Nintendo is done for the year. There are a couple of weeks left here in 2009, but in the Big N’s mind it’s all in the books already — barring a handful of downloadables to the Wii and DS between now and New Year’s, there won’t be any more new releases from the company until the calendar’s flipped to 2010. But then, when it does, the first game on the slate will be Glory of Heracles.
Few DS owners in America will realize what a great start to the new year Glory of Heracles will be — because they’ve never heard of it. It was one of those under-the-radar games announced with almost no fanfare at last summer’s E3 show. One of those one-shot DS RPGs that Nintendo sometimes puts out that make a minor splash, gain a few fans and are then never heard from again. Right?
Except that Glory of Heracles isn’t just a one-shot game. This upcoming role-player is actually the sixth installment in what has been a long-running and popular series in Japan since the 8-bit era in the ’80s — “Heracles no Eikō.” A contemporary of such classic franchises as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, Heracles no Eikō just never made it out of Japan like those other series did. Until now.
So while Nintendo may be done for the year, IGN isn’t — and we’re here today to offer you a look back at the history of Heracles no Eikō, a.k.a. Glory of Heracles, to give you a head start on getting hyped for the Big N’s first release of 2010. Read on, friends, and bask in the Glory.
You’re familiar with Heracles, the character, right? Before we get going into this article proper, I just want to check. The name is interchangeable — Nintendo’s using Heracles, the Greek spelling, while Hercules is the more popular Roman version. You’ve probably read about him in an English Lit class at some point, or seen the Disney film about him, or watched Kevin Sorbo play him, kicking demons back down to Hades where they belong in the live-action “Legendary Journeys” TV series from the ’90s. Got it? In a nutshell, he’s the half-human, half-god son of Zeus, blessed with incredible physical strength and praised as a hero by all the common folk of ancient Greece. Cool. Let’s move on then.
The video game adventures of Heracles began over 22 years ago, with the release of Tōjin Makyō-den Heracles no Eikō for Nintendo’s 8-bit Famicom system in Japan. The game was a response to established success — the Enix company had just scored a major hit with the first Dragon Quest in 1986, and third-party developer Data East wanted a piece of that pie. Data East took the established gameplay structure of Dragon Quest, layered a classic tale drawn from Greek mythology on top of it, and a new, rival franchise was born.
That classic tale was The Twelve Labors of Heracles, the most popular myth featuring the half-human, half-god son of Zeus. It’s what you might have read in English Lit, and what part of the Disney film featured — Heracles is faced with a series of challenges to complete in order to prove his strength, such as slaying the Lernean Hydra, capturing Cerberus and acquiring magical items like the girdle of the Amazon Queen. Tōjin Makyō-den Heracles no Eikō, which might roughly translate into English as “Glory of Heracles: The Twelve Labors” follows along with many of the same plot points and challenges from the classic myth, making them into gameplay — the major battles became boss fights, the item-seeking into fetch quests.
And it all played out in a style very similar to the first Dragon Quest. Heracles is your lone, playable hero. He starts out in Athens talking to non-player characters and shopping for items. He leaves town to explore the world beyond and is subjected to random, turn-based battles where you select attack options from a basic black menu. He levels up, grows in strength, rests at inns to recover his health and prays to the Greek gods, a common save point in old-school RPGs — though saving your progress in this game required you to copy down lengthy passwords, as it was a bit before the time of battery-backed cartridge saves.
All in all, a fairly interesting RPG adventure for a country full of players who’d just gotten their feet wet with the genre through Dragon Quest — and Heracles no Eikō, though not all that innovative or original, was well-received enough to warrant a sequel.