Review by Red Lobstar
Not quite as glorious as its namesake.
Game Length: 30 hours
Game Difficulty: Easy (but frustrating)
It is nearly impossible to discuss Heracles no Eikou (translated: The Glory of Heracles) without making reference to the Dragon Quest series of games published by Enix. Heracles no Eikou II capitalizes on so many of the innovations developed by Enix's flagship series that one might think the title is a long forgotten installment in the Dragon Quest saga. From the menu-based interface to the combat system, Data East has attempted to produce a faithful replica of Japans best-selling RPG series and, were it not for one infuriating flaw, would have met with success.
Released roughly two months prior to Enix's unveiling of Dragon Quest IV, Heracles no Eikou II is a virtual facsimile of the previous three Dragon Quest titles. Like its source material, Heracles requires all actions be executed from a central menu when not engaged in battle. The player is granted the freedom to explore the countryside and its many towns, but to do anything necessitates the player open the menu and choose one of the six commands. Even simple tasks such as speaking to townsfolk and opening treasure chests cannot be accomplished without the aide of the menu.
Encounters with enemies arise randomly while exploring labyrinths or the great outdoors, causing the game to enter a first-person view in which the enemies appear before an unimaginative black background to face the players team. Battles are turned based, with the characters who have the highest agility rating performing actions first. Melee is kept simple, giving the player the traditional options to attack, defend, use items or magic, change equipment, or try to attempt an escape.
A feature carried over from Dragon Quest titles is the ability for monsters to travel in groups. Rather than selecting individual enemies the player will sometimes only be allowed to target entire parties of the foes. This can lead to moments of unpredictability when, for instance, two characters have been asked to target monsters in the same group. Rather than focusing their attacks on the same individual until it is defeated, the fighters may chose to aim for separate monsters, essentially spreading their power among the group, thus leaving each foe alive at the end of that particular round. Considering the characters do not have the most clever AI, one might be left annoyed at having powerful monsters being given the opportunity to attack again when they could have easily been killed had the players characters only focused their assault to work together as a team.
A second frustrating mechanic employed in battles is the inability for a character to switch his attack to a different opponent should the enemy he was originally told to fight perish before his turn. When this occurs the character contributes nothing to the battle and his action is essentially wasted. Though, to be fair, this is a recurring problem that can be seen in several other NES era RPGs. Still, it is a disappointment that it had not yet been corrected here.
If Its Not Broken Dont Fix It
So with gameplay that is a mirror image to that of Dragon Quest what has Data East done to make its title stand out from its competitors? Heracles incorporates a mechanic that is sure to be the bane of role players everywhere: breakable equipment. Allow me to outline how this is possibly the most inane, unbalanced, and all around contemptible concept ever implemented into a game.
Roughly one quarter of the way into the heros adventure he will begin to meet enemies which can, quite simply, break his equipment. Only certain enemies can do this, but those who do need no special skill to accomplish the task. When one of these villains strikes the players character with the most basic of attacks there is a purely random chance that a piece of his equipment, be it weapon or armor, will shatter. If this happens the item is instantly removed from the characters inventory, permanently. It literally crumbles into dust on the spot. To top it off there is absolutely no way to prevent the breakage of ones gear. It is through sheer luck alone that one will manage to keep his inventory intact.
When first confronted with this feature I was dumbfounded. A mountain goat had destroyed my rusty shield. Needing an upgrade anyway, I returned to town and purchased an iron shield for a hefty price of 320 gold pieces. Literally the next battle I encountered another goat that promptly wrecked my brand new shield on its first turn. A short time later I had accumulated enough funds to buy an extremely expensive sword for my hero, which cost 1240 gold. After struggling through an entire dungeon I met its boss. This fellow, too, saw fit to obliterate my new weapon with a single blow, drastically reducing my attack power and ensuring my defeat. God bless save-states. It is through their magic that allowed me to re-play the same boss time and again, thus confirming the breakage of equipment is entirely random. What makes this mechanic so aggravating is the potential to permanently lose a one of a kind item, such as the mirror shield, which can only be obtained from a treasure chest midway through the game.
There were a 101 solutions for this problem, none of which Data East saw fit to utilize. For instance, it would have eased the burden to include a blacksmith who could repair damaged goods. Allowing the characters to invoke a magical spell which would fortify an items defenses would have leveled the playing field. Having items break through wear and tear (say, after x amount of hits) would have been far more logical than allowing a stray animal to smash a gleaming new shield.
