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Review #331

Glory of Heracles
Developer: Paon /Studio Saizensen
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Release Date: 01/19/2010

Everyone loves Hercules. Whether it’s the classical Greek and Roman myths themselves, the “sword and sandals” movies starring Steve Reeves, the TV show starring Kevin Sorbo, the 1997 Disney movie and following cartoon series, or the Marvel Comics character (preferably written by Greg Pak or Bob Layton), Hercules (or Heracles in the proper Greek) is one of the most famous characters in all of folklore. Odd then that this fifth game in the Glory of Heracles series is the first to be brought over to America, especially as Greek myths and characters are far more popular in the West than in Japan.

The first four games in the series were for consoles (Famicon and Super Famicon) with a single spin-off released for the Game Boy. These games were all developed and published by the late, great Data East. Although most of the rights for Data East’s games were picked up by G-Mode, Paon, a company comprised of ex Data East employees, picked up the rights to this and Karnov. With Nintendo as the new publisher, the two teamed up to release the fifth game in the series and the first to reach America. Now the only thing left to ask is whether or not Glory of Heracles was better left on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, or if like The Legendary Starfy, we should just be grateful the series is FINALLY here.

Let’s Review

1. Story

Not only is this game a harkening back to the days of Grecian mythology, but it’s also a return to the 8 and 16-bit days of yore. I’m not talking about graphics (yet), but rather the cliche of the mute amnesiac protagonist. You old fogies know what I’m talking about. Your main character doesn’t say anything throughout the game except possibly “…” and his loss of memories belies an important (and possibly tragic) twist in the otherwise straightforward story.

Your main character washes up on the shore of a beach somewhere nearly drowned. Actually he’s quite drowned, but it turns out that he is immortal so he revives after a bit. Very Duncan/Connor Macleod. What’s not so very Highlander is that he is found by a girl in men’s clothing named Leucos, who is also Immortal and she doesn’t try to take his head. Instead the two are told by nymphs that he is the Legendary Hero Heracles. As the young man has amnesia and Leucos wants to know why s/he is immortal, the two decide to travel to Mount Olympus, home of the Gods themselves to get answers for their questions.

Along the way the two meet Axios, a blonde immortal with a face that makes women swoon, a huge powerful man that also believes he is Heracles and is suffering from amnesia, and Eris, a young female immortal who also has…you guess it, amnesia. Oy.

Although the plot is both linear and quite cliche, it was written by Kazushige Nojima, AKA the author of Final Fantasy VII, Kingdom Hearts and Super Smash Bros. Brawl – the Subspace Emissary, so his usual oft-repeated themes and plot hooks should surprise no one. In fact, Final Fantasy VII’s plot is so similar to the second Glory of Heracles that one could accuse Nojima-san of ripping himself off. Anyway, in spite of the game’s story being littered with cliches and RPG stand-bys, the story is translated in such a way that it can be quite humorous at times. It also managed to take some of those standard RPG conventions and turn them on their heads. One example is with the classic “rummaging through people’s homes to get stuff.” For a while Leucos will scold you for opening cupboards and drawers that don’t belong to you and gives you a chance to put the item back. If you do, she praises you and if you don’t she scolds you. Eventually she’ll just stop scolding you, but taking items in this fashion also reduces your party’s luck, which is another nice touch.

Glory of Heracles also packs a nice amount of Grecian folklore into the game. You’ll learn about several Gods, famous locations in classical Greece, the Sparta-Athens wars, and many other things. This was another thing I actually liked although there was one noticeable mistake I saw repeated through the game. Instead of saying, “What the hell?” as we would say today, the characters in the game say, “What the Hades?”. Hades is the brother of Zeus and God of the Underworld. The Underworld itself is called “Tartarus,” and so it should be, “What the Tartarus?” This annoyed me, but I am a folklorist after all. 99% of gamers won’t notice or even care about this slip-up.

