This is the last of the five Glory of Heracles games that Data East published. The series began in 1987 as the first Dragon Quest-style RPG after DQ itself, and continued with one Famicom game, one Game Boy game, and two Super Famicom games. The third game is usually considered the high point of the series because of its strong storyline. This game is better than 3 in its interface and gameplay, but the story is not quite as good as the game is fairly short.
As with the previous games, the setting is based on Greek mythology, this time centering around the land of Atlantis.
Kurisu begins as a dog in a temple, with no intro or backstory. There's another dog that is sad to see me go, and an old woman -- Atropos, one of the three "weird sisters" spinning the world's fates. She is surprised to see I'm a dog, and then restores my memories, which leads to an extended flashback sequence.
Kurisu was born in Atlantis, 9000 years ago. There he was one of the students of Almora, who was researching eternal life. Kurisu's friend Platon is also a student, and they both have a crush on Elpira. But soon the Greeks attack the island, and though Hercules himself comes to protect him, the Greeks overrun the island. Kurisu escapes into the depths of Almora's research lab, and though everyone else is killed, Almora opens an Orichalcum box at the bottom. (There are battles in this section but you earn no XP)
The box turns out to be Pandora's box, which of course releases all the monsters, but Almora puts Kurisu and Platon inside the box. He tells us to come back to Atlantis to recover our bodies. Kurisu then appears 9000 years later as a disembodied spirit, charged by Atropos to figure out why the threads of fate are disappearing from the world -- this could lead to the extinction of humanity. Since he has no body, Kurisu has the ability to take over the bodies of certain people in the world he has an affinity with (the first one being this dog, Tanto).
This is the main system feature of the game. There are 101 characters throughout the game that Platon and Kurisu have "affinity" with. When you talk to someone and there's a flash of light, that means you can switch to their body. Each character has a specific weapon type they are proficient with, and also abilities that can be unlocked by gaining "FP" (fitness points) in battle. Each character has ten fitness levels. Bodies can be freely switched in and out of battle. Occasionally the switch can also have some benefits outside of battle, changing what people say or allowing you to access areas you wouldn't otherwise, but this doesn't happen that often.
Overall this is a fun system, and there is a wide variety of characters and abilities. I found two drawbacks, though. The first is that some of the abilities are very unbalanced. The sheep you can get in the first town has an ability that puts most monsters to sleep, including the final boss. Another character can quadruple the attack power of an ally.
The second drawback is that most of the good abilities are unlocked at Fitness Level 10, but at that point you want to switch to another character and so you don't really get to use the ability. Of course you can switch back and forth in battle but the interface to do that is (to me) too cumbersome, and the encounter rate too high, to really make that an attractive option. So it meant that a lot of times the interesting abilities went unused. I wish they had done something like this: rather than being able to switch to any body in combat, you can "equip" 3 or 4 bodies that you can switch between. You can change the equipped bodies out of combat. This way you could switch back and forth without having to scroll through 101 choices to find the person you're looking for.
I was the dog for a little too long because I couldn't figure out how to actually take the people's bodies (when you see the flash you then can get them from the "body" choice in the status screen). The world map seems to be based somewhat on the Mediterranean:
And the battle system is pretty much what you would expect.
The game also has the same shrine system as the third game, where you visit shrines of the greek gods around the world to learn spells. This time there are teleporters in the basement of each shrine that can send you to all the other shrines, which makes it much easier to pick up all the spells when you get a new person (this was an issue in 3). The priestesses are also all characters you can turn into.
You can get items from wells and pots in town, but your save file tracks how many times you've "stolen" and your party members don't like it. There's no game effect other than that, though.
Soon I met up with Platon. We recognize each other because one power we got from Pandora's Box was the ability to jump from a high place with no injury.
Platon is the only other character who can freely switch bodies. Together we decide that we need to get back to Atlantis, as Almora told us to do, in order to recover our original bodies. This requires a bird feather that can be enchanted to go anywhere; once we catch the bird, get the feather, and get the proper enchantment, it's off to Atlantis.
