It's tough for nostalgia and great gameplay to co-exist in the same package. Astonishia Story, a very old-school Korean RPG, is the latest to make the attempt, and the latest game to fail utterly. Granted, the nostalgia is largely due to the fact that the game originally appeared on PCs in 1994. But this new translation passes on any updates, with the exception of a comically bad translation.
The hero is Lloyd, a knight who's on escort duty when the empire's super-special holy Cainan Staff is stolen by some vengeful elves. In order to recover the Staff, Lloyd has to traipse all over his empire, enlisting the help of other playable characters, most of whom join the party for only a finite length of time before jetting off to continue their lives. Thanks to its very retro, detailed 2D visual design, the game at least looks nifty while it's unspooling the turgid plot.
Without a strong core party upon which to hinge all the typical RPG twists and turns, the story loses direction fast. While guiding Lloyd through his world, you'll go through all the expected motions: exploring towns, talking to people, taking on side quests and occasionally finding a relatively well-hidden secret. These hidden items are one of only two elements that don't feel thoroughly strip-mined of all interest. The other is a warped sense of humor, which regularly breaks the fourth wall and dispenses amusing little gags about gaming. But a good joke every hour or so is hardly enough to keep the game light on its feet.