Monday, January 25, 2010

The Glory of Heracles

Have you ever had one of those games that you sit down and are immediately engrossed in? One that you play for an hour and don't even realize that an hour has passed? A game that is relaxing yet challenging, a game that makes you say to yourself, "This is why I got into gaming in the first place,"? Glory of Heracles is the first game in a long damned time that has done this to me. I'm going to sound prematurely aged and like somewhat of a hypocrite here, but it is refreshing as hell to have a game where I don't have to use eleventeen button combinations like a fucking finger gymnast just to shoot an alien in the face or whatever. I guess that makes me a hypocrite because I like gaming on the PC - specifically FPS' - for the reason that the buttons are spread out, there are more keys to bind things to than you can shake a stick at and the mouse aims about over 9000 times better than a thumbstick. Honestly, I have no idea how over-caffeinated teens and 20-somethings aim so well with jittery thumbs.

Anyway, Glory of Heracles really proves that you don't need a multimillion dollar budget to make a fun product. The Greek mythology setting is somewhat unorthodox for RPGs (console ones anyway) and I'll use that word again: it's refreshing. The story's really not cliche - I'm still engrossed and want to know what happens, even into hour 20 - and the script is funny if you're a nerd like me and know all sorts of Greek mythos. And on that note, whoever did the translation should handle every Japanese to English game translation from now on, alongside the person that translated for Atlus, doing the first Megami Tensei release here ever (20 years after the series debuted in Japan, lmao). The script comes off localized but without that stupidass "dumbin it down" that most "localization specialists" wind up doing to the characters/script/colloquialisms.

I've spent almost 20 hours over 2 and a 1/2 days playing this game, and it really never let me down once. The pacing is perfect, battles and their difficulty tweak slightly from area to area, the story is fleshed out at just the right intervals and the game's story doesn't ever tip its hand too much. The battle system itself really doesn't leave a whole lot to be desired, it is engaging enough not to bore you, but also punishing enough that if you just hit fight, fight, fight, you'll most certainly lose. Battles require tactics to win, strategy. Also, to ensure you don't just rely on magic nukes, there's a system in place to make sure that doesn't happen, either. Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, there were very few places that I even ran into the same groups of enemies, the formations were very well-thought out.

Some people might complain that the dungeons are a little too straightforward (and almost entirely premapped out on the top screen, including stairs and such), but I actually like not having to wander through 20 floors of something just to be left wondering if I missed something. (Yeah, I'm a completionist that loves his peace of mind, wanna fight about it? =P) This, for me at least, is counterbalanced by the fact that the battles are almost symphonic. I like the fact that the screen I'm spending the most time on/in changes enough to hold my interest and forces me to actually utilize more than 2-3 moves and adapt.

The soundtrack is amazing, and after every battle, without fail, I found myself tapping the stylus to the fanfare, gleefully. Every song fits its occasion, and most of the game is "epic", revolving around heroes and mythology and immortals and all, and the score really fits. I read somewhere (and can't find the article again) that a famous game composer worked on the score, and it's quite evident here.

The system of "moves", for lack of a better word, is pretty ingenious, too, if not overly-complicated. They're divided up into three categories: Magic, Abilities & Skills. Magic is just like it sounds, and is mind-numbingly specific in this game. There are separate spells that single-target/target a row/target everyone, for eeeeeeverything.Much like other games there are lots of useless spells that lower/raise every stat, and every battle is over much too quickly to focus on anything but damaging the enemy, imo. Abilities are passive things that usually happen in reaction to something (i.e. - counter, crit percentage up, restoring HP/MP after your turn, etc). Skills are more physical acts, but more on that in a second. Everyone can use all three and all are tied to the same "mana pool". Every character has two open slots you can do as you please with as far as offense/defense. Each character has two weapons that are unique to them, (think Chrono Trigger, also your main character and the third permanent character you get in your party both use the same swords and two can use the same bows, other than that they're unique per character) one melee and one "ranged". You have the option of either equipping the melee weapon and a shield, or the melee and "ranged", taking the defense loss if you decide to equip the second weapon and not a shield. I say ranged in quotes because if you're just using the character's Attack command, you can only attack enemies in the first row. Most attacks that involve the offhand weapons are considered Skills and can only be performed if you have the secondary weapon equipped, and most allow you to reach the back row. The weapons are considered ranged, but they're really melee in all cases but the two bow-wielders. The other three characters have a spear/javelin, battleaxe and a scythe, and all of their moves that reach the back row use them in a melee fashion.

You learn a lot of spells and such permanently through praying at temples to various gods and goddesses throughout the game. Certain spells and Abilities are or are not innate, however, and you have to equip weapons/armor that have them included, and it forces you to trade weapons with stats for weapons with a cool Ability or vice versa, and strategize. If you take less defense by equipping this armor, you get an Ability that only takes 50% MP consumption for spells, or this helm may have less agility but you get a reduction in magic damage. And even those things build on one another, because there are Abilities that make other Abilities proc more. Stuff overlaps as far as what you can learn and what you get attached to armor or whatever, so I think it's a little more complicated than it has to be at times, but the system itself is great.

