Nostalgia

There’s people doing retro games now.  I think it might be interesting to discuss what they’re evoking, and how they can fail.

The Dark Spire is another retro dungeon crawl, with another dark and depressing plot. It is beautiful though.

Nostalgia can come from themes.  If older games in a series had “save four crystals” as a theme, then callbacks to that is nostalgic.  The missions may be novel, but the structures and iconography may be familiar.

Mystic Quest evokes Final Fantasy III to V with the quest for the crystals.

Nostalgia can come from callbacks to older games.  This could be characters, appearences, or sidequests with older characters.

Nostalgia can come from gameplay.  A good example of this would be battle systems.  If a game mimics a NES era battle system, then the game evokes nostalgia for that era.  A 3D game can still be nostalgic if it plays or looks similar to an older system.

Nostalgia can come from music or sound effects.  A classic example could be Dragon Quest.  Dragon Quest is using some of the same sounds and music dating back to the NES era.  While the instruments have upgraded, the basic sounds are the same.  For some players, the noises are as much a part of the game as the gameplay.

Nostalgia can be a bad thing.  Let’s look at the DS game named Nostalgia.  The game was intended to give you a nostalgic feeling like an older RPG.  You have a classic “three people in a line versus the enemy forces” battle system much like a PS1 era rpg.  You can learn various attacks to use against the enemies and you gain points in every battle to apply to learning the attacks.  This is similar to FF6’s esper system, or other similar games.  However, the battles are fairly slow, and most of the attacks are useless.  You have no way to tell if an attack is useful before you learn it.

There’s an airship battle system.  These are basically like mini bossfights, which means they’re too difficult to ignore, and too common to be entertaining.  Near the end of the game, every single fight has a fast way, and efficient way to end the fights.  If you’re trying to do every side quest in the game, it’s tedious.

Let’s look at Dark Spire for the DS.  Dark Spire is evoking Wizardry or another 3D rpg of the era.  You even have an old school mode with wire frame graphics and NES style enemy graphics.  The music even has an 8bit like version of the tracks for the old school version.

However, the game mimics the difficulty of old school Wizardry style games.  You have no way of knowing what stats are the best.  You have no way of knowing what skills matter.  You die very easily.  The puzzles are difficult to complete.

The mechanics of the game are non-intuitive.  For example, if you select an antidote, it defaults to using it on the first person in your party, and it is very easy to accidentally use it on the wrong person.  Sometimes, you can flip through characters with a button.  Other times, that button doesn’t work.

I think the main problem with nostalgic games is when they are lazy.  A modern game can add in extra helpful text.  A modern game has the processing power and the game conventions to check for balance.  A modern game has more buttons available, so it can cut down on digging through miles of menus.  While some retro elements may be important to the flavor of the game, keeping the more annoying ones runs the risk of knocking people out of nostalgia and into frustration.

  1. glown’s avatar

    Yeah, including “retro” gameplay elements that have since been abandoned (not showing how your stats will be affected by a weapon/shield, not explaining what a spell with an ambiguous name will do/etc.) is stupid. I totally get the love for older games (obviously, since I check this site frequently), but there are certain aspects of them that really don’t play out well in their favor.

    Slow movement and a lack of information are not something that’s worth keeping from old games. Most old games had these as a result of inefficient systems or not enough space.

    There’s a reason modern gamers don’t go back and play the original Dragon Quest as often as they should.

    Developers who want to invoke a feeling of nostalgia can absolutely do so without carrying over the tedious elements of past games. “Retro” games shouldn’t be cumbersome – a lot of old games were cumbersome because the developers didn’t have a choice.

    I’m not adding anything you didn’t already say, but I’m just rambling.

  2. Rav’s avatar

    I do find it interesting that retro games skip tutorials (for the most part) but don’t keep tutorials for things that should be explained. A modern glitzy RPG can sit there and spend hours making sure you really understand how to kill something before letting you out into exploring the world. A bad retro RPG basically goes “You can cast Fitzle (a fire appears,) Basil (a small healing power), and Morish (the enemy may fall asleep.) You don’t know if Morish works on everything. You don’t know how much HP that Basil heals, and you’re highly unlikely to remember what the spells do when you’re in battle.

    I think a good retro RPG should assume you know what you’re doing, but should provide info if you need it. The cliche “Beginner’s house” or something like that. Or a tutorial guide.

    Of course, part of the problem for me is that my “retro” is Dragon Quest, and for some people, their “retro” is Chrono Trigger. A nostalgic call back to Dragon Quest is very different from a call back to Chrono Trigger.

    Ramble away. It’s great fun.

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