But there, the whole thing is sunk under the sea and only the battlements are left. Platon refuses to accept this is Atlantis until he sees graffiti that they left there as kids:
Incidentally this game makes frequent use of Mode 7 on the world map and benefits a lot from the HD Mode 7 feature on recent BSNES versions. (Right is original, left is 720p HD):
Heracles also appears at Atlantis and we leave in a ship, which crash lands on a different part of the continent. Continuing on, we learn that Trantia's king is called Almora, and he's apparently researching eternal life. Obviously this is our teacher that has somehow survived this long, and so now we try to chase him down. Trantia also has two very useful roles; a massage therapist that can cure status effects for everyone, and the researcher that can quadruple damage. We also get a fourth party member, Delia, whose mother is sick. She's interested in the eternal life, and is taken by Almora to his research lab, so we later follow them.
But Almora is already gone; he's moved on to the Pyramids in Egpyt to research mummification. We get a ship to Egypt but have to work as slaves to get the use of these desert creatures that let us travel on the desert. For some reason once we work a bit as slaves we're able to get the creature and then never work as slaves again -- the dialogue made it seem like we had been tricked and sold into slavery, but I guess not.
The Queen of Thebes is a useable character, and it's fun to walk around and talk to people as her. She also has pretty good stats, and can use any weapon.
Delia is in the pyramids, but she's been turned into some kind of zombie or mummy and doesn't remember her mother. Almora left a note apologizing that mummification isn't the right way to do eternal life, but he has moved on. At this point Heracles gets pissed off that we're putting our search for Almora and Atlantis over killing monsters, and he leaves. We move on back north, heading to Greece. The Spartan soldiers have all grown cowardly, thanks to the Fear monster in a nearby cave (presumably released from Pandora's Box).
Sparta also has an alchemy place and a "polishing" place where you can make weapons and armor. You can also melt down the ones you have to get the items necessary to craft new ones. I didn't make much use of this during the game but perhaps I should have used it more; I think you can get some good weapons and armor from using it.
Athens is up next, where there is a weak child king and a mute woman Paris that he seems to love. It turns out that Persia is preparing to attack Greece, and Platon really wants to stop the war, so we head off to Persia (with Paris following us). The random encounters I thought got much more difficult after this point in the game. In Persia we defeat the Hatred spirit that seemed to be messing with the king, but then fall into the underworld. Delia knows that she's done this before.
The reason Delia lost her memories is that she drank from the Lethe River in the underworld to be reborn. But when we beat up Charon she recovers her memory, and he sends us to Hades to figure out if we can be reborn. Heracles is also there, and he tries to convince Hades to let us go back, but instead he throws us into Tartarus.
It turns out that Paris is actually Epifa, the Atlantis girl that we both had crushes on. She's been reborn over and over again, but now gets all her memories back. It's easier than it should be to escape Tartarus, and we fall back to the earth. I'll pass over a few things and eventually we reach Troy, where we finally meet Almora. His goal is now to get revenge on all the gods for the destruction of Atlantis, so now we have to stop him too. Troy also has specialists in all the kinds of weapons, and they have some good abilities to learn. We're both now trying to get back to Atlantis, and for us, that means an underwater ship.
Unfortunately Poseidon sinks the ship and generally acts like a dick, but eventually Heracles talks him out of his anger and we finally make it to Atlantis....only to find that we can't open the way to the lab. Who else could do it but Atlas?
Unfortunately Almora is also trying to get Atlas to open the way, using his tower to support the world instead. Atlas begs us to get Medusa's Head and turn him to stone so that he can't be used for evil purposes. This requires using pegasus to go up to heaven, but we do manage it. Poor Atlas.
But now how to we get in? Wait, how did Heracles get in 9000 years ago? Well, he used the "Tear of Zeus", and by making one of those (from the King of Greece's necklace) we manage, at long last, to get into Atlantis.
This is the last dungeon.
Almora is there too, taken over by the spirit of Vengeance. First we have to fight Almora, who is immune to all the status effects and uses defense raising powers, and gets 2 actions a turn. This was the hardest fight in the game but Heracles has a defense-ignoring power which is the key to winning. Vengeance itself can be put to sleep.