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Free and Worth Every Penny - Issue 76: NEStalgia

It has not generally been the purview of this column to discuss MMOs, for reasons that at one point would have been self-evident;  not long ago, most of the free MMOs (aside from MUDs, which I wouldn't even begin to know how to narrow down) just weren't very good.  As we all know, though, there is an ever-increasing tendency for even highly anticipated MMO games to take a free-to-play approach, even if it's usually accompanied by an optional purchase incentive.  Today's column is not about one of those highly anticipated games.  It isn't even, strictly speaking, about an MMO, if you consider that the server population tends to stay well under 100 people per server.  But it's the closest a game that looks like it belongs in the NES era is ever likely to come.


Silk Games' NEStalgia bills itself as "Dragon Warrior 3 meets World of Warcraft", which is a pretty specific (and, in my brief experience with the game, accurate) description.  The setup is purely classic 8-Bit RPG, with your standard selection of classes [half of which are behind a pay wall, but the game is fully playable without ever paying a dime], an overworld map with random battle encounters, zoomed-in town, castle and dungeon maps...  everything you remember, be it fondly or otherwise, from the RPGs that sucked away so much time in many of our early gaming lives.

And thus did the career of RNGR begin.  ...Sorry. 8-Bit humor.


There is a bit of a disconnect, plot-wise, right from the start.  Like most old-school RPG's, you're immediately set up to obviously be a special, chosen "Champion" who's thrust into the middle of an ongoing intrigue where you are unexpected and potentially unwelcome...  just like the other 30 "champions" running around with you on the server.  Even in the very first introductory dungeon where the exposition is given, you'll see other players wandering around, getting started on the same 'special' path you're on.  Granted, to some extent almost every MMO has this problem, but it stood out for me a bit more than usual here.

I don't foresee bad things happening to First Wizard Roen at all.  He'll probably be fine.


If you can get past the thin plot, though, there's plenty going on here to like, especially for the price tag.  You'll be thrust pretty quickly into the quest and grind loop, but I found that 'the grind' in NEStalgia didn't bother me all that much, for some reason - perhaps because I always expected to need to battle a bunch of enemies in order to progress when I was playing a Dragon Warrior or a Final Fantasy of the 8-bit era.  It's just what you had to do.

The battle system is run along the standard Attack / Magic / Item / Flee lines, and doesn't mess around too much with what you'd expect to find.  It's easy to use, and the developers have done a good job of walking you through the necessary mechanics early in the game so you understand how they work in context.  NPC's that you come across will give you quests to complete, some plot-related, and some of the "fetch 5 widgets" variety.  As you level up, character points are auto-allocated and new abilities are gained at set level intervals.  There's nothing really new here, per se, except for all the other people playing it with you.

You... don't look like the slimes I remember.


So how does that factor in?  Well, given the apparent limitations of the tech, surprisingly well.  You can, of course, group with other players to fight as a party, which I understand is pretty much necessary to take on some of the game's bosses.  PVP is also available, though given the game's unexpectedly popular public debut (it's been in beta for months), the developer has temporarily switched all servers to PVE [PVP still optional, but never required].  Eventually, there will be both forced-PVP and RP servers.  More surprising to me was that NEStalgia also sports guilds with customizable clothing and has a full auction house where players can trade items across the server.  All in all, it's pretty impressive stuff.

Obviously the aesthetics aren't going to be an area I can lavish a ton of praise on - it's designed to look and sound like a primitive RPG, and it does.  But the sprites are generally well designed, the music is listenable, and all the sound effects you would expect to find - the battle victory fanfare, the "going up the stairs" sound, and so on - are accounted for.  If you're into this sort of thing, you'll probably dig it, and if you're not, you've probably stopped reading by now.

Yes, this is considerably more familiar.  Here's my gold, I'll stay the night.


I haven't played more than a couple hours of the game, so I can't speak to the late- or even mid-game content, but there's an extensive wiki that can give you some idea of NEStalgia's depth, if you're interested.  I don't know how much time I'll end up putting into it, but it's a neat idea and I'm really glad it's out there.  Maybe the next time I get a hankering to play a NES RPG, I'll decide that having 40 other people along for the ride would be just the ticket.

NEStalgia is...

  • a lovingly made 'MMO' throwback to the 8-Bit RPG.
  • clunky in all the ways you remember those being, but not offensively so.
  • surprisingly fully-featured in its multi-player aspects, considering how traditionally single-player the games it imitates are.
  • ambitious, quirky, likeable and worth a try if you have any fondness for this sort of thing.

NEStalgia is Windows only, and runs on the BYOND platform, which means you'll need an account to log in and play.  You'll be walked through account creation on your first time, though, and it isn't complicated.  Should you decide to subscribe, $9 per year will get you the 2nd four classes, the ability to run a guild, and some extra content and abilities.

If you want to try to catch me on there, I'm playing on the Zenithia server.  Happy hunting!

"Free And Worth Every Penny" is a column I collaborate on with Mike Bellmore at Colony of Gamers.  This piece also appears there.  If you're done with this one and want more, feel free to browse the archives.

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