One of Nintendo's more low-key releases of 2010 is Glory of Heracles, released last week in North America for the Nintendo DS. The Greek-themed role-playing game is new user-friendlier than most and the first in the series to come stateside.
I've been playing Glory of Heracles over the course of the past week, a game that was noticeably coddling during my first hands-on time with the game at E3 but also steeped in RPG convention—you really do wake up on the beach with no memory of your past, your characters name initially displayed as "? ? ?".
So why a new game in the long-running (in Japan, at least) Heracles series? And why bring it to North America?
Kentaro Nishimura, assistant producer at Nintendo explains.
"When Nintendo DS hardware became available, a new type of fun using stylus was sought after; the resurgence of Heracles was just an example of great timing," Nishimura told Kotaku. "It was decided that the game mechanics of Glory of Heracles were ideal to create a new type of RPG that uses a stylus."
That "new type of RPG" is aimed at a new type of audience, one who may yearn for an epic role-playing game type of yarn, but may be unfamiliar with the genre's conventions and mechanics.
"When an idea of creating a RPG game that utilizes the touch screen feature came up, the need for providing the new-player-friendly game system was regarded inevitable," Nishimura said. "The game development proceeded in line with this initial concept."
"A user-friendly game doesn't necessary mean a simple game. Glory of Heracles provides step-by-step tutorials and easy battle events for novice players," Nishimura says. "For core players, the game provides higher level of battle events." Those battle events were sped up for North American gamers after the Japanese version of Glory of Heracles caught some flak for its plodding pace.
As a rare player of the Japanese role-playing game outside of the odd Mario & Luigi titles and more creative efforts like Demon's Souls and Valkyria Chronicles, I don't really mind the re-education in traditional RPG mechanics. And the story as I've experienced so far, bordering on cliche though it may be, should be an equally good primer on the Japanese role-playing game.
Glory of Heracles scenario writer Kazushige Nojima—who also worked on Final Fantasy VII, Kingdom Hearts and Super Smash Bros. Brawl—says that the storyline was also built with a new audience in mind.
"When I wrote the scenario, I kept in mind the need to make the game enjoyable for those who are completely new to the series," Nojima says. "So, I think it is no problem if North American players know nothing about the previous game."
You may be asking, as I did, what exactly a "scenario writer" does. So I asked Nojima.
"The role of scenario writer varies depending on what is expected by those who want to receive the scenario," he said. "Sometimes all it takes is to simply come up with dialogues that compliment the scene. In other cases, the writer is asked to provide an overall theme or to pitch a plot."
Nojima continues. "In the case of Glory of Heracles, the overall storyline was already prepared. I began my work by branching, swapping, deleting, or unifying sequences, and then adding episodes and some more events. Finally, I tied them all up to make a story."
"I like an approach of rounding up every single one of the story elements into one: romance, family episode, history, mystery solving, revenge, you name it…" Nojima says of his approach to writing. "Depending on who plays it, people return me completely different feedback, and I love listening to them. Some people may say 'I really loved the love story!' and others may say 'Where was the love story?'"
I'm still getting my feet wet, relatively, with the story of Glory of Heracles, but will let you know my thoughts when our official review of the DS game runs this week.
Oh, and one more thing. Given the mythos tapped by Nintendo and Paon in Glory of Heracles, I asked the game's creators about their thoughts for the return of the similarly Greek Pit of Kid Icarus fame. Somehow that answer either got lost in translation or mistakenly missed during the Q&A session. Surprising, I know, but, hey, I asked!
Anyone out there playing Glory of Heracles right now?