Overall, Glory of Heracles has a fun, if simple and sometimes cliched storyline. The overabundance of amnesia as a plot device might annoy some, but the localization of the dialogue along with a large of cast of characters with their own deep backgrounds and well-defined personalities more than makes up for it.

Story Rating: 6.5/10

2. Graphics

Although there isn’t a lot of detail to the game’s characters, enemies, or backgrounds, there is one thing I was really impressed with and that’s the animation style. The characters in the game have a very fluid motion to their movements and it’s actually far more lifelike than you usually see in a video game, regardless of genre. Although the range of motions shown are quite limited, it’s still very impressive to see the body language and follow through.

One of the other things I liked was how the dual screens were used here. The top screen are your battle graphics and the bottom screen is a detailed statistics rundown like something out of an old classic 80’s RPG like Wizardry or The Bard’s Tale. I had a lot of fun with that and it made Glory of Heracles feel like a nice bit of retro-stalgia as well as something new and interesting.

However that’s really to be positive about with the visuals. Everything is drab and lacking details you would expect to have such as eyes or other facial elements in your own party members. Enemies are fairly boring and generic as well, which includes the bosses. This was disappointing, but as least the mechanics behind the boss battles make up for it.

Aside from the animation aspects, the game looks like it could be done on the Super NES without any real problem. I wouldn’t say the graphics are sub-par for the DS, but they are barely mediocre. If graphics are a make or break when it comes to buying a game, then you should look for a more visually stimulating game than this one.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

There is no voice acting in this game, so some gamers may disappointed by this revelation. However, as this game is very much a throwback to 8 and 16 bit era RPG’s, this shouldn’t surprise anyone in the know.

The musical score of the game is fine and it is decent enough background noise, but it’s highly forgettable. You won’t be humming one of these songs in the shower or a few days later, that’s for sure. It’s your generic high fantasy RPG tracks with nothing to really separate them from the pack. Sound effects fall under the same issue. Attacks all sound alike, while spells have a small variety of noises, based on ether (elemental) type.

Much like the graphics, what’s here is passable, but there are many other RPG’s for the Nintendo DS that do a better job in this category.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

When the Glory of Heracles series started in the late 1980’s, it was little more than a Dragon Quest rip-off with Grecian folklore themes and sprites instead of fantasy ones. While the series has managed to change its style from Square-Enix’s much beloved series, it’s still very similar in a lot of ways. You’ll be wandering from town to town in a very linear fashion (although there are exceptions) for much of the game. Your journey will be rife with random battles and the usual RPG fare.

Battles are no long from a first person perspective but instead are a side to side formation like in most turn based RPGs. Your team is in the lower left hand corner and the monsters are in the upper right hand one. Characters and monsters alike more in order of agility, although some bonus items might change the order slightly. Front line characters take more damage but can actually attack, while second row characters take less damage but can only attack with distance weapons or spells. This might see like a new concept to younger gamers, but it’s actually a very old RPG stand-by, going back to SSI games like Eye of the Beholder. I’ve always felt this added a bit of strategy to the otherwise mundane feel of a turn based RPG, so it’s nice to see it make a small resurgence. Besides attacks and spells, there are also Abilities, which are basically attacks that use magic points.

When using attacks or spells, you have a choice between letting these powers have their normal affect, or you can try to enhance them with touch based mini-games that range from having to know Greek numerals to tapping a circle at the right time similar to the Judgment Rings one would find in the Shadow Heart series. Although I rarely ever needed to use spells or abilities, when i did, these mini-games really helped make the game come to life and I had a lot of fun with them. I guess my only complaint is that in choosing to do a mini-game, your damage can only go up; there is no chance of actually doing less damage than you would have had you not chosen the mini-game.

