Damn, I hate this game.
That's the only fitting introduction I could devise. Seriously. I enjoyed The Battle of Olympus a little bit when I first started playing, but by the second, and any subsequent, sitting, I knew something was wrong. I had expected, based on first impressions, that it would be an epic adventure along the same vein as Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, although set in Ancient Greece. But unlike Zelda, The Battle of Olympus is a bitter shell of what should have been. Playing it feels like an uphill battle in futility, and frankly, the mighty wisdom of Error has never been more necessary.
Set in times long ago when the leaves of olive branches and bedsheets were fashionable, we follow the troubling path of Orpheus, a young warrior whose lady love, Helene, has been abruptly killed by ... what?
Thanks, Cedric. Cedric the Owl, everybody! *applause*
Anyway, it turns out that this whole "poisonous snake" story is a load of malarky. Leave it to that ass of the underworld, Hades, to be the real heathen behind this series of events -- he's even turned her to stone! What a butt. You, though, initially quite weak, will slowly build your strength and save that rock-hard damsel. Luckily, the Gods seem to like you and well help, though often for a price (in olives -- what kind of currency is this?). I swear, even Greek gods have gone commercial. Has the world gone mad?
Orpheus is indeed a warrior, but damn, is he ever a surprisingly pitiful one, and therein lies the game's most obvious flaw: it's simply too difficult to hit things. Orpheus starts out with just a puny club the size of a TV remote. The weapon couldn't hit the broad side of a colosseum. A squirrel could take you down with such poor offensive power. In fact, the very first enemy you encounter is a slime -- not exactly the most creative but certainly a common foe to many games. You have to be quite skilled to even hit that; you won't be smacking it at regular height, and it's even too short to whack when you're crouching! You have to catch it when it's leaping in the air. They sure made life a living hell right from the get-go. And fighting doesn't get much more pleasant. Most weapons you receive down the line, though more powerful, do not give you any extra range against those forsaken slimes. Your only salvation is the Staff of Fennel, which can be blessed with the power to spout little fireballs on a downward arc. That actually IS the weapon of choice, if only because of its range. Now, granted, Zelda II also had a short weapon, but at least Nintendo was kind enough to counteract that little nuisance with the ability to thrust upward and downward. In The Battle of Olympus, you get to do neither. It's straight forward or bust. Some extra moves or weaponry would have come in very handy, especially given the pixel-perfect accuracy you often need to defeat bosses. With the game also throwing many cheap enemies your way ("cheap enemies" referring to those whose attacks are quite difficult to avoid and take away plenty of your precious health), the trek becomes frustrating, especially when death officially becomes Orpheus' new hobby.
Special Guest Stars: Zeus as Himself; Pegasus as Himself; Really Short Blue Blob as Annoying Blue Blob
The Battle of Olympus IS difficult. There is no question about that, and it's a frustrating reality in this game. There are, however, ways to make yourself stronger in the face of adversity. First and foremost are your weapons, which range from the aforementioned club/toothpick equivalent to a magic staff and then to swords. Shields add a little bit of protection... but definitely not enough. You can also greatly increase your health bar by finding Ambrosia. Five of them can be found throughout the land and are hidden quite well; you'll have to work hard for most of them. There are other items to be picked up throughout your quest, the most useful being the Trojan Pitcher (and there's nothing funny about that name), which is the equivalent of a bottle from the Zelda series; filling it with delicious nectar from any fountain will let you refill your energy at any time. That's right: fountains don't have water, just nectar. Don't ask about plumbing in Ancient Greece; I know nothing. Yet even with these amenities, life is still horrible for Orpheus. Bosses are challenging, but the hard part is getting to them with any health remaining. Henchmen are such a bitch sometimes.
At least the game tries to be somewhat true to Greek geography. Many of the scenic locales are directly related to towns and regions in Ancient Greece. Orpheus has to visit many actual places such as Argolis, Phrygia, Crete, and even the town of Athens (which seemed very small on the NES by comparison -- it only housed four people, I believe). And all of these areas are moderately detailed, though Athens is definitely an eye-sore. Looking at purely white houses can be taxing on the eyes. Just... focus on Orpheus and you'll survive without needing laser surgery. Most of the other areas won't give your corneas a workout, which is nice.
Orpheus encounters every irritating enemy imaginable. I feel for the guy.
I won't lie: the music is actually annoying in this game, particularly the first theme you hear when you start a new game. It sounds catchy at first, but after a few loops, you'll feel your cochleas begin to churn in agony. None of the other tunes stand out, but at least they don't make you want to strangle a squirrel. And as long as I'm complaining, this game has an impressively long password system, too. I'd say 26 characters (lowercase, uppercase, numbers, and punctuation combined) is a bit extreme. And it seems arbitrary, too, because you can get a password from one of the gods, and then ask again directly afterward and get a completely different password. Plus the font is sometimes arbitrary and you can easily confuse a few characters and render whatever you wrote down null, void, useless, and infuriating.
The Battle of Olympus had potential, but due to poor offensive abilities and, as a direct result, a perplexing difficulty level, the game falls flat on its face. The game has its fun points, and contrary to what I just said a moment ago, the game CAN be completed. But the long journey was indeed a tiring one, both for our pal, Orpheus, and for me. Too many trifling deaths, too many lengthy expeditions through Greek seasides, and too many wasted flicks of a pitiful club forced me to experience more suffering than entertainment.