Yeah, I said my next DS game review would be Sands of Destruction, but I've decided to put that on hold for Nintendo's most recent game, Glory of Heracles. Anyway, while Glory of Heracles sounds like a completely original series, it's actually not. It's been around since the NES days, it just never saw US shores. Back in the NES days, it was little more than a Dragon Quest knock-off with a different skin (Greeks instead of whatever the fuck Dragon Quest people are). Nintendo decided after 20 years to finally bring the series to the US, and lucky for us it isn't a Dragon Quest knockoff. The game is built from the ground-up for the DS, with a new battle system, new storyline, and new graphics. All in all, Nintendo really did a great job on this game, and hopefully they'll make more like it. Glory of Heracles is set in ancient Greece, as you could guess. The story starts with you, Heracles, waking up on a beach. You have no memory of who you are or your past life. You then meet a girl named Lecous, who accidentally knocks you both off a cliff. You then both realize that you're immortal, and decide to travel together. The story revolves around you finding out what happened to your memory as well as helping your supporting characters find the meaning to their immortality. Side note, the whole "immortality" thing is a mystery because you have to be the decedent of a god to be immortal, while your companions are only offspring of normal people (Heracles is the son of Zeus, so he's of course immortal). Anyway, I thought I'd just say you get one of the wackiest traveling parties ever. An amnesic son of the god of gods, a crossdressing woman, and an immortal womanizer. And I thought FFIV had an oddball party. Anyway, the characters themselves each have their own mysteries to uncover and dynamic personalities, and it really brings the game to life. On top of that, its setting in a world of Greek mythology is excellent. Not only does it tap into all the major aspects of Greek mythology, but the minor ones. Everyone knows about the Kraken, but did you know who Orthos was? My only real grudge here is the obsessive amount of pointless tutorials. I know how to navigate a menu, I don't need a tutorial telling me how to equip items or change between characters. Still, these tutorials can be sped through with some rapid stylus tapping, so it's not too big of a deal. Overall, the universe it makes is engaging, along with a good cast of characters and humor to keep you going, even through the annoying tutorials.. For gameplay, Heracles isn't exactly super innovative, but it's different. The game has random encounters, for starters, so random encounter haters should veer away. Still, the encounters are well-balanced. There's not too little to make the game boring, not too many to make the game overly hard. Anyway, battles play out with each side getting a 2x5 grid, so you basically get a front row and a back row. You can move your characters between these at any time. The front row allows you to attack other characters in the enemy's front row with melee attacks (which are generally the most powerful), but the same goes for you. The back row leaves you out of the danger of melee attacks, but you also can't use melee attacks at all. Instead, you can use ranged attacks in the forms of a bow or spells. Most of the time you won't be doing much in the ways of moving back and forth between rows, but there are attacks that can push you to the back row, and its always a viable way to harbor your melee-attack prone characters from danger. The game features a very nice list of abilities, skills, and magic. Abilities are automatic actions done by characters. These can be things such as counterattacking, finishing off an enemy who has low health, regaining health or MP (Magic Points) at the end of your turn, or attacking twice in a row. Skills are basically attack-based "magic" skills (since they use MP but aren't themselves magical). You can use them to buff yourself, your teammates, attack bad guys, or debuff bad guys. Magic is, of course, magic. You get a variety of spells, from your classic elemental based attacks (like lightning, earth, ice, fire, etc), to buffing, debuff, and healing spells. There's a huge list of all 3 specialties, providing plenty of depth. The other difference this has from your standard DS RPG is use of the touch screen for magic. When you cast a spell, you can choose to have it automatically cast or you can boost it with touch-based microgames. These can be as simple as rapidly taping a circle on screen, dragging numbers to the correct box, taping circles in order, or tapping overlapping circles. Yeah, there's a lot of circles. At first, these microgames are very easy, but as you learn variations on them for tougher spells, they get a lot harder. They can get a little tedious over time, but aren't too annoying (considering most enemy encounters will have you usually having a smooth ride without magic). Still, the game features an impressive amount of depth, with lots of spells, skills, abilities, weapon customization (such as adding special abilities), and a nice balance of armor and weapons (for example, even if you buy better armor than before, it may still make you less agile, as well as things like having a spear instead of a shield will make you a lot more powerful but a lot more vulnerable). Overall, the game has a great deal of depth to it and while the battle system and impressive depth in stats and equipment. Graphically and audio wise, the game really shines. I have to say, the graphics are incredible. It is played from an isometric-type of overhead view, which you wouldn't normally expect for looking top-notch compared to 3-D game perspectives like Kingdom Hearts, but this is gorgeous. The world is rendered entirely in 3-D, with everything well polished and nicely textured. The character models themselves are also really cool, having a cell-shaded feel to them to stand out from the world. The cell shading can occasionally hurt some character models that are very small, but those models are still excellent. And in contrast to that, big character models are amazing. This may seem like an obscure comparison, but if anyone played Maestro! and saw how good the spider boss model was, it's pretty much that quality for big models. The special effects for magic are also awe-inspiring. Lots of well-done explosions, lightning strikes, and more have actually made me go wide-eyed over it. Heracles also features an impressive, well done soundtrack. Lots of grand orchestral overtures with crystal clear sound quality, as well as great sound effects. There's also no voice acting, which is a plus for some (considering the DS doesn't have much in the way of top-notch voice work). Prepare to be awed, people. Overall, Heracles is Nintendo's first title of 2010 and honestly deserves it. An offbeat but not offsetting battle system keeps things fresh, the large amount of depth keeps things interesting, the characters and universe its set in keeps things engaging, and the sound and graphics keep things eye-popping. For a year of scarce DS titles compared to last year's blow out, it's good to know that high quality titles like this still exist. Presentation: Considering not many games capitalize on the great world of Greek mythology (outside of like God of War, which comes to mind), it's great to see them tap into it by providing an extensive amount of authenticity. Mythological beasts, the world of ancient Greece, and the power of the Gods is a constant reality here. You've also got a diverse cast and lighthearted humor to keep things exciting. The entire game can be controlled with either the stylus or face buttons, and both of them work well. Menus are easy to navigate and nicely done. However, the annoying amount of pointless tutorials can be a real nuisance. 9/10 Graphics: Superb, to say the least. A great 3-D world that's well textured and simply beautiful. Special effects are awesome and awe-inspiring, and the character models stand out nicely with cell-shaded aspects. Cell shading is double edged a bit though, as some smaller models are a little hurt by it, but big models look stunning. Side note, I expect Golden Sun DS to feature this quality 3-D. 9.3/10 Sound: A great soundtrack, with lots of high quality orchestral melodies. Sound effects are equally stunning as the special effects that go with them. There's no voice acting, which is good considering the history of voice overs on the DS. A treat for your ears. 9.3/10 Gameplay: Fresh but not offsetting. While it's not a huge leap from traditional RPG concepts, it's far enough to keep it from being boring, and close enough to keep it from being frustrating. There's lots of depth here, with plenty of magic spells, skills, and abilities to go around. Microgames for magic seem like a good concept and work, but are annoying after a while and could use some variety. Also, random encounters aren't liked by some, but they're nicely spaced out in the game. Fun and deep, a nice game for RPG fans. 9/10 Lasting Appeal: The game can reach 30+ hours, depending on the amount of grinding you want to do among other things. It's still a little linear with not much in the way of sidequests, which really sucks. Still, it's a fun RPG to play and while you may not be coming back again and again for the sidequests, it's definitely a nice and lengthy game. 8/10 Overall: 9/10 This one really caught me by surprise. I was expecting to give it an 8/10 or something, but this game is really good. Discuss!