valentino's Hercules no Eikou: Tamashii no Shoumei (Nintendo DS) review

Review: Glory of Heracles

 For the first time in North America, the Glory of Heracles RPG franchise has made its way across the ocean. With some interesting uses of the touch screen and a real sense that this game was made with handhelds in mind, it has probably become one of my favourite DS games to date.

The story takes place in mythological Greece, where gods like Zeus and Hades exist. You assemble a crew who all happen to be immortals for reasons that they don’t know, and your mysterious main character is apparently the legendary Heracles (Notably named Hercules) the son of Zeus himself. Together, they must solve the mystery of why they are immortals and unfold a much more looming story in the works.

The game’s story isn't anything special, but that probably worked in its favour. It's simple and fun. Far too many times have I seen the trappings of a poorly executed story that tries to appear more important than it is. But with Glory of Heracles, you know more or less what you’re getting in to. It's just a fun adventure with some swerves every now and then.

Combat is done through standard random encounters with some turn-based twists. Standard attacks are done with the classic command and commence, but each magic spell and skill has this sort of mini-game using the touch screen. Essentially it comes down to you somehow touching, dragging or tracing around the touch screen, usually involving properly ordering roman numerals. You can opt out of the mini-game, but you miss out on higher damage. The games are simple and pretty fun. In case you were worrying about doing the same mini-game over and over again for each character, fear not. If more than one character is doing the same skill, then the touch-based mini-game will account for both of them.

Spells and skills are generally learnt at statues all over the game. Most are either in temples on the world map or in some part of the town. Once you find the statues, you pray to it and learn your skills. But once you do learn them, you have to level up to actually use them. It isn’t too hard to find all the temples, and even if you don’t, by the end of the game, it won’t really matter since you get enough skills and magic regardless.

On top of the mini-games to improve your attacks, your characters have abilities as well. Normally collected by buying equipment and weapons or by praying at statues, abilities generally happen automatically throughout combat and are triggered by certain conditions. One example would be the Put Down ability. Once you lower an enemy’s health down to a certain point, your character with this ability will be triggered and will finish off the enemy. It’s an interesting addition, much like what was used in Final Fantasy IX.

Dungeon crawling is pretty much left at a minimum. The game follows the standard town-dungeon-town-dungeon formula but you never really get a sense of identity with the towns. I found them to be just places to get things for your characters and move on. The dungeons aren't overly complicated. At its most challenging, you have to flip switches here and there till you can reach the next level.

The game itself looks fine; it certainly doesn't try to push the graphical capabilities of the DS but I'm not sure there is a game that does. Towns and dungeons tend to be a bit bland, and there is this weird black outline for all characters that looks a bit too edgy, but generally speaking, it’s a fine looking game.

But where this game shines graphically is in its animation. Probably best seen during battles, the game’s animation is very reminiscent of the 3D look that Futurama would use every now and then. The animations look smooth and almost unbelievable considering no DS game has tried to do this (at least in my knowledge). Watching enemies do their standard “I'm waiting” animation and seeing them get knocked out from a kill is certainly a treat. Heck, even when watching a character wave goodbye I was pretty awe-stuck.

You can call me a bit biased when it comes to the game’s music, as it was done under Yoshitaka Hirota, the man who worked on the Shadow Hearts series. But it definitely has its strong moments. There is some very memorable music in the later parts of the game. Probably one of the negatives I will say towards the music is that it is totally MIDI. Though it isn't really the game’s fault, I have probably just grown tired of that sound.

The game is very touch-friendly, almost a bit too much. You can do pretty much anything from sorting through menus, ordering attacks and walking around with the touch screen. Of course if you’re not into that sort of thing, you can opt to use the D-Pad and Face Pad at any time.

I don't want to say this is a “casual RPG”... but it kinda is. It isn't very deep... or very challenging. But it was everything it should have been on a handheld system. A unique use of the touch screen, some amazing animation and just an overall enjoyable story made for some memorable moments. For someone looking for an epic experience with awesome cut-scenes and amazing story, I'd suggest you go somewhere else. Nonetheless, Glory of Heracles is still one hell of a game.

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