The Nintendo 3DS in 2016 is looking to be the machine for the JRPG genre thanks to titles like Dragon Quest VII, Mario & Luigi Paper Jam, Fire Emblem Fates and more. This trend for Nintendo’s handheld system to be the master of the genre did not start with the Nintendo 3DS however as the Nintendo DS had quite a large collection of RPGs itself, especially towards the end of its life-span. Among these were a few Nintendo published RPGs that flew entirely under the radar. Many of these were exclusive to Japan, like Soma Bringer and ASH: Archaic Sealed Heat, but there was one title that came out in the US as well as Japan in the year 2010. This was the Glory of Heracles. An RPG set in Greece’s mythological era of Heroes and Nintendo’s first, and only attempt, at tackling this established series.
The Glory of Heracles on the DS is a weird game for Nintendo. While this is the first title Nintendo would make in the franchise, as well as the first one that would be released in the west, the series has actually been around since the days of the Famicom. Once it’s original creator, Data East, went bankrupt the series was co-purchased by the company Paon, and Nintendo who worked together to develop this fifth installment. The game itself is a reboot that takes elements from the whole series so do not be put-off by the fact that this is the fifth game in the series.
With that history lesson out of the way it is time to jump to a bit of classical studies as we look at this games mythical story.
Like many JRPGs this game is not afraid to follow many of the cliches you may be use to by now, none of which is more prominent than the amnesiac, silent, protagonist who you begin this game as. You are almost instantly introduced to the young and moody teenager Leucos as the two of you go hurdling off a cliff and into a mystical forest.
The fall is ok though, as it is revealed straight away, that both you and Leucos are actually immortals. So falling a few hundred feet is about the equivalent of rolling out of bed. What’s more, the forest nymphs reveal that our protagonist is none other than the legendary Greek hero and son of Zeus, Heracles!
With all of this exposition out of the way, you and your new-found ally decide to head to Mt. Olympus and discover the secrets of your immortality, as well as get back your lost memories. On the way you will meet other immortals like the lady-killer Axios, the mysterious child Iris and even an another amnesiac man who is also claiming to be Heracles.
The game likes to throw various mysteries at the player throughout the story and the payoff to all of them is actually well worth it. However, they are also the best parts of the story as everything else is fairly generic or horribly under-played. Any story-line that does not concern one of the main five party members is almost ignored after it is introduced. Even some parts of the main characters stories are completely glossed over. When you are introduced to the character of Iris there is absolutely no build-up to it. You meet her and her friend Hero, who she then proceeds to abandon to go off and join your party despite having only just met you and exchanged barely any dialogue with you.
It is instances like this that make me feel like the writers of this game created the outline to a great mystery story based on ancient Greek literature but then forgot to actually begin a detailed draft and just rolled with what they had. Though at least the characters are very likeable. Especially the five protagonists, and the writing can be quite solid at times as well. You even get a few nods to other Nintendo titles as well, especially a rather amusing reference to a certain Greek-inspired angel.
Overall this game’s narrative is certainly not on the same level as other Nintendo-made RPGs like Mother 3 or Xenoblade Chronicles, but it is also not horrible. It has a good set-up and an enjoyably, deep mystery with various twists and turns. It just required a bit of fleshing-out. This game is not a visual novel though, so how does the gameplay hold up?
A lot of JRPGs, especially turn-based ones such as this, struggle to find something to make them stand-out over classics like Final Fantasy. Many would attempt to find one big gimmick overall and utilize it as best they can. Instead, the Glory of Heracles attempts various little changes to the formula that makes use of the DS’ touch-screen functionality and attempts to add more strategy to the fights than just tapping A.
First we should start with what is not new however. Fights in this game are turn-based where the player is positioned on different rows. There are two rows and those on the back-row are less likely to get hit but can also only utilize ranged attacks such as magic or through the use of a bow. Your options in battle are your standard choices with physical & magic attacks; skills, items, changing rows, run away, auto-battle and wait. What is unusual is the lack of a guard button that often accompanies the wait option. Guarding is instead only giving to those who equip a shield into the secondary weapon slot. Every character gets two weapons and your equipment combination effects what skills you can use and how far you can attack.
