The Battle of Olympus Game Review (NES)

Updated: Nov 18, 2021



I recently finished playing The Battle of Olympus on NES. Below are my thoughts on what I thought of the game.


Background


The Battle of Olympus is an 2D action adventure game created by Japanese game developer Infinity for the NES. The game was released in Japan and UK in 1988 and 1991 respectively; in these territories it was published by Imagineer Co. Ltd. In the US, the game was released in 1989 and was published by Brøderbund Software, Inc. By the late 80s, Infinity had already released two games, but these were based on previously existing material; The Battle of Olympus was their first original title.

Orpheus visits a ruined temple...


The Battle of Olympus was the brainchild of programmer Yukio Horimoto, who hit on the idea of developing a game set in a mythological Ancient Greece. Back in the 80s, games based on Greek mythology were thin on the ground (Kid Icarus, released for the NES in 1987 and an excellent title in its own right, notwithstanding). Amazingly, only three people worked on The Battle of Olympus: Yukio Horimoto acted as designer and programmer; his wife, Reiko Oshida, handled the art and graphics; between them they developed the story of the game, loosely based on the mythological tale of Orpheus and his beloved Eurydice. Rounding out the trifecta was composer Kazuo Sawa, who has since amassed a long list of credits; he handled the music and soundtrack.

Orpheus fights an optional boss...


Gameplaywise, the game was inspired by Zelda II: A Link to the Past, as Yukio Horimoto himself has stated in interviews such as the one conducted by usgamer.net. Now, I haven't played Zelda II myself, but I reliably told similarities include making The Battle of Olympus a 2D action adventure game and the inclusion of similar (although not identical) gameplay mechanics. Apparently the final boss battle in The Battle of Olympus is also modelled on the final fight in Zelda II. If I ever get to play A Link to the Past, I might do a detailed comparison between the two titles.


Finally, I recommend reading Yukio Horimoto's interview with usgamer.net here: https://www.usgamer.net/articles/legend-of-love-the-making-of-the-battle-of-olympus


Orpheus leaves a fountain...


Story


As mentioned above, the story of The Battle of Olympus is loosely based on the mythological tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus was far and away the best musician in Ancient Greece; his chosen instrument was the lyre; no-one could play as movingly or beautifully. Even the Sirens were no match for his music. Orpheus' one true love was Eurydice. One day she was bitten by a snake and died. Orpheus was devastated by the loss; after much mourning and moping about, he determined to descend into the Underworld and bring his beloved back to life...

Snakes... Why did it have to be snakes?


When I say, The Battle of Olympus is loosely based on Greek mythology, I really mean that. Your character's name is also Orpheus, but your beloved is called Helene in this version. Not that it matters, as you can change the name of both characters. Orpheus and Helene are very much in love. One day, however, Helene is apparently poisoned by a snake and dies, Orpheus mourns the death of his one true love. So far, so like the original mythological tale. However, all is not what it seems. As Orpheus is moping in his own misery, he's paid a visit by Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. "Orpheus," she says, "Helene is not actually dead. She's been kidnapped by Hades and taken to his palace in the very depths of Tartarus!" Orpheus is stunned, he can't believe it. "Furthermore," Aphrodite continues, "the only way to rescue her is to find three nymphs who will help you get to Tartarus. Only then will you be able to defeat Hades and rescue Helene." Filled with renewed purpose, Orpheus travels across Ancient Greece on an epic quest to defeat Hades and rescue Helene...

Let there be light...


Presentation


Upon inserting the Battle of Olympus cart and powering on the console you're greeted with the title screen, First the the game title appears onscreen and rolls upwards while a marching tune plays in the background. The title comes to an end and a Greek temple with the sea in the background appears on screen; stars appear behind it. The music changes to a whimsical but yet strangely melancholic tune that plays in the background, while the game waits for you to press START. It's a simple, quasi mysterious opening designed to hook players in. Those looking for a more bombastic opening won't find it here; there's no opening cinematic opening; no intro cutscene like there is in Crystalis or Castlevania, nothing to really set the scene. A player wishing to know more about the story before setting off on the adventure would have to look at the manual, as it explains the events that led to Orpheus setting off on his quest.

The US title screen...


Press START and you're automatically taken to the name select screen. Ominous music plays while you name your hero and and heroine. Finishing naming your characters and you're then presented with a colourful and beautiful rendition of the world map (I love it) which shows all the different areas you'll be able to visit in Ancient Greece, bar one. The music shifts here from ominous to triumphant, and the stage is set for the adventure to start. Press START and you're thrown directly into the first area of the game. Whether you like the overall presentation depends on whether you enjoy opening cinematics or prefer something more low key. I personally didn't mind it.

