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Heracles no Eikou III: Kamigami no Chinmoku (SNES) artwork

Heracles no Eikou III: Kamigami no Chinmoku (SNES) review

"Data East: Proudly bringing the most frustrating and tedious aspects of retro RPGs straight to your Super Famicom!"

Roughly an eternity ago, I not only reviewed, but also wrote a guide for Famicom Dragon Quest clone Heracles no Eikou II, meaning that I spent a lot of time with that title. Overall, I enjoyed the experience, but the game did have one glaring flaw that annoyed the hell out of me. You see, there were a handful of enemies found in random encounters possessing a special attack that, if it connected with one of your party members, would break a piece of armor, causing you to lose it forever.

This really sucked. All it would take is one moment of bad luck at the wrong time and I'd have to either go back to town and re-purchase that equipment or reload a previous save. So it is with great pleasure that I say when the series moved to the Super Famicom in 1992 with Heracles no Eikou III, you don't have to worry about an enemy having the ability to permanently destroy your equipment!

It is with vastly less pleasure that I say, in lieu of one huge flaw, Heracles no Eikou III prefers to deliver a "death by a thousand cuts", saddling players with any number of minor annoyances that gradually add up to create something that truly becomes a miserable experience. To simplify things, we'll just file these problems under the categories of "glacial plot progress" and "monsters using every dirty trick in the book".

The former should be apparent to anyone who has played a NES role-playing game. Let's look at the original Dragon Quest (or Warrior, if you prefer). You had two objectives in the game: rescue the princess and defeat the Dragonlord. And that's it. There's no character development or plot twists -- you just grind levels while exploring the land until you're ready to fight the Dragonlord, which plays a big role in that title being more of a historic relic than a fun diversion in today's age of story-heavy games.

But as time passed and technology developed, having a plot that moves things along and turns a role-playing game into something more than simple busywork to achieve a desired goal became more of a focus. In 1991, Square released its fourth Final Fantasy game, which featured a hero's journey towards redemption, a few betrayals, party members dying or otherwise being incapacitated and other tidbits to make the journey from beginning to end hectic, eventful and enthralling.

Apparently, Data East didn't get that memo, as Heracles no Eikou III saves virtually all its big plot developments for its final moments. You start in control of an amnesiac (one of the first, if not the first, RPGs to give players a hero unable to remember his or her past) guy who finds out he's immortal due to surviving a long fall unscathed. As your journey begins, you'll snag a few companions, including the titular Heracles, who randomly joins and leaves your crew throughout the game. Interestingly, the permanent members of your supporting cast, Reion and Steira, are in the same boat as you, being immortals with no memory of their past or how they obtained eternal life.

And things kind of stay right there for nearly the entire game, as you explore the world and fight monsters with next to no development. You find the world is beset by disasters and the gods are so ticked at humans that Zeus is strongly considering purging them, but only are given vague hints as to why. Meanwhile, you're still immortal and still suffering from amnesia until the very end of things, when one of the gods finally decides a bit of exposition is in order and essentially tells you everything about yourself before triggering one of many brutal late-game boss fights.

While all that did provide some interesting revelations, such as "Man, my guy needed a case of amnesia to stop being the world's biggest psychotic jerk?" and "Psychotic jerk or not, dude definitely knows how to get stuff done WITH STYLE!", I'd lost interest long before that moment and was essentially playing Heracles no Eikou III more out of a combination of force of habit and an ill-placed sense of duty than of any actual desire. Battling in this game's many random encounters just has a way of draining the life out of a guy…

To understand why, a player must think about what they believe constitutes a good challenge in an RPG. Some of the best ones I've played from this era have used active time systems, so you have to make quick decisions. Others, like the second Lufia, loaded its dungeons with all sorts of puzzles. Or maybe we're talking an AD&D Gold Box game, where you not only have to map vast trap-filled mazes, but also regularly overcome extremely strategic battles against monsters.

Heracles no Eikou III, on the other hand, just gives you annoying monsters that progress to frustrating, cheap and near-impossible to stomach. You'll first realize this a couple hours into the game as you flesh out your party by gaining the services of Reion, Heracles and Steira and start to encounter these spider enemies that have the ability to summon others. First off, unlike the Dragon Quest games, this move always works as long as there is room for one more enemy on the battle screen. Worse, it's really random if and when they'll do it. I've gone a few fights without a single one calling for help and then had a battle I eventually was forced to flee from because it seemed that multiple spiders summoned allies every turn, leaving me against insurmountable odds.

And that's only the beginning. As time went on, I suffered through:

• Battle cries that would, if all enemies weren't wiped out in a couple turns, summon enough reinforcements to fill the screen.
• Ambushes that seemed to happen regularly and with no accessories capable of preventing them.
• A love of constantly casting buff spells on each other or inflicting status ailments on your party.
• Extremely damaging physical and magical attacks that really never become less powerful, regardless of how much you grind.

And so on. I mean, none of this stuff sounds particularly nefarious on its own, but as you progress through the game, more and more foes gain these special abilities to the degree where random battles are about as complex as puzzle bosses like Final Fantasy IV's Magus Sisters. Late in the game, I found myself fighting enemies resembling slime men, mice, lizard men and warriors -- often with two or three different types of foe in each battle. The mice had strong magic attacks, while the lizard men were straight-forward battlers with a strong melee attack and the warriors loved using a "mumble" move that was very proficient at confusing a character. They were still the least of my concerns, as the slime men regularly cast a particular spell that restores a cohort's health and magic, while enhancing their stats, causing those lizard men to be able to one-shot my most durable characters.

So, which of these foes should you kill first? Answer: the mice because they also can raise the dead, so if you don't take them out quickly (ignoring how a slime man will restore their health and buff their stats at least once during this process), they will undo all your work. The only saving grace was that the first couple healing spells were cheap to cast, because it seemed like I had to heal two or three characters after every single fight. Late in the game, I thought I earned a reprieve because I was in a dungeon with weak foes worth a lot of experience…except this is because your main guy would soon be split from his allies for a while and would have to solo random fights during a long walk to a three-on-one boss fight that's as much of a puzzle as the aforementioned random fights. I guess that sort of thing might prepare one for a three-part final boss who's so powerful you have to exert a ton of energy buffing characters just to cause any noticeable amount of damage (while regularly healing from his extremely powerful attacks, of course), but it's not fun. None of this is fun.

In more capable hands, it could have been, though. The "characters with amnesia try to discover who they are" plot was actually pretty fresh and interesting in the early 90s and the revelations, when they finally come, are quite hard-hitting. It's just too bad that for roughly three quarters of the game, the story is resting in neutral. Making matters worse, the battling is just annoying with hordes of enemies designed to provide as many minor frustrations as possible until you reach the point where you just want to run from every single fight. Or better yet, run from Hercules no Eikou III to a game that poses its challenges in a manner that's actually fun.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (December 19, 2014)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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