A dark, fantastical world torn apart by a strange phenomenon, fracturing the very fabric of reality; the world’s inhabitants turned monstrous and frenzied; and one lone hero to restore peace on a journey where each step could lead to certain death. You could apply this synopsis to any number of titles: Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Nioh… The tropes of a Soulslike are easy to spot. Developers Over The Moon know this as well, intentionally giving The Last Hero of Nostalgaia the very same setting. Here, our lone hero is a pixel stick figure. Having found themselves in Nostalgaia, they’re faced with a world collapsing into pixelation and no clear reason why.
As expected, we begin with a character creator. There are the typical appearance sliders for body type, age, hair style, even endowment. Of course, none of these work — our character is a literal stick figure. It’s all part of the RPG flair. We’re granted some more choice when it comes to class, and all available options are IT-themed puns on role-playing classics: Datadin favors vitality; Formatter, strength; Resolutionary, dexterity; Sourcerer, magic or Source; and Randomaster, luck. Going with my tried and true Elden Ring approach, I opted for Datadin and eagerly plunged into the tutorial area where I was greeted by a less enthusiastic narrator.
This voice, audibly disgruntled by the presence of my weedy hero, hints that the world of Nostalgaia has become unwelcoming to new heroes. Signs painted onto surrounding walls make this clear, telling any approaching hero to simply go back from whence they came. In the first combat room hangs a body, around its neck a sign reading “hero lover.” It’s unclear why heroes are so despised in Nostalgaia, but it’s a convention that feels familiar. In fact, most elements of this game are designed to.
The Last Hero of Nostalgaia is marketed as a love letter to Dark Souls but in actuality has a broader reach. Like most good parodies, the game is made with love for the craft and respect for titles that helped shape it. References to popular video games are snuck in at every available instance. I found a heavy, green armor set with a culinary theme, belonging to a Master Chef. I picked up a suspicious crow bar called the “Iron Jimmy' whose previous hero owner “was a free man.” Upon defeating an area’s challenging boss, on-screen text declared that I had “Finished him.”
The references and puns, which elicited more than a few eye rolls, were easy to forgive once I realized what was happening. My journey through Nostalgaia was about revisiting all those I took before, from Midgar to the Mushroom Kingdom. Each reminder felt evenly paced and well-integrated; I looked forward to stumbling across the next one without being exhausted by the frequency.
But this isn’t just a trip down memory lane. There’s still a game to be had, and what we get are pieces of video game history papier-mâchéd onto a Dark Souls frame. The combat mechanics are directly lifted from Soulsborne titles; a fast attack and a slower, heavier attack are the fundamentals propped up by frequent dodge rolling and a secondary magic attack. Healing is primarily carried out through a replenishable consumable called a Heroic Icon, akin to that of Dark Souls’ Estus Flask. Other single-use items also do the job, such as a Green Herb lifted directly from Resident Evil. Killing enemies nets Memory instead of Souls, used to level up at Beacons, which also serve as respawn points. Anyone who’s played a single Soulsborne title could rely on muscle memory to see them through.
Though a reasonable facsimile, The Last Hero of Nostalgaia carries some individuality. Tied to many of the available weapons and armor is a puzzle to be solved. Certain armaments have missing memories, and somewhere within the world of Nostalgaia is a location that will restore it to former glory. Doing so increases that item’s effectiveness, while also reversing the pixelation. Hints are given in an item’s description which point to where that location might be. It’s a gratifying treasure hunt, one that encourages thorough exploration in an occasionally treacherous world. Our disruptive narrator tends to add to the danger, initiating scripted events at certain locales. I emerged from a particularly troublesome cave, having been repeatedly chastised throughout, with the intention of safely crossing a nearby bridge. The narrator then spawned a train and sent it hurtling towards me just as I breached the halfway mark.
Nostalgaia is a more forgiving world than Lordran or Yharnam. Outside of select boss battles, most enemies won’t cause too much trouble. Their attack patterns are easy to learn, and a few well-timed dodges will have you leaving most encounters unharmed. Soulslike veterans likely won’t find much challenge here, though casual enjoyers will appreciate its light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek tone.
Found behind locked and hidden doors are gateways into NPC City, a fourth wall-breaking locale that adds a little bit more confusion to the status of Nostalgaia’s reality. Players can happen upon “waiting rooms'' where it’s implied the AI enemies enter into the game’s live area, passing signs that read “remember to occasionally miss.” In the corner, a pile of NPC bodies might be heaped next to some tasteful booth seating. NPC City’s purpose doesn’t amount to much in the grand narrative. It serves as a way to go behind the scenes and quickly access Nostalgaia’s various locations. It lessens the pain of backtracking ever so slightly.
The Last Hero of Nostalgaia has more to offer players beneath its surface than an initial impression would have you believe. Though primarily presented as a Dark Souls clone, there’s enough fun to be had through its nostalgic adventure that it merits attention. It’s not breaking any ground when it comes to gameplay or story — that’s not its objective. It’s simply a game about games, made out of love for games, that likes slapping the pixels out of you every now and then.
DBLTAP Rating: B+
The Last Hero of Nostalgaia, developed by Over the Moon, is available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Steam.
DBLTAP was provided with a copy of The Last Hero of Nostalgaia for review by its publisher, Coatsink.