Zero to Hero? Or is this Hero a Zero?
In the current 20+ years of gaming we’ve seen quite a few classic RPGs. While they do hold a strong place in my heart (see any Dragon Quest title, older Final Fantasy titles, etc), I will say that finding a fresh plotline seems much more difficult over recent years. Thus, it’s no surprise to me to see a few recent RPGs following the storyline of a previously developed idea. Games such as The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road thrived from taking elements from their previously established story and though the Heracles series has been around since the beginning of gaming in Japan, I understand why porting the series to America might seem like a good idea. Does the game hold its own as an old school RPG or does it fall prey to the shortcomings of many classic RPGs that haven’t held up well over years of technological innovation?
In case you’re unfamiliar with Greek mythology, Heracles was the son of Zeus and thus extremely blessed with the makings of a hero, most notably his superhuman strength. Known as Hercules to many (the Roman mythological form), he is one of the most well known Greek/Roman heroes even today. And, though the mythology behind Heracles is rich, there really is not much more to know to play this game (nor do they elude to much of it). You will get spurts of mythology and history along the way such as Achilles appearing from time to time in the midst of the Trojan War as well as frequent mentions of fate, Zeus, and Hades, but for the most part, the story itself is newly contrived.
Your adventure begins with the hero awakening beachside only to be entirely stricken by amnesia. Immediately you run into your first companion, to which both of you discover your immortality (after falling off a cliff, you don’t die). After running into some nymphs, they identify the hero as Heracles himself but your goal is to discover if this is actually the truth and why you’re immortal in the first place.
The game feels like a typical classic RPG, with randomized, turn-based battles and fairly linear progression. Movement on the world map seems a little slow for my tastes and for much of the beginning portions of the game, it also seems very limited, though it does give you more freedom as you progress through the game. Most of the time, story elements are triggered by talking to people or moving around the various towns. Though this can be implemented successfully, I found Glory of Heracles sent you on an unnecessary fetch quest/goose hunt quite too often. For instance, at one town I needed to visit the prison to see a guy who claimed to be Heracles. First, I searched the town just to find the prison. Then, when arriving, he tells me “you can’t come in without a pass.” Next, I was on my way to find info from people who told me to go to the priestess outside of the temple (on the other side of town). When I found her, she tells me “try the item shopkeeper” (back on the other side of town where I started). After making the trip from one side of town to the other and back multiple times, I was finally allowed to enter the prison.
Players can move their character by using either the conventional control scheme of the D-Pad and buttons or by simply using the stylus (in fact, the entire game can be played using either of these two schemes). Once in towns, characters can rotate the camera using the L or R buttons (similar to recent Dragon Quest games on the DS). To give you incentive to walk around the town, players can find different herbs or items strewn around that they can pick. Also, you can open the armoires within houses to collect more goodies but this has the potential to lower the luck of the party (couldn’t figure out what this meant, there isn’t a luck stat, was expecting this would affect something later in the game).
When walking around outside of town, the battle encounter rate is reasonable but to spice up the battles and make randomized battles less painful, there are actually a large amount of secondary skills, spells, abilities to either speed up the battle or make it more effortless. For instance, abilities allow your characters to attack by themselves in a certain situation, thus speeding up the battle without forcing you to command extra actions. Some examples of abilities are as follows: “Dispatch” launches a follow-up attack if the foe is almost dead, “And Stay Down!” delays an enemy with an attack, “Dual Strike” causes your character to sometimes attack twice, “Critical” does extra damage, “Counter” strikes back immediately once an enemy attacks you. Abilities are also much more than attack responses, such as "Boon” which recovers a little MP each turn, “Vigor” which resotres HP gradually, and “Mindshield” which halves magical damage.
Characters also have skills, which are a group of non-spell based special moves. These range from a variety of different skills such as “Multishot” which allows your bow-wielder to attack all enemies in a row, “Steal” for pilfering items, “Snipe” for attacking enemies on the back row, “Bash” for damaging and knocking an enemy to the back row, “Support” which causes your character to attack any time a chose character attacks, and many other unique moves.
Finally, spells are the third type of special move used in battle and are like any from a typical RPG ranging from support to attack as well as single to multiple targets. The unique part of spells in Glory of Heracles, however, is the ability to take part in a touch screen mini game during casting to improve their effectiveness. These games include actions such as tapping numbers in the right order, dragging the right numbers to their corresponding positions, or tapping fast moving targets multiple times. If you’re lazy, you can choose to skip the mini-game all together, but doing so causes you to miss out on effectiveness increases by around double the original power.
There are two ways to learn spells, skills, and abilities. First of all, you can visit the many temples of the gods throughout the land and pray at the respective statue. This will instill a new set of spells, skills, and abilities unique to each character and after gaining a level, each character will learn their own inherent moves. The second way to learn moves is much more strategic, however, as it is geared around the equipment you wear. Each piece of equipment you find will either be linked to a spell, ability, skill, or any combination of the three (or none), and by equipping the item you in turn equip the respective moves. Because the moves are linked to the piece of equipment, however, they will only remain if you have it equipped. Thus, it is very important to choose your equipment wisely in order to find the perfect balance of stat improvement and move equipment.
Another added piece of depth is the many ways to improve your equipment throughout the game. Of course there are the typical shops with better equipment at each town, but there are also ways to forge (create new weapons using items you find from battles), upgrade (improve a previous item by forging it with the aforementioned items found from battles), imbue (brings out the inherent spell, skill, and/or ability within the item), and polish (makes rusty weaponry useable, similar to appraisal from other games) your equipment. Thus, throughout your adventure you’ll always be finding new or improving old equipment to give an added amount of depth to the already deep skill/ability/spell system.
Aesthetically, the game looks quite well on the DS. Top-down 3D graphics make for a hardware pushing experience and it rivals all of the recent 2D/3D RPG experiences we’ve seen lately (Dragon Quest titles, Final Fantasy remakes). Musically, the opening sequence sets you up with a gorgeously live orchestrated experience to go with the anime opening sequence. Along the way, the soundtrack is hit or miss, however; I found myself really enjoying a few of the songs such as the music played when embarking on the ship while at other times I found a song or two somewhat awkward to the ears.
All in all, Heracles isn’t the longest experience for an RPG but if you’re into getting some of the better equipment, the game could last as long as 30 hours. I found myself really enjoying improving my equipment and trying to create a strong equipment/moveset for my characters. Nonetheless, despite the game’s occasional humorous interludes (using terms such as “gods darn” or Heracles laughing at inappropriate times to laugh off awkwardness), it took me far too long to identify with each character and sometimes made the story less enthralling as a result. Though I might find myself in the minority of enjoying an RPG experience without strong character development (like many older RPGs), I will say that this could affect a modern gamer’s overall experience with the game.
Glory of Heracles has all of the makings of a classic RPG. Unfortunately, aside from a more developed (and more forgiving) battle system than other classics such as Dragon Quest, this game fails to separate itself enough from the mold of typical old school RPGs. If you’re into old school gaming (such as myself), this shouldn’t be a problem but the overall lack of more modern elements such as strong character development may hurt a more modern gamer’s overall experience.