Role-playing game fans have to be excited to see the number of RPG releases appearing on the DS system continuing to grow. And while we've seen some very unique gameplay elements in many of the titles, we've seen almost as many titles take a much more traditional approach, choosing to stick to many of the familiar ideas that have become such a staple of the genre over the years. Glory of Heracles falls somewhere in the middle and while the game introduces some very unique ideas, it also tends to play it safe in many areas as well. So how exactly does this latest Japanese RPG stack up against the growing number of titles in the genre and does it deserve a place in your DS game library?
When it comes to the gameplay design of Glory of Heracles, the game doesn't deviate much from the typical Japanese RPG experience. You'll do plenty of traveling on the world map, with the familiar random enemy encounters to deal with, but there will also be times when you'll travel by sea as well. Along the way you'll visit towns where you'll have the opportunity to not only rest and heal your characters, but also outfit them with better weapons, armor, and specialty items. The game even introduces a few new wrinkles with the inclusion of blacksmiths and polishers that can not only reforge your weapons and armor with items you've collected to make them more powerful, but also polish up rusty items you find during your adventure.
Of course it wouldn't be an RPG without plenty of areas to explore, and there's certainly no shortage of them in this game. While the traveling from area to area stays fairly linear as the story plays out, you'll still have your chance to explore various landscapes and dungeons, all of which are filled with plenty of enemies to battle. As mentioned, the enemy encounters in the game are random, but the game does a nice job of spreading them out quite well as to keep them from occurring too often during your travels. You'll also find that the game's difficulty remains fairly balanced as to not require too much in the way of grinding in order to survive during the game's progression.
Japanese RPGs tend to feature turn-based combat systems and Glory of Heracles is no exception. While the battle engine itself is fairly standard and straightforward, there are a few unique twists tossed in to make things a little more strategic, although it's this sheer number of battle options that can become a little overwhelming. This tends to happen more often at times when you have a large number of party members in your group, each with a wide variety attacks, skills, and magical spells to choose from. You still have many of the basic commands like Attack, Defend, Skills, and Magic, but there's also a Fall Back command that will allow you to move certain characters to the back row of the battle grid in order to better protect them. It's a small addition, but one that does come in handy for those times when you find yourself stuck with a weaker character. The game will even periodically offer you advice during battles to help you better come to grips with the game's rather intricate combat system.
During a battle, the bottom screen of the DS shows a grid that allows you to position your characters and select their battle moves and targets. You can use either the stylus or stick with the action buttons, whichever suits your personal tastes, as both work equally well. Once all battle selections are made, the fight will play out on the top screen, while a running account of the battle is typed out on the bottom screen, step by step. You can even scroll through the text of the battle to see what attacks were more or less effective than others, not to mention checking to see how many hit points your characters and enemies have left. It takes a bit of getting used to at first, but once you get a handle on the combat system, you'll find it quite in-depth, albeit a bit complex.
Glory of Heracles features a fairly engaging storyline and there are tons of characters to interact with, many of which will end up joining you on your quest during various sections of the game. The pacing of the story's progression can be a tad on the sluggish side at times. There tend to be times when the flow of the game becomes a little bogged down with drawn-out enemy battles or lengthy fetch quests that tend to leave you searching for the event trigger to get the game's main adventure rolling along again. Luckily, the game's combat system and unique gameplay twists tend to keep things interesting and RPG fans who like to micro manage their characters and their battles will likely enjoy the game's attention to detail in these two areas. The ability to use either stylus controls or the standard DS controls is a nice touch as well.
The 3D rendered look of the game works better in some areas than others. While villages have a sharp and detailed look to them, characters and some landscapes look a bit drab and uninspiring at times. The same can be said of the enemies in the game. The smaller monsters sometimes look a touch odd and void of detail, whereas the larger monsters you face off will often look extremely well drawn and animate quite smoothly. There's also a little hiccup in the game's frame rate when the area your in has to rotate around in order to offer a more accessible perspective for your characters, normally happening inside villages and towns. It's still a solid visual experience, but one that you can't help but feel might have benefited more from a hand drawn 2D presentation.
If there's one thing that can be said about the musical score of Glory of Heracles, it's that there's plenty of variety. You'll hear tunes of all different musical styles and melodies throughout the adventure. Many of the tracks are catchy and certainly fit the mood of the game, but there are a few uninspiring tracks along the way that tend to somewhat dilute the overall presentation. It probably doesn't help that the game's musical score starts off quite impressively and then tends to become a bit watered down in later parts of the game. Certainly not a bad musical effort, just not quite as memorable as you'll likely be expecting after experiencing the game's impressive musical beginning.
The unique Greek theme portrayed in Glory of Heracles does introduce some interesting storyline twists throughout the adventure and the many gameplay variations used in the combat system certainly give the game a deep level of playability not seen in many DS RPGs to date. Despite the sluggish pacing of the game at times, the overall quest is enjoyable and one that should keep RPG fans interested, at least long enough to finish the 25+ hour quest. Of course those looking for something a bit more streamlined might find the increased amount of micromanaging of the playable characters a little tedious. At the very least, Glory of Heracles is yet another enjoyable title to add to the ever-increasing DS line of RPGS and that's certainly not a bad thing.