Another interesting aspect of using magic is that casting a spell drains location of Ether. Ether is the level of magical power where you are currently at and it is divided into five types: Fire, Earth, Wind, Water and Dark. Using a spell drains one of the appropriate Ether levels. If you don’t have enough Ether to properly cast a spell, you have to offer up hit points instead. Some Ether regenerates after each round of combat, but you can also create more by doing an overkill attack on one of your opponents. An Overkill also replenishes your characters Magic Points. One final note about Ether: when you drain away elemental based Ether, Dark Ether grows by the amount you drained. The reverse holds true when you case a Dark Ether based spell. Use this balancing effect to your benefit.

I found Glory of Heracles to be an incredibly solid game, with a rewarding engine whose depth is hidden by the turn-based nature of the product. There are a lot of options and strategies open to the player which range from team formation to what abilities and spells your characters eventually pick up. The mini-games are another fine example of how this title breathes a bit of fresh air into an otherwise stale sub-genre.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

At first glance the game is really linear. However, I found that I could bypass the quest I needed to in favour of exploration. Instead of forcing you to stay in a place you need to pass through to advance the plot, the game merely has your teammates suggest you stay in the vicinity, but you are free to move on. Several times I walked right out of the dungeon and went exploring to see what new towns or temples were in the area, or even a decent distance away. I’d have to fight harder enemies sure, but I love that this didn’t force me to walk a perfectly straight line from beginning to end.

Another neat aspect is that you gain new spells and abilities through worshiping Gods at temples or the Titan Prometheus in secret locations. Gods gives you new abilities and Prometheus gives you spells. Various nymphs will give you new mini games to power spells up with. You can totally ignore these (or just some) for a very differently playthrough. There are also times where if you don’t fully explore you may miss one or the story pushes you past where you would visit one so you’ll have to play a second time to experience it. Finally, weapons, armour and trinkets may give your characters special abilities, skills or spells by wearing them and alchemists may unlock even more. This allows you a bit of customization with your character. Maybe you’ll take a weaker armour because it has a superior ability or maybe you’ll prefer to go with a better defense. It’s all up to you and there are so many options it helps to increase replay value even when the core game itself does not.

As long as you are a fan of exploring and customization, there’s a nice amount of replay value here. If you’re just here for the story, it’s a one and done sort of title.

Replayability Rating: 5.5/10

6. Balance

Glory of Heracles is not a hard game by any means, as long as you equip the right combination of items to your character. As mentioned previously, some items, be they sword, shield or necklace can have abilities, skills, or magic inherent to them so that your character can use them. The key of course is to find the best combination to maximize your character’s damage. For example, let’s take a look at the game’s protagonist. I made sure my character had a weapon with the “Pinnacle” ability that ensures my other abilities activate more frequently than they normally would. Then I had a helmet with the “Peak” ability that has the safe effect. These effects stack. The protagonist also has a natural “Critical” ability that occasionally lets him do more damage. I also gave him a necklace that had three powers, one of which was another “Critical” ability. The end result was that my main character did critical damage nine times out of ten. Now that’s power-gaming baby! People who are used to stat-maxing RPGs like Disgaea will find this approach easier than other gamers, but once a person figures out that abilities and effects stack, you’ll be able to easily manipulate the engine to make sure at least one of your characters is a constant killing machine.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the battles are easy. Although I rarely had characters get knocked out (in fact only once and it was Axios), the enemy can still unleash a lot of damage on you, so you’ll want some characters casting defensive and healing spells to boost your party. Boss battles are quite fun as well. The second boss in the game, a two headed dog that keeps cloning itself each round was a particular favorite. Again, there is rarely a time you are even close to losing a battle, but your team IS made up of immortals after all.

If you DO lose your entire party however, the game does offer you the chance to restart from the beginning of the battle rather than at your last save point. Although I never had to use this ability, I think this is a great option to have as it prevents you from losing minutes to hours of work.

There is also a nice amount of NPC’s in the game that will join your team. They range from nymphs to Captain Gantz. Although you can’t switch out their armour or weapons, you can monkey with their accessories and I advise taking them before they leave your party, especially the nymphs at the beginning of the game as they have some MP replenishing items…

Overall, this is a well balanced game. It’s challenging, but never difficult, and it’s always fun.

