The Last Hero of Nostalgaia Review – Review

It’s like if Dark Souls became self-aware.

I picked up Last Hero of Nostalgaia last year when it was released on Xbox Series X. I wound up listing it as one of my favorite games of the year. Its endearing art style, witty humor, and brilliant satirization of modern game development landed perfectly for me. On top of that, it was also one of the best Souls-like games I’d ever played in terms of replicating exactly what makes the Dark Souls series so fun. Now that it has left console exclusivity on Xbox and come to both Switch and Playstation, I finally have an excuse to go more in depth with Last Hero of Nostalgaia.

Calling this a Souls-like is somewhat of an understatement. It is, after all, an intentional parody of the Dark Souls series. But unlike many games that have aped From Software’s flagship roguelite, Last Hero of Nostalgaia seems to grasp the flow and feel of Dark Souls better than most indie attempts. The speed of your attacks, the hitbox and attack patterns of enemies, and the invincibility frames found in a well timed roll: they’re all dead on. And yet despite this, it manages to feel a bit more accessible. Mechanics are more clearly explained and the initial incline in difficulty isn’t as sharp as most Souls-likes.

You play as a nameless hero, composed of nothing but a few pixelated lines, who is summoned to save the world of Nostalgaia as it slowly plummets backwards through the history of video game graphics. One early area takes clear inspiration from Super Nintendo-era RPG towns, complete with 16-bit style texture work across its structures. Other areas feel older still, with even simpler art. In some areas, a lantern may be a low-polygon 3D model, while in another it will be represented by a flat sprite that pops to different perspectives as you move around it. As you activate checkpoints, you’ll restore small patches of modern graphics, which transition in real time before your eyes. The whole game is stylistically beautiful and the visual makeup feels essentially uncompromised on Switch. You’re not getting the 4K image quality of the Xbox version of course, but the image is sharp, with no discernable evidence of dynamic scaling.

As you progress you’ll find weapons and gear that are also affected by the same pixelization that is affecting the world. Each of these comes with a bit of lore that will describe a specific event and place held in the memory of the object. If you find that spot in the world, you can cause the object to remember, which restores it to its original form and upgrades its stats. This makes for an interesting play on the Dark Souls trope of hiding all the lore within item descriptions. In Last Hero of Nostalgaia, that lore actually matters, and every player will want to engage with it, not just those looking to decipher the plot.

Performance is a bit more mixed. Last Hero of Nostalgaia features a completely seamless world with absolutely no loading screens. Most of the game is able to deliver very smoothly, but when the frame-rate runs into trouble, it tends to really come crashing down. This generally seems to center around streaming in assets. When moving into an area with a distinctly different visual style, you’ll hit against a borderline slideshow until the engine can load in the new area and unload the old. Luckily, most of these transition areas tend to be devoid of enemies so while the stutter is annoying, it won’t directly affect gameplay. However, now and then one of these bottlenecks will hit while moving through a room full of enemies and that can become a problem. It seems like these situations crop up when there is a short period where the game has two areas loaded into memory at once, until you make it farther into one or the other. That being said, the degree to which you’ll feel these issues will depend on your performance settings. By default Last Hero of Nostalgaia implements a 30fps cap on Nintendo Switch. For most of the game, it has no trouble hitting this target. You can also disable this cap along with v-sync to get performance up to 60fps. Surprisingly many areas can actually hit that level as well, but it makes the performance drops all the more obvious.

Last Hero of Nostalgaia is one of the better Souls-likes I’ve ever played. It understands exactly what makes the genre compelling, and manages to spin a delightful world around it, without getting too caught up in trying to reinvent the wheel. The Switch port mostly delivers on this, but at times world streaming does cause real issues. While the perfect storm of performance struggles and combat rarely overlap, when they do it can be legitimately frustrating. Still, the customization of performance options offered is appreciated, even if it doesn’t eliminate the issue. Your mileage with the Switch port will depend on your individual tolerance for asset streaming stutter. For those looking for a smoother experience, the Xbox version (and presumably the Playstation port) can offer that. But the Switch provides a flawed though still highly enjoyable time overall.

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