Gods and Monsters
With more fierce competition than ever before, it’s hard these days for an RPG to break through on Nintendo DS. Glory of Heracles, however, manages to carve out an interesting niche for itself with a strong cast of characters and a handful of unique gameplay mechanics. But is this an odyssey to be remembered, or are these heroes destined to fade back into obscurity?
Like many tales that originate from Japan, the main character in Glory of Heracles begins his quest with amnesia. Now hold on, I know what you’re thinking. Our hero, whom you’ll be given an opportunity to rename, isn’t the only one who’s lost his memory, however. He’ll soon join forces with a host of other immortals who aren’t quite sure who they are or what their purpose is on Earth.
The story’s pacing is really well mapped out, and the dialogue is refreshingly smart, chock-full of laugh-out-loud moments. In terms of humor (and presentation), there are definitely some similarities to the Dragon Quest series, but the spin on Greek mythology gives Glory of Heracles its own distinct flavor. The writing is very tongue-in-cheek, and most gameplay events are sensibly weaved into the story. When the game tries to be funny, it hits its mark without any unnecessary cheesiness. There are even some references to other Nintendo franchises that should elicit a good chuckle from long-time fans of the publisher.
When it comes to actual gameplay, Glory of Heracles has a lot going for it. In many respects, it’s a game that contains all the standard trimmings of the genre, yet there’s a lot more to this adventure than meets the eye. Towns are populated with helpful NPCs, as well as shops and inns. Enemy encounters are generally random when making your way from one plot point to the next, and there are dungeons and an overworld.
There are two main elements, however, that set Glory of Heracles apart from its contemporaries: its battle system and ether. Though battles are turn-based, you’ll command all your units at once before they execute their actions. This, of course, isn’t an entirely new approach to combat, but the recipe of gameplay mechanics incorporated here make for a unique experience. In order to understand exactly what makes the fighting in Glory of Heracles different, we’ll first need to discuss the ether system.
Like almost every other RPG in existence, there are four main elements (plus dark energy) that impact the world around you – earth, wind, fire, and water – but Glory of Heracles does things a little differently in terms of how those elements are used. Sure, there are still monsters that will be weak against a particular element, but since you draw your power for casting from one of the four elemental ethers, you won’t be able to spam spells. If you use up more than what’s readily available to you, the remaining energy required to cast a spell will be taken from your character’s pool of hit points. And let me assure you, it’s quite easy to kill off a character by overextending them in this manner. Not only do your party members use ether, but the enemies do as well. You’ll all be dipping into the same well of power, so it’s crucial you keep track of the balance of ether during each battle.
Of course, mana is equally important to your characters, and the developers have done a really great job maximizing the battle system. If you command a party member to attack a particular unit but the unit gets knocked out before your character’s turn, the character will still attack the downed unit. The beauty, however, is that most times this will result in what the game calls an “overkill.” Executing an overkill turns the downed enemy into ether, as well as mana for your character. Since mana-replenishing items are pretty hard to come by – at least, ones that you can carry with you – overkills are an integral and satisfying part of the gameplay.
There are a few issues, however, with the overall pacing of the game. Often you’ll be forced to engage in four or five battles (plus a boss) in a row as part of a story event, and there’s quite a bit of recycling when it comes to bosses. The boss battles are cleverly devised and offer a fun challenge, but the way in which the developers pad the length of the game is just a wee bit too transparent.
My only other real criticism with the game has to do with the mini-games that are used to power up spells and skills. I love the idea of engaging the player in this manner during combat, but the mini-games themselves are uninspired and, as a result, not all that interesting or challenging. The concept is a good one, however, and I’d love to see the developers be a bit more creative next time around.
In terms of presentation, Glory of Heracles easily lives up to the standard associated with being a first-party Nintendo title. The visual style is attractive, and the game world exhibits a high level of detail. Character models look great, though they could animate more fluidly. Buildings and other environmental objects are all immaculately rendered, and there were no noticeable issues with the framerate. Overall, the game has a very pleasing aesthetic that works well on the tiny DS screens.
Of special note is the game’s interface. Much like the import darling, JUMP Ultimate Stars, the menu system in Glory of Heracles is wonderfully conceived. There are loads of sensible options, great touchscreen interactivity, and a comprehensive glossary, covering everything from the battle system and terms, to the people and mythology of the game. There’s even a battle log during combat, and it’s surprisingly useful for keeping track of status effects of party members or the weaknesses and resistances of enemies.
Adding to the power of the presentation is a strong aural production that adds quite a bit of excitement to battles. The music will likely remind many RPG fans of past Dragon Quest adventures, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The arrangements sound great, and they’re matched up nicely with the story elements and gameplay. The sound effects are all really topnotch, providing plenty of visceral feedback.
At first glance, Glory of Heracles doesn’t really seem to bring that much new to the table, and getting over the first hour or so of tutorials and introductory material might prove to be a chore for some. Stick with the game, though, and you’ll reap the rewards of a fun and funny adventure. The story and setting aren’t particularly unique, but the witty dialogue will suck you right in. Though the game certainly has its shortcomings, there’s plenty here to love. The ether system is an inspired device, one that keeps battles balanced throughout. If you’re looking for gameplay that turns the genre on its head, this isn’t that game. It is, however, another great addition to the now massive RPG library on DS.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
Gorgeous 3D details, lots of over-the-top spell effects, and plenty of unique monster models. Environments could use a bit more variety in terms of color, and the character animations aren’t quite as fluid as we would have liked. 4.2 Control
Excellent touchscreen sensitivity and interactivity. Navigating the menu systems is easy and satisfying. Most battle mini-games are uninteresting. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music isn’t entirely original, but the arrangements are pretty sweet. More importantly, the sound effects add greatly to the excitement of battles and character interactions. 4.0
Our disappointment with the mini-games and minor pacing issues is ultimately outweighed by an innovative and enjoyable battle system. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck here too. The story is funny, the characters completely loveable, and the interface is a treat to tinker around with.
4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.