A clue about the contents is in the name; and as hinted by Nostalgia's title, the world you'll be exploring is set distinctly in the past. The setting is the late 19th century, albeit a 'Steampunk' variation if you will, as airship travel is dominant, monsters roam the world, and magic is an effective defence from them. Aside from that, the world map is almost exactly in the form you would see it today, so expect to visit such locations as London, Cairo, New York, Tokyo, and the like. It is not the first time the real world has been replicated in an RPG, but here it lends an edge to the uniqueness and individuality the game offers. Story-wise, it is textbook RPG: heroic adventurer rescues mysterious dressed-in-white maiden from clutches of evil cult, takes a tumble into abyss after saving her, son comes out to find him. True, the story is nothing spectacular, but it flows well, and rarely gets in the way of character development or progression.
Matrix has brought over the same 3D engine they used for Avalon Code and the two Final Fantasy remakes, and the style is instantly recognisable. Everything is rendered in luscious DS-powered 3D, and while it isn't easy to see in still images, the overall engine look has been improved from previous usage. The overworld, whilst not explored on foot, is represented well from an aircraft viewpoint, and with three different altitudes to fly at, there is even more of the world to see than you would initially believe. Whilst character design, much like the story, falls into regular RPG boundaries, enemy variation is fairly imaginative, and both town/city and dungeon level design aids with the flow of progress and battle.
Music, when recalling the developer's experience with Square-Enix franchises, is of a suitably high quality level - so much so that a promotional album was released for it in Japan. The regular fighting themes, as well as those of surrounding towns and cities and the map in general, fit perfectly, and ease any frustration one may have with random encounters. Unfortunately, there is no voice acting, an omission that will likely be missed by Final Fantasy IV DS fans. Luckily, the amount of character and personality Ignition has bestowed upon Nostalgia's inhabitants through the script more than makes up for it.
The term Nostalgia applies to the battles, too, as they follow the tried-and-perfected template of random, turn-based encounters. Players will find monsters randomly in dungeons (thankfully not often enough to provoke insanity), and each team is displayed in a line of four fighters, each with their own unique abilities and stats, ready to throw all kinds of hell at their foes. Battle order is determined through the speed statistic, handily displayed on the bottom screen alongside character HP and MP levels, whereas all the razzle 'n' dazzle of the bash is on the top screen. This handy split keeps the fight screen from being too cluttered, helping battle to commence at a fair pace, with flashy DS visuals being thrown about almost constantly. Experience points are rewarded in generous amounts too, although the distribution of Ability Points is not so fair in comparison, given the amount of moves and techniques you'll need to upgrade with them.
The other kind of battle, and the one that will instantly grab the attention of Skies of Arcadia fans the world over, are the battles on the world map; namely, the ones that include your airship. Shown in much the same way as ground battles, each of your team represents an offensive part of the airship, be it cannon, guns, or magic. Turns are worked out in much the same way, although only certain abilities work in the airship. Instead of a group of four, it is just your ship versus however many enemies are on the left, right, or in front of it. It sounds a bit foreboding from that description alone, and initially, before you raise your team number and obtain efficient abilities, it is. Airship battle does eventually become one of the highlights of the game, though, alongside regular fights and exploration.
Aside from the main storyline, which will take even the most seasoned of gamers at least 20 hours to finish, there are many opportunities to explore and see more of Nostalgia's world. The Adventurers Association is a guild found in many of the towns that offer up quests and tasks for you to complete, separate from the main mission, that yield rewards and a ranking bonus, to unlock further missions and receive bonuses from battles. These alone will tally up the play hours, and that isn't even taking into account the weapon and armour upgrades you can search for, all the unlockable abilities, and all the treasures you can search for on the world map. Needless to say, this cartridge will be glued in any JRPG fan's DS for a considerable amount of time, and Nostalgia as a whole would be a fitting product to see out the humble handheld's last year as Nintendo's main handheld in Europe before the would-be behemoth of 3DS arrives.