You should expect more from your immortal.
The last time a Glory of Heracles title was released it was on the Super Famicom in 1994. The series, which has never left Japan until now, has gone quiet after having five games come out in the span of seven years. It is now making a comeback and its North American debut with Glory of Heracles for Nintendo DS. Cryogenics hasn't been kind to Heracles; it is an uncompromisingly traditional Japanese role-playing game. While a competent title, it feels more than a little dated.
Glory of Heracles is set in the mythology of Ancient Greece, and has the same devotion to historical and mythological accuracy as Xena: Warrior Princess. You play as Heracles, a young man who has lost his memory, but has found that he is apparently the immortal hero of legend. Even more of a surprise, Heracles stumbles across other immortals in his journey. While it's nothing for the son of a god to be immortal, it is unusual for the children of mortals to find themselves unable to die. The party embarks on a quest to determine the secret of their identities and their immortality.
Their quest finds you crisscrossing the ancient world, encountering a mysterious strife that has begun to grip the land. Immortal soldiers, their souls gone, are being used as tools of war, and the heroes resolve to eliminate these abominations. The game takes place in the cities and dungeons of Ancient Greece. The cities are the standard fare for an RPG. While there, you heal, buy supplies, re-equip your characters, and receive your objectives. The dungeons are standard dungeon crawling material that are loaded with monsters, and you need to reach the bottom (or top) of the dungeon and slay the boss.
The turn-based combat pits your four heroes against a bevy of monsters out to deal you defeat. There is some strategy to it all. While your party is determined by the game, you can control their position on the battlefield. Both you and your foes have a 2 by 4 grid and you can decide if your characters are in the front or the back row. From the front row, you can use physical attacks, but you can also be hit by them. From the rear, you can only used ranged attacks (magic or attacks with your bow), but your characters replenish their Magic Points each turn. Those points are used to either cast spells or use special skills, such as a bash with your shield that knocks your foe back to the rear row.
One unique thing about the battle system is the Ether system. Ether comes in one of five elemental forms: Fire, Earth, Wind, Water, and Dark. Magic consumes the Ether of whatever element the spell is derived from. At the end of each turn, some Ether is added back, but the amount of elemental Ether added is determined by the environment in which the battle is set. For example, a lava cave will replenish more fire Ether. Both your party and the enemy party draw from the same Ether pool, so in theory you can intentionally deplete the Ether type an enemy employs. However, the Ether system seems to be more of an irritant, as it seems more often you're the one who has run out of your Ether of choice.
The game also lets you power up your skills and spells by playing some tapping mini-games. Most of them are the kind of stuff you would see in Brain Age, and they range from “Tap the numbers in order” to “Sort the numbered circles into the matching boxes.” They're never really fun, and a lot of time I choose to skip them because they just didn't seem worth the effort.
As the primary mode of gameplay, it would have been nice to see the developers, Paon, take some additional risks with the combat system. Just because the series last saw life on the Super Famicom doesn't mean the combat system needed to be constrained as such. It's not overly slow, but even with the mini-games it leaves me feeling disconnected.
The game can be controlled with the stylus or the face buttons. The stylus lets you move by putting it where you want to go and you'll run towards that point. Because the screen scrolls, your stylus stays ahead of your character, and you keep running. Besides that, there isn't much to explain about the controls. The D-Pad also moves you around, and everything else is menus, which are navigated by either tapping the touch screen or using the D-Pad and A button to move around and select an option. The only time you are required to use the stylus is for the in-battle mini-games.
The presentation is above average, but not spectacular. The graphics are kind of a strange mix. The game perspective is isometric, and the world environments are 3D and look nicely detailed. The characters, while animated well, look plastic-y. They stand out in the game world and seem as if they were developed by a different team. In battle, things don't look as good either. The backgrounds are flat and dull, and the models don't animate as well. On the other hand, the sound is good. There is some nice music, but the sound effects are the same stuff you would expect from a "standard" RPG.
I wish The Glory of Heracles had taken a few more risks. The story has a good thing going, with your requisite twists, and an interesting set of characters. However, it is wasted on a game that struggles to find uniqueness. While the game does a good job doing everything you expect it to, the problem is that it only does what you expect it to. RPGs, Japanese style or otherwise, have advanced and The Glory of Heracles feels dated by comparison.