Balance Rating: 7/10

7. Originality

Although this is the fifth game in the Glory of Heracles series, it’s the first one to hit North America, and so many gamers will probably find it quite different from Nintendo’s usual RPG titles. Of course then there are people like myself who have several of the other titles on their Wii thanks to the (Japanese) Virtual Console. Even then though, I have to say that this particular game really stands out from the previous GoH entries. The touch based mini games, the graphics and even the plot help the newest GoH game stand out from the rest of the series, even if it doesn’t stand out from other turn based RPG’s on the DS.

The game IS fairly generic, even for a turn based JRPG. However, there aren’t a lot of RPG’s set in classical Greek myth, or with the amount of attack/magic boosting mini-games that this title holds. These things will help make the game entertaining for those that pick it up, but innovation and originality are sadly not things Glory of Heracles excels at.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

Perhaps it is because I am a folklorist and thus love all things related to classical mythology, but I really enjoyed this game’s theme of, “Fantasy Greece Tour 2010…BCE.” All the locations in the game are real Ancient Greek cities and towns. The game gets all the Gods and Goddesses (save Hades) right, and even makes a knowing comment about how ironic it is that Hera is the Goddess of Marriage and yet her marriage to Zeus, (King of the Gods and eventual President of the World and arch enemy of Hulk Hogan – but not at the same time) is a bit of a joke.

Usually turn based RPGs bore me a bit because they all run together in terms of gameplay, but Glory of Heracles was a game I really enjoyed thanks to the mini-games, customization aspects and fun storyline. I had a hard time putting it down.

Addictiveness Rating: 7/10

9. Appeal Factor

It’s a Nintendo published RPG, so that alone will probably give the game an audience. Or rather it would, if Nintendo had bothered to market this thing at all. What is it with early 2010 RPGs and their lack of commercials, ads or announcements about the game. First Sega’s and now poor Glory of Heracles. Of course SoD deserves to be buried away in a bargain bin, but GoH deserves an audience. It’s fun, it’s funny and it’s even educational at times. It’s a turn based RPG that allows you to play things out like a normal (generic) JRPG, or to make things up with skill and/or intelligence based mini-games.

Not only is Glory of Heracles the type of RPG JRPG fans will adore, but it’s also a game for people who generally despise turn based RPG’s like our own Matt Yaeger (who also loved the aforementioned Shadow Hearts series). If you’re at all curious, it will most likely turn out to be worth the investment even if you only play it the one time and then trade it in.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

Glory of Heracles is a great example of what the turn-based subgenre of RPGs needs to be doing. You have that core turn-based engine that is both familiar and easy to learn, making JRPG fans happy. Then you do a few things to help freshen things up. A few story or dialogue twists (like with Leucos yelling at you for taking things from people’s homes), a few gameplay tweaks and a good use of the touch screen and the game now is able to draw in people from outside the core audience. Glory of Heracles offers all of these things along with some (mostly) factually accurate bits about Grecian folklore and a fun story. It’s not going to be the RPG of 2010 by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a fun game worth your time and money and it’s great to see this series finally hit stateside.

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10

The Scores
Story: 6.5/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 5/10
Control and Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 5.5/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Appeal Factor: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10
Total Score: 63
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (ENJOYABLE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Although the graphical and aural aspects of Glory of Heracles may be lack, the rest of the game is highly enjoyable. The story is well written and even though it uses numerous RPG cliches including the silent amnesiac protagonist, the wit and humour more than make up for it. The engine is well done and the game allows for some pretty intricate customization of your characters. Best of all are the mini-games that come into play when you use anything besides a standard attack. The variety and style of the mini-games are the most fun I’ve had with a turn-based combat system since the Sacnoth’s Shadow Heart series and are sure to be the high point for whoever picks up this cart. Glory of Heracles certainly won’t be the best RPG of 2010, but it is a fun one and that’s what counts.

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