The name creation screen - not the prettiest but it does the job...


Shifting gears slightly, I really like how the game HUD is presented; it's neat, tidy and only takes up the top part of the in-game screen. In the top left you have a mini-map that tells you what area of the world you're currently in. Next to it is your life meter; when you start the game you have exactly 8 bars of health (each bar is made up of a thunderbolt sliver - I think). In the top right you have three square boxes. The left-most one shows how many olives you're currently carrying; olives are basically the game's currency, and you'll need to use them to buy certain items and weapons. It's also really cool that the olive at the top of the box is animated to glow like a piece radioactive fruit, just like the olives in the actual game do. The centre box shows what weapon you're carrying. The right-hand box shows what special item you currently have equipped; special items are used by pressing the SELECT button. The wreath with the heart at the centre is mainly decorative and reminds the player of the love that Orpheus and Helene have for each other, and also the fact that you need to collect three tokens of love to mount a successful rescue mission.

What the HUD looks like at the start of the adventure...


Pressing START takes you to the item select screen, and again I like how neatly everything is laid out. The HUD once again takes up the top part of the in-game screen. Below it are menus that shows the different items/weapons you can take with you on your quest; each of them has its own graphical representation on the screen. The top menu is for your weapons. Any time you find a new weapon it gets added here. The next menu is for items that can be used by pressing the SELECT button in-game, for example the Harp or Ocarina. The next menu is for items whose properties are added automatically (so you don't need to press SELECT to use them). So for example, once you find the Sandals of Hermes, simply pressing the jump button in-game will allow you to walk on ceilings. The last menu is reserved for the three tokens of love. Each time you find one, it will get added to this menu. Items can be selected by pressing the A button.

The item selection menu with all the items collected...


Graphics


The graphics in The Battle of Olympus are very impressive, especially for an 8-bit system. The sprites are nice and big; the monster designs are generally very well done - the boss creatures in particular - although some of the normal enemies don't exactly leap off the the screen (I'm looking at you slimes, bats and snakes). In general, there is a decent variety of enemies, including satyrs, scorpions, eagles, lions, bulls, monkeys, slugs and even poison plants! The vast majority of boss creatures are ripped straight from the pages of Greek mythology, and they're a lot of fun to fight. The Hydra makes an appearance (not exactly looking like the version that Hercules fought) as does the Cyclops, the Minotaur and several others. In general, the animations are decent, if a little rote.

A somewhat familiar foe takes aim at Orpheus...


One other note on the graphics. The Greek Gods all make an appearance in this game as well, showing up to help Orpheus in his quest to defeat Hades. Disappointingly, they all look very similar: tall hippie looking humanoids that wear togas and floral wreaths. Only Hades sports a different look. They look OK, but one wonders that a little more variety in the designs of the Greek Gods wouldn't have gone amiss.

Orpheus bows down before Athena...


The big winner in the graphics department are the areas you visit in the game; these are large and varied, from tranquil woodland forests to dark caverns, ruined temples, mountaintops, villages; towns, labyrinths, poison swamps, and more. Each area uses a unique and diverse colour palette that enhances the mood and atmosphere of the same. The music is also used to great effect in these areas. For example, in the more sedate and relaxed areas such as the woodland forests, the music is generally more whimsical. In the more dangerous, difficult areas, it changes to something more ominous and dark. Boss fights have their own musical cues as well. It's a great way to pull players into the world of The Battle of Olympus, and overall, the music is great for an an 8-bit title.

Lovely stroll in the garden... just beware the poison plants...


Gameplay


Now we get to the meat and bones of the article. The Battle of Olympus is a 2D action adventure game and plays as such. I've seen people refer to it as an action RPG, but I don't think this is the case for several reasons. Firstly, although you increase your health bar , you you don't actually level up any stats. Secondly, you can't upgrade any of the weapons in the game (apart from two specific ones). Usually, you find more powerful weapons during the course of the game. Thirdly, even though the game is set over one large world with no stages, the progression through the game is fairly linear, with some backtracking to find certain items involved.

The world map... All areas are visible from the start... except for one...


That said, the game is not entirely devoid of RPG-like elements. For example, the player has the opportunity of discovering and talking to NPCs, who'll provide hints as to where to go next and what do to. Some even have mini quests for players to embark on. And there are two weapons in the game that you can actually upgrade (one by finding a particular NPC and another by collecting a specific item). Of course, you would expect to find these elements in a game inspired chiefly by Zelda II: A Link to the Past.

An NPC gives Orpheus a hint...


