The Last Hero of Nostalgaia is a satirical soulslike developed by Over the Moon and published by Coatsink. It started off strong, innovated on soulslike lore mechanics, and then failed to land any point it was trying to make as a video game, as a soulslike, and as a satirical introspection of both.
Admittedly, I was amused by the empty help desk, a very on-the-nose reference to the minimal hand-holding present in soulslike games, then I made my way through the tutorial, entertained by the narrator’s snarky commentary, a not so common feature in soulslikes. While the omnipresent glib tone of the narrator reminded me of The Stanley Parable, this one was as unamused and as condescending as GLaDOS from Portal. However, as the novelty wore off, I formed a mutual resentment with the narrator, who lacked any memorable wit to spice up the onslaught of prejudice towards my character.
The usual themes of entropy and decay were presented through Nostalgaia’s slowly deteriorating graphics. I, the latest pixel-based hero, was charged with defeating bosses and restoring the world to high fidelity. To be honest, the world was an eyesore either way and had a nasty habit of blending useful doors into the scenery. I emphasize “useful” because the world was seemingly composed of only one way to progress at any given time and a multitude of ways to go back, but the doors, lifts, and gates needed to be unlocked from the other side. Nothing stood out and everything felt similar despite being a different library, town, or mine. It was by far the worst take on map interconnectivity I had played this year.
Most of the game’s features stemmed from a mixture of irony, bad gameplay design, and bugs. Yes, I chuckled at the “full character customization” that changed nothing. The combat was passable when attacking, but if I was hit I was sent into a blinking, staggering fit regardless of my armor or poise. Some enemies were too fast to hit but missed every lunge on me as well. The bonfire checkpoints were scarce, but at least I could teleport between them. I received invincibility at random intervals that, given the ironic tone, made me think there was a deeper metaphor at first, but it turned out to be bugs.
However, there was one excellent piece of game design that I demand become a staple of the soulslike genre. In my inventory, my weapons and armor had tidbits of incomplete lore attached to them, and these were clues pointing out specific locations or specific actions. Visiting these locations or performing these actions unlocked lore, upgraded the item, and gave my character a permanent stat boost to crit, stamina, etc. What a wonderful mechanic to reinvest me in weaponry I usually gloss over after being given a sword and shield.
The game advertises itself as satire, but its attempts to actually be satirical often failed dramatically. Throughout my playthrough, I felt the developers consistently overshot basic core gameplay design philosophies for soulslikes — and video games in general — to try to make a point. The superficial quips and blatant calling out of tropes were purely gimmicks, novelty, and inside jokes, seemingly screaming, “Ha ha! Get it? It’s just like Dark Souls XD!” It was poor enough that I spent the entire time wondering if perhaps I was the one missing the point or taking it too seriously.
Maybe the horrendous graphics, poor map design, and laughable enemies were intentional. Perhaps the game was ironically bad to juxtapose and highlight good soulslike design in the industry. In which case, the game wasn’t satirical; it was sarcastic, and the problem with making an intentionally bad video game is that it played and felt exactly like an unintentionally bad video game.
The Last Hero of Nostalgaia is available for $24.99 on Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, and PC via Steam.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for The Last Hero of Nostalgaia.