In preparation for this review, I looked up the word 'nostalgia' in the dictionary, not because my grasp on the English language was so slender that the meaning eluded me – but because I was hoping it might shed some light on the confusion I had felt as I played 3D Dot Game Heroes. The definition read: a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time – a sound description you might surmise. The thing is, however, I'd never played From Software's quirky PS3 RPG before. Both the place and time were wholly new to me, and yet as I played, intense waves of nostalgia coursed through my veins. It's almost a paradoxical experience; merging the concepts of 'retro' and 'next-gen' to create a game that looks new, but feels old.
This was From Software's intention with the game all along: to create a title laced with nostalgia that pays homage to the heyday of 8-Bit gaming. While numerous games are referenced throughout the adventure, including Mega-Man, Final Fantasy and Castlevania, it's The Legend of Zelda that 3D Dot Game Heroes draws from in appearance, structure and execution. The camera, controls, weapons, items, power-ups and dungeon design are all straight out of one of Link's adventures, giving the game an incredibly familiar feel. Whilst imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, 3D Dot Game Heroes walks a fine line between tasteful tribute and shameless clone, a fact that won't sit well with die-hard Ninty fans. Still, this is precisely the game's charm, and mimicry is vital as a source of entertainment and humour.
I've managed to string together two whole paragraphs without gushing over the game's graphics, which are far and away the most interesting aspect of the game. Before I proceed to wax lyrical about said visuals; some context. The intro begins in 2D, with an 8-Bit town and the familiar animations of sprite-based town folk. The player learns of a great hero, who rid the Kingdom of Dotnia of the troublesome Dark King Onyx (Ganon, for all intensive purposes), trapping him inside an orb where he could no longer cause any harm. Peace might have returned to the Kingdom, but people grew bored and subsequently left in search of better things. Jumping to the conclusion that 2D worlds are no longer as exciting as they used to be, the omnipotent King Dotnia called upon his (completely unexplained) powers over time and space to magic the kingdom into the third dimension.
Basking in the glory of three dimensions, 3D Dot Game Heroes looks suitably at home on the PlayStation 3, yet still manages to maintain a distinctly retro feel. Each and every item in the game, be it a house, shopkeeper, or chicken, is made up of cuboid building blocks. 3D pixels if you will. It might sound primitive in the written form, but seeing the game in action is a joy to behold. Impressive use of shadows, reflections and other neat graphical touches prove just how far visuals have come since the days of the NES. A sight that never gets old is that of a defeated enemy disintegrating into a shower of pixels – much like what would happen if you took a sword to an enemy made entirely out of Lego. Technically speaking, there are far more impressive games out there, but 3D Dot Game Heroes has a visual charm that seasoned gamers will swoon with appreciation over.
Complimenting the unique aesthetic is an effervescent chip-tune soundtrack, which is just as responsible for the nostalgia trip as the visuals. Those with astute ears will notice many similarities in the soundtrack, which is not surprisingly based on those of other games. The title music is a few notes shy of the Final Fantasy title music (known as The Prelude), and Zelda fans will immediately recognise the main Zelda theme as they stroll around the game's overworld. Annoyingly (or not, as was the case with me) the catchy, quick-looping jingles will stay in your head long after you've stopped playing the game – just as they did back in 1987.