Out of the entire NES library one of the games I spent the most time with was the Battle of Olympus. Not because it was difficult or exceptionally long but because I never owned it and would lose my passwords whenever I gave it back. The fact that I had no reservations about playing it all over again should speak volumes to its quality. There weren’t many action RPGs worth a damn on the NES outside of the Zelda games and Crystalis so any decent entrant in that category was worth a like. But Battle of Olympus is far from decent; it’s a truly great game that I still enjoy playing today.
The game is loosely (and I mean loosely) based on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Greek history buffs will recall that Orpheus lost his bride in the Underworld after not adhering to the deal with Hades. Here however it’s a simple snatch and grab: Hades snatches Orpheus’ girlfriend and is holding her captive in Tartarus. Now it is your job to defeat Hades and get her back.
Battle of Olympus closest comparison would be Zelda 2. Both games share the same viewpoint and structure minus the overworld map. Even combat in general tends to be nearly the same. After gaining Zeus’s blessing the overall goal is to visit each of the gods throughout Greece and earn their help. Some will help willingly while others want a lot bit of money. The items you receive will allow you to delve deeper into the world and ultimately unlock the path to Hades. Many 8-bit games of this type suffered from rough localization and incredibly vague hints; anyone who tried to play Simon’s Quest is well aware. While that rings true to an extent here the game does a good job guiding players and isn’t as obtuse with its hints. If I could figure it out and beat the game at ten I’m sure most will not have any problems.
The list of items and equipment is pretty large with some pulled from the mythology and others possessing some creative attributes. The sandals not only allow you to jump but also walk on ceilings. The harp will summon Pegasus in specific locations but will also protect you from Siren’s song which is pretty clever. The Staff of Fennel not only shoots fire but can light dark rooms and burn trees. Some of the gear is optional (I don’t blame anyone if they don’t bother going through the hassle of getting the Salamander shield) but for the most part every item has a purpose.
Although Greece contains a few locations each is pretty large with later areas like Crete and Phrygia becoming veritable mazes. I was too stupid to draw my own maps when I was young and so there were times I became hopelessly lost but looking back that was no fault of my own. Despite its open structure there is a set path through the game. Navigation is done through various doors and holes which can be confusing and there is lots of backtracking. The game is a bit unique in that there aren’t dungeons per se. Each country could be considered a dungeon in its own right with the only the occasional town or villager.
While Battle of Olympus does not use experience points it does have its own form of grinding when it comes to Olives. Most of the gods are greedy bastards who will charge your for their help. Unfortunately their items are mandatory and don’t come cheap. The problem is the max you can carry are 99 olives. Most of the items you’ll need such as the Ocarina and the Divine Sword will run near the cap. The worst of this comes in Crete: both the Salamander Shield and Bracelet of Power cost 80 olives each. Crete is the worst area in the game with its maze of corridors so just finding both Gods is a task in itself. So after buying one item you’ll have to leave, grind, and come back. Dumb. Dying while on the way to an upgrade and losing half your money is soul crushing.
Overall this is rougher than the average adventure title. Initially your life bar is small and the early bosses such as the Lamia can kill you in seconds. Your only life bar upgrades need to be found or bought and these can be easily missed. Without these extensions later areas are a nightmare. Some bosses and even random enemies like the centaur are brutal due to the small reach of your weapons. While the staff and divine sword rectify this somewhat you still need to aim. And if you can believe there are bottomless pits like a platformer, and yes, you fall backwards when hit. Damn this really is just like Zelda 2!
All jokes aside however this was an amazing piece of work back then and still is now. Most adventure games from that era have aged poorly and while Battle of Olympus has its faults it is still a retro classic. The combination of its Greek setting and solid gameplay make it one of my favorite NES titles and one that I would still recommend today.