My complaints are few, but one or two are glaring. One, the camera wildly swings around and sometimes your dot on the map is moving the exact opposite direction that you, yourself are moving on screen. That may just be me, I have a terrible sense of direction in games, but a wonderful one in real life. I think that's because in games if you hit a tree/wall you just path around it, if I walk/drive into a wall in real life, it's going to hurt like hell.

Second, the graphics are like pseudo cell-shaded or something, and while they're not terrible by any means, their quality runs the gamut from awesome to, "wtf is that supposed to be?". I can put it this way, this game looks like it was developed for a bigger screen and then shrunk down, if that makes any sense. Like when you take something and make it widescreen and it was originally 4:3, it doesn't look right. Well a lot of these individual models look like they'd look awesome if they were stretched more so you could see the whole thing clearly, but on this smaller screen... And it's more or less not speculation, because the boss characters look great, and they're huge on-screen, and they were obviously made using the same process - mystery solved.

Which brings me to my next point, the boss fights are too easy/short. Most use the old formula of SNES-generation Final Fantasy games, whereby the boss has some elemental weakness to exploit, or you can't use physical attacks or they use magic that roasts you alive or vice versa. Also, the game has "powerful battles" where the screen flashes red instead of white, and you're left to face a battalion of monsters, and those are actually harder and more time-consuming than most of the boss fights. Powerful battles are a fun addition, even though most of the time I didn't find them to be much more challenging than a normal fight, just more numerous enemies. Now that I'm reaching hour 20 or so, though, the 3 or 4 I've run into recently had a core enemy that was much tougher than the others and sorta kicked my ass a bit. Like I said, the battles are challenging and you can't just fudge your way through them, but they're not overly hard, either. You establish a comfort zone early on and you know what you can and can't take for the most part. One thing I'm truly grateful for is that Heracles isn't like most RPGs where you either have a small group of enemies that you can beat like you're stomping a bug or battles where there's some really unfair attack/defense mechanic at work, and you get worked over and end up back at the title screen. The difficulty doesn't bounce like crazy.

The last few minor issues I have are sorta nitpicky. There are waaaaay too many shops and things to do with your items, which leads to too much micromanagement. I like micromanaging to an extent, but there's a blacksmithing function that is completely arbitrary, and you never know what weapon/armor you'll need to hang on to, to upgrade later. Some items in the game you only see once, so if you sold that item, you're sol (shit out of luck). And you have a cap of only being able to carry 200 items. I could see if there were only shops, or only smithing or enhancing, but everytime you get to a new city there's a shop full of items that actually are upgrades of what you currently have, and you buy the upgrades, and then literally 10 minutes later you're in a dungeon and find another upgrade, and 20 mins after that, another town with more items, lmao. Another thing, while we're on that note, is that if you have something equipped, you have to unequip it to enhance or smith it. (and I literally mean "or", because for no reason at all, one can be modified completely in your possession and the other you have to unequip, and I forget which is which) You can add abilities and such, too, but I like the fact that you have to choose between an ability or more Defense or Attack rating. Your characters may be immortals, but it'd be boring if you just had swords bouncing off of you and you can nuke the hell out of everything under Zeus' sky all at once.

When you receive certain items or polish something rusty at the polisher (yes, that's what it's called), in the description it says: "could probably be sold for a high value to a shopkeeper" and then later in the game I find out that the self-described "useless lump of metal" can be used to make a nice sword, that's playing dirty in my book. Especially when you can't buy stuff back. But apparently the makers of this game like to play tricks on the players, because there's something later in the game that is affected by your luck - which decreases everytime you "steal" from people's houses' chest of drawers/armoire things. Apparently something that you can elect to do late in the game or after you beat it or something gives you better rewards if you're not a thief.

Lastly - and this is a blanket complaint - I like playing RPGs to play RPGs, not to have Chocobo races and snowboarding competitions. I mean I don't hate minigames, but I think they should affect the outcome of battles or how much money I end up with. Or if I'm not a great card player I don't get access to cool items or whatever. But I digress. This game takes that to the next level. Everytime you cast an offensive spell or use certain Skills a minigame of sorts offers itself up to boost your damage. These are fine, but they get kind of annoying. Like, tap the circle until the meter fills up, tap Roman numerals in order, etc etc.

But really, these are all small problems (even if I wrote more about them than the game's merits, I'm told I'm better at being negative, go figure) and I urge you to give this game a whirl. If nothing else it's an entertaining distraction for 25 or so hours. For me, it's an excellent reason to pick up my DS and play.

No comments :