Let's get to specifics then. The Battle of Olympus plays just like you'd expect for a game of its type. At the start of the adventure you start off with a simple club and very little health. Pressing the A button makes Orpheus jump; pressing the B button makes him attack with whatever current weapon he has currently equipped. As a side note, killed enemies drop either olives (again, the game's currency) or thunderbolt slivers that restore Orpheus's health bar; you can pick these up by crouching or jumping onto them. As players progress through the game, they'll find items such as Ambrosia, which increases overall health, as well as weapons and items that help deal more damage and make progressing through the world easier. Early in the game, for example, they will be able to acquire the aforementioned Sandals of Hermes; by pressing and holding the jump button, Orpheus can walk on ceilings. As mentioned, talking to NPCs can also yield clues as to what to do next. And in this particular game, the clues are are actually viable and make sense, unlike in other games. Overall, I found the controls tight and responsive, with a couple of exceptions that I'll elaborate further down.

Orpheus visits Attica and fights a couple of scorpions... Sadly not giant scorpions...


Sometimes, Orpheus can move from location to location by entering through a door or cavern entrance, or walking off the edge of one area and finding himself at the start of another, or even killing a boss. However, traversing the world also requires finding and using certain items. For example, Orpheus can use the Ocarina to summon a dolphin to take him across the sea to another area of the game. During his journey, Orpheus will also be able to count on the winged horse, Pegasus, to take him to hitherto inaccessible areas. Another item enables Orpheus to collect nectar from fountains to refill his health. So, there are a plethora of ways in which Orpheus can become stronger, overcome obstacles and progress through the game.

Orpheus takes a ride on a Dolphin...


Speaking of items, the way to obtain them differs. Specific items such as the Sandals of Hermes or Shield of Athena are given to you by the Gods as gifts. Other items you have to buy from the Gods using olives. Specific items can cost 60, 70 or even 80 olives. This may seem exorbitant (and it is to a degree) but trust me you'll want to add the items to your repertoire. For example, the Ocarina costs 60 olives but having it means you'll be able to summon a dolphin to help you cross the ocean. The only snag is that if you die before completing a transaction, you'll lose half your olives. Bummer. There is a way to prevent this though. The game has no battery save feature, but players can visit one of the Gods in their temple and obtain a password (these are long winded affairs typical of the NES era). If you then die and choose to retry, you will not lose your olives.

Gaea is pissed off at being woken up...


In terms of difficulty I would say the game is fairly balanced. The enemies in the early stages of the game are not too tough and can be easily dealt with. Later enemies can become troublesome (or annoying might be a better word), but not to the point of overtaxing the player. Finding new items and weapons means that players always have a fighting chance against new enemies or bosses. And speaking of bosses, I found I was able to defeat most of them within a handful of tries; in fact, only a couple of late game bosses gave me real trouble. I was eventually able to overcome them, and I don't consider myself to be an exceptional player. So I would say the difficulty is pitched just about right: challenging but not insurmountable.

Orpheus summons Pegasus at a Sunstone statue...


There are a few things in the game that I found slightly annoying but not deal breaking. The winged sandals allow you to walk on the ceiling by keeping the jump button pressed. Press the jump button = normal jump. Hold the jump button = walk on the ceiling. Sounds simple enough, but sometimes in the heat of battle (or just plain avoiding enemies), switching between the two is not smooth and I found myself either jumping to the ceiling when I didn't want to or unable to come down from the ceiling precisely when I wanted to. Also, there are a couple of enemies that were more annoying than they should have been; for example, bats seem to have no set pattern, so avoiding them was a pain. Similarly, the birds that constantly fly by and drop rocks on you were more grating anything else. Finally, I had some issues either walking inside doors when I didn't meant to, or going up and down steps and suddenly moonwalking and not being able to go in the desired direction. However, these are minor quibbles in what's essentially a polished and entertaining game.

A poisoned swamp...


Conclusion


If I have come across as harsh in my review so far, I have not meant to. I actually enjoyed my time with The Battle of Olympus. The Ancient Greek setting is great, as is getting to fight a whole array of monsters and enemies from Greek mythology (even if they don't always look or act like their literary counterparts). The areas are varied and unique, with their own colour scheme and musical cues. The gameplay is fun for the most part and you get a wide variety of weapons and items. The way you traverse across the world is fairly unique as well (even if it is mostly point to point), and the map is fairly big for an 8 bit title. If you have even a passing interesting in Greek mythology, exploring a large, diverse world, a good soundtrack or satisfying combat, I recommend you check this game out. For a title that was made by only three people, the result is an impressive and polished entry in the distinguished NES library.

A happy ending awaits... if you can defeat Hades...




36 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All