In this game you have your standard health and magic points along with strength, speed, intelligence, etc. However, alongside magic is one of this games little gimmicks, being Ether. At the top of the screen are the five elements that make up your magic; Fire, Ice, Lightning, Earth and Dark. Each one maxes out at 999 ether points and every time you use a magic spell, the Ether of that element falls in points while others rise. The stronger the spell the more ether it uses and going over your ether points cause influx damage, resulting in your character taking damage equivalent to the ether you have to make up.
There are two ways of getting Ether back in a fight, firstly using dark magic attacks, which will cause one of the other four to rise and using one of the other four will cause the dark ether to rise, or alternatively by causing overkill on an enemy. This is another new mechanic in battles where an enemy, once defeated, will collapse and stay on the field until the end of everyone’s turn. Attacking this fallen enemy and doing enough damage to it will cause it to enter overkill where it turns into ether and not only increases the ether count but also restores your magic.
The final change to the combat system is also the most divisive. As a Nintendo DS game, this titles feels almost obligated to make use of the touchpad and this leads to various mini-games that can be played during combat to power-up your magic attack. They are entirely optional and don’t require any extra magic points or Ether so the only thing preventing their use is laziness. You learn these along with your other skills by visiting the temples of greek gods or Prometheus that are scattered about the world map.
Outside of combat the game plays like any other JRPG. It can be controlled by either the buttons or touch-screen as you run around towns, dungeons or just the game’s overworld and interact with its various inhabitants. There is nothing particularly unique about this part of the game but I will say it is very linear. If side-questing is more your thing then you will not find it here. You can’t even back-track so make sure you explore everywhere. The combat is the clear focus of this game as evident by the recurring survival gauntlets that happen during sea-travelling segments.
The game offers plenty of different items and equipment for each character so you can truly feel like you are optimising your character in your own way to fit your strategies. While the game does little overall to stand-out from others in its genre, the new additions it does have at least make the game a bit more unique and challenging overall.
The Nintendo DS could do both 2D sprites and 3D models in its games and the Glory of Heracles goes for something a bit in between. Feeling like an evolution of the artstyle found in the Golden Sun series, Glory of Heracles uses pseudo-3D sprites for all its characters and monsters while relying on 3D models for the world. It won’t be to everyone’s taste and personally I found it a bit boring. The artstyle does not help push its identity.
Many of the characters look a bit like generic anime heroes, especially Achilles who looks a bit too bishonen for the unstoppable killing machine he is meant to be. Despite the designs of the human characters, the bosses have very creative and sometimes freaky appearances. But to turn the praise around again, the regular mob enemies are very bland looking and don’t do much to be interesting.
The game has an ok soundtrack with a handful of good songs throughout. The battle and boss music were especially enjoyable, which is good for a game where fighting is such a recurrence. The presentation of this game is not bad in anyway but it also does not go any extra miles (except for the anime opening sequence which is pretty cool for a DS game). It sums up perfectly my feelings on this game overall.
I love ancient greek history which is why I picked up this game. Through the eyes of a historian, although some elements annoyed me, specifically the overall anime aesthetic, it did stick fairly close to the stories portrayed in greek myth, with some acceptable creative liberties. Thanks to this I quite enjoyed the game and kept on playing. However, as a gamer, I understand just why this game has gone fairly unrecognized. It’s too generic and never takes those extra steps needed to become a modern classic.
The overall story is very interesting and enjoyable but it never goes into enough detail. This results in great beginning and ending sequences, but a fairly lackluster middle act. The combat tries a handful of new approaches to change up the tactics and utilize the features of the Nintendo DS but it’s nothing that radically makes the gameplay stand-out. The situation is even worse outside of combat where nothing particularly unique and the linear nature of the game makes it all about the destination and not the journey. Finally, the game’s presentation does nothing to make itself stand-out or engage the player.
If you have never played an RPG then Glory of Heracles is a good place to start. It’s not overly-complex and won’t intimidate the player. You will also like this game if greek mythology is something you enjoy as the setting does capture that feeling well. However, veterans of the JRPG will not find much new here and the mediocre middle-part of the game may be enough to stop players a bit short of a fairly good mystery.