If there is any good news regarding this topic it is that relatively few enemies in the game have the potential to destroy items, though they do seem to inhabit every continent. Due to the random nature of the encounters the player is left with a lingering fear that the fateful meeting could arise at any time.
It is worth addressing that the names used for magic spells and items are far from intuitive. For example, would you be able to surmise a spell called Daste lowers defense? Why does the Carrot cure paralysis? How about Ktrell? It cures confusion (ironic, no?). The bottom line is that the effects of neither spells nor items are explained in the game, leading to copious amounts of trial and error and wasted resources trying to determine their purpose. Granted, this is according to the fan-translation, so I am unsure whether to fault the translators or the game itself. Regardless, it results in confusion and, more importantly, hassle due to the need to consult an online guide every time a character learns a new spell.
Setting and Characters
Data East made sure to set its series apart from Dragon Quest in at least one regard: the setting. Rather than having the player trudge through medieval forests and assault dragons, we are given the opportunity to visit ancient Greece. Based extremely loosely on Greek mythology, the game begins with the hero in search of the great storyteller Homer. Later he will make the acquaintances of Icarus and the monarch of Olympus, Zeus. Inspiration for bosses is drawn from the likes of Cerberus, the minotaur, and Medusa. While the story is typical for its time, namely save the world from an ultimate evil, the exploration of a fictionalized Greece, including towns such as Athens and Minoa, is a breath of fresh air for the role playing genre.
The cast is admittedly slim, with the player controlling a party of three for the majority of the game. The player assumes the role of the silent and nameless protagonist, who is soon accompanied by a centaur reminiscent of the Cowardly Lion, and a bronze statue brought to life seeking a soul. While each has a paper thin personality (if any at all) the diversity is fun, especially for an RPG of the late 1980s. Even to this day how many games can be named that have a playable centaur? Not enough. Each character is unique in the magic he or she can learn and the equipment that may be used. Thus each will fill a niche in battle to result in a well-rounded team.
Ease of Play
For an NES era RPG this ranks among the easiest. Quite unlike Dragon Quest titles, little time must be devoted to level building between dungeons, giving the game a consistent flow. So long as characters are properly outfitted few enemies will present much resistance. Despite the ambiguity of magic spells, many will go completely unused in favor of the brute force approach. Simply bashing foes into unconsciousness works surprisingly well in this game. The need to weaken monsters defenses or silence their magic is virtually nonexistent since the players team can usually dispose of them by the second round of battle. Should ones team meet annihilation the game does not end. Rather, the player is returned to the last visited save point and allowed to try again while retaining all experience points earned prior to his death. The only punishment for defeat is the loss of half of ones presently held currency. Thankfully, a bank of sorts exists which allows the player to deposit excess money. Funds kept there are protected from loss during instances of defeat.
Any difficulty present arises in the form of frustration, most notably the occasional breakage of armor and weapons. Saving constantly and re-loading when necessary goes a long way in alleviating this problem. Secondly, the random encounter rate is a bit unbalanced. While traversing the overworld map I could sometimes walk upwards of 100 steps without having to engage a foe, yet while in a cave or tower I would routinely be forced to battle literally one step after having just won a fight. Given the ease of combat this was not so much a hardship as an annoyance, yet one worth noting nonetheless.
Weighing the good and the bad Heracles no Eikou II breaks even. It is without any doubt a carbon copy of the Dragon Quest series, even down to the most minute detail. It is largely for this reason why the game results in being a completely conventional role playing experience. Heracles merely travels the same proven path paved by Dragon Quest and offers little in the way of advancement. The one innovation it can claim is its horrendous item breakage mechanic. Despite this being a failure, at least Data East attempted to spice up the genre with a new idea. Furthermore, it is certainly not a game destroying flaw and should not gravely impede enjoyment, yet it does hold this title back from reaching its full potential. Dragon Quest enthusiasts who have completed the series would be wise to give Heracles a chance, as it will feel like reuniting with a long lost friend. Despite its shortcomings, Heracles can still provide enough entertainment to justify a visit to an 8 bit ancient Greece.
* play progresses at a constant pace
* experience is not lost when you die
* unique characters who fulfill distinct roles
* interesting world to explore based on Greek mythology
* spell and item names are ambiguous
* random and permanent loss of rare/expensive equipment
* gameplay and interface are an exact replica of Dragon Quest games
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Heracles no Eikou II: Titan no Metsubou (JP, 12/23/89)
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