your enemies, but it felt far more accessible to someone like me who has historically not been great at these types of games. It was also helped by the slightly more linear approach the game took, which still had areas and secrets to explore, but I never felt truly lost or unsure where to go, rather I was taken the odd fun side quest that broke up the gameplay, though these were a little simple and short most of the time, but still a welcome distraction.
Whilst your character wasn’t customisable, how you play them is a different story. Killing enemies and finding certain loot nets you memory, the game’s version of experience, which you use to level up at tethers, the checkpoint system. It’s relatively straightforward from here, and you spend your memory to increase the stats of your choosing, so if you fancy being a tanky melee fighter, focus on your health and strength, for magic, increase your source — the game’s version of magic — from there it’s just a case of increasing and crafting what kind of character you want to play.
The plethora of equipment, or “Relics” as the game calls them, was easily one of the game’s more robust systems. During my adventure, there were plenty of weapons and armour to find and use in different combinations, with some of the more rare and unique choices depending on your stats or being tougher to find. Equipment scales with your stats, so finding the right pieces for your playstyle becomes quite the exercise in exploration. Depending on how you want to play, you’ll need to be managing your weight load, otherwise, you’ll end up as I did at one point with slow, lumbering rolls in exchange for some more beefy defence. Unless that’s what you are going for.
What made the gear more interesting in The Last Hero of Nostalgaia was their own type of progression in the form of memories. For most pieces of equipment, some hints in their lore descriptions point toward a place in the world. If you take the time to find them, that gear’s memory will be restored, and with its memories returned, they also become more powerful, often having a hefty increase to their stats, and in the case of weapons, unlock special abilities. Add to that the Smithy, which lets you improve your weapons by honing them for increased stats, or infusing to change your weapon’s scaling properties to fit your build and it turns your weapons from simple objects and tools into more personal crafted gear you feel proud to wield. In my case this was the keyblade-inspired sword I found earlier in my playthrough, which I upgraded and used throughout my entire game, with a few other weapons thrown in where needed.
I felt able to handle most fights with some level of skill compared to other Soulslikes, which made the experience far more enjoyable than others I’ve tried in the genre. Enemies would still present a decent challenge that had some variety and interesting quirks, but they were fairly repetitive after a while which made the journey between areas a bit of a slog at times. Bosses on the other hand were always a treat, and as you might expect were the highlight of the game when it came to combat. Learning their attack patterns, and how to counter, move, and fight them was a blend of frustration and determination that never felt too one-sided, and the times I died weren’t as infuriating as they had been in previous Soulslikes. Admittedly, this game isn’t nearly as hard as some of its relatives in the genre, but it didn’t take away the satisfaction of finally overcoming each one of them through my skill and proper preparation.
My only gripes with the game were relatively small ones, but they are worth mentioning nonetheless. There were a couple of bugs and issues when it came to hit detection that were quite annoying in the heat of battle, and there were a few times that loading sections took longer than I’d expected. Then there were some issues with backtracking and memory finding that felt a little tedious at times, though these weren’t a major turn-off during my time playing, but rather the occasional annoyance and slump.
Despite those minor issues, I came away from The Last Hero of Nostalgaia with a sense of accomplishment and a slight smirk on my face. It was a challenging, funny, and enjoyable experience that proved to be one of my surprise favourites from EGX, and the full game did not disappoint and lived up to my initial first impressions. Its unique world, great combat and progression, and creative new twists make The Last Hero of Nostalgaia a great choice for genre diehards and those who fancy a slightly more accessible take on the Soulslike formula.