Updated Mon, Mar 09, 2009 by Ralsu
Nostale is a 2D MMOG hosted by Uforia in North America. The story of Nostale begins long before the player is born when Ancelloan, wife of the game’s sun god, creates the world by stopping a dispute between her husband and their son, the moon god. She blocks the flaming sword of Sun with her left hand and the icy spear of Moon with her right. The blows are fatal to her, but her death brings about many births. The spirits spawn from her charred left hand while the frozen right hand thaws to become the source of all water. Her golden hair transforms into Mystic Heaven (ruled by Sun) while her body decays and changes into Hellrod (regulated by Moon).
Not surprisingly, each of the short-tempered males blamed the other for Ancelloan’s death, resulting in a celestial war between the angels of Mystic Heaven and the demons of Hellrod. As usual in similar mythologies, the humans are caught in the middle, and the player’s eventual task is to enter both realms and resolve the conflict for all eternity. Nostale sports an ambitious plot presented in a world that is drenched in color. The overall experience seems geared toward people looking for adventure, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
All characters start as a basic class, the Adventurer. After ten levels as an Adventurer, gamers get access to the real classes, each of which advances to two specialty classes at levels 20 and 35. The three basic classes (at first glance) become nine classes when explored fully, but playing to level 35 is long time to reach the class you really want to play. The game also seems to miss the notion that allowing access to one class at level 20 and another at 35 is incongruent and unfair. Since the Holy Mage is the only full heal path a character can take, why do we need to wait until level 35 to take that path. Why can't we choose it at level 20 like it's arcane cousin, the Red Mage?
A Swordsman can become a Warrior at level 20 or a Blade at level 35. This class line covers the melee specialists who wear the best defensive gear. The Swordsman is a man-at-arms wielding a sword but also is comfortable with a crossbow. The Warrior goes for two-handed swords and pure carnage, and the Blade goes for precision with a katana.
The Archer is the classic ranged fighter that uses the bow as the primary source of damage and daggers when forced to engage at close range. The level 20 option is the Ranger, a better bow user. The level 35 upgrade is the Assassin, a master of the dagger.
Finally, the Sorcerer covers the magic users. It mixes healing spells with spell guns (magic spells that transform into real bullets and hit the enemy). The level 20 promotion is the Red Mage, which focuses on damage spells and gains some AoE abilities. The Holy Mage is the pure healer and becomes available at Sorcerer level 35.
Whatever class you choose, combat in Nostale involves pitting the player and a pet against a horde of cuddly little critters from furry sheep to even less orthodox enemies like pea pods. On the plus side, nearly any enemy you fight can be captured to become your new pet. Until then, everyone starts out with a pet chicken, a hen to be exact. While offering variety, the pet system is highly flawed. Ignoring the fact that my first pet being a hen ruined a number of good “fighting cock” jokes, pets are hard to manage at low levels. Even though I was doing a ton more damage than my chicken, it kept trying to tank and drawing aggro. Thus, it died a lot and lagged behind in levels. I could attempt to fix that by taking control of the chicken and going off to fight chicken-vs-enemy battles alone. The problem came when I tried to switch my control back to the human and could not figure out how to get the chicken to auto-follow again. This happened EVERY time I switched to the perspective of my pet. Usually I had to zone out to get my pet to follow me again.
When you’re not wrestling with the controls of your pet, you can collect gear to improve your character. Equipment in Nostale is handled well and is one of the best mechanical aspects of the game. It doesn’t break any new ground, though; players equip pieces on their head, chest, feet, and jewelry slots. Better gear adds to attributes to make your character stronger.
Despite the flare for cute and a 2D world, Nostale’s colorful graphics look nice. The grasses are vibrant greens, and the flowers add splashes of color. Character animations are solid if limited, and each enemy has a small assortment of combat moves to add panache. While individual spells have mediocre graphics early on, the screen can get a little busy with multiple players and enemies fighting and using skills all at once. Higher level magic spells are more flamboyant, but the rest of the classes shouldn’t expect to put on flashy displays. Most melee moves involve moving your sprite and adding a quick camera-like flash.
Likewise, don’t anticipate a ton of variety in Nostale’s zones on the human world. Each zone I visited had the same super-bright bushes and trees. Mystic Heaven and Hellrod offer some variety, but they each end up as a lot of the same, too.
I am mostly aware of music and sound effects in a game when they are supremely awesome or super annoying. In the case of Nostale, they are neither. Music in most zones is upbeat, almost jaunty, but immature. It lends a feeling of watching a cartoon. Regardless, it’s not bad at all. Sound effects are a collection of cacophonic clashes for attacks with weapons and a series of fwips, fwooshes, and frings for spells and special skills. The whole ensemble falls somewhere just short of average.