By the gods, an RPG!

Just about any presence of Ancient Greece in the media these days can be summed up with one word—testosterone.

Just about any presence of Ancient Greece in the media these days can be summed up with one word—testosterone.

There are a few reasons for this, the most obvious of which is the film adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300, which somehow catapulted Zack Snyder’s talentless slo-mo-centric directing—not to mention the film’s gritty, saturated aesthetic—to en vogue status.

Not to give Snyder too much credit. Hollywood and the media were already paying close attention to the intellectual properties of Sony’s God of War the HBO’s multinational series Rome (same idea, different era), for example. But 300 was a shift—suddenly if it wasn’t bulging men throwing down in bloody, graphic battles against red-and-sand-colored backdrops, no one was interested.

And yet, here in 2010, Nintendo comes along and releases an unassuming little RPG that defies today’s media conventions. You might say it’s an anime-inspired throwback to the days before Kratos and King Leonidas, when you might’ve expected something more along the lines of Gladiator or even Troy from your contemporary Roman epics.

In fact, I’d almost say Glory of Heracles, the first localized entry in a long-running JRPG (Japanese RPG) series, exists in a kind of time capsule. And I have to say, even with its penchant for long-worn JRPG tropes, it’s refreshing to see the time period without the media’s current annoying (GoW excepted) obsession with stylistic displays of pigheaded carnage.

Instead we get something that’s much more quaint—closer in relation to an old-school entry in Square’s Dragon Quest series than something that would be considered a gravitas-swilling epic. Heracles is actually about as traditional as they come, for better or worse. That means it has a cast of amnesiac heroes and, yes, even random battles.

But while the game may act more or less like a throwback RPG—and despite some extremely antiquated design decisions—there’s a lot about Heracles that reflects modern games as well. For starters, there’s the battle system, which has been streamlined to the point where damn near anyone that’s ever played a game (or hasn’t, even) can play.

There are AI options for your party, so you don’t have to manually engage with each character, and a handy in-game glossary that walks you through every aspect of battle as it occurs (particularly handy for the game’s numerous in-battle effects). Thank the gods, you can even speed up attack animations for quicker battles. It’s all very user friendly.

Two other elements of the battle system that stick out in Heracles are magic boosting, where you perform some stylus-based action on the touch screen in order to bolster the power of spells, and the inclusion of ether bonuses, which reward a player with increased MP if they’re on the defensive in the back row or “overkill” an enemy with a greater blow than its remaining hit points.

These kinds of additions to battling bring some much-needed strategy to the table, making the proceedings more interesting than, say, a completely old-school design. It goes a long way in making the battles more engaging than just an endless bout of slog fests.

Finally, Heracles sports some of the most graphically impressive animations I’ve seen on the DS (if not always the best-looking), with big, well-animated, cel-shaded characters. However, whether or not you enjoy this one will depend a lot on your penchant for old-school RPGs. The random battle frequency can be atrocious and the game is very linear.

The translation is wonderfully done, however, so it at least brings the somewhat unoriginal story to life with some character and humor. Overall, Heracles is extremely traditional and feels pretty harmless, which can either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your personal tastes.
Chances are, if you enjoy Dragon Quest and are looking for another RPG with a classic feel, you might like Heracles. If your tastes skew towards a shorter-attention span, you’re not going to see much point here.

But it still beats a 300 RPG.