#588: The Battle of Olympus

A Greek mythology-flavored Zelda II spiritual sequel — like Zelda II needed one

june gloom
5 min readMay 20, 2024

Initial release: March 31, 1988
Platform: NES, Game Boy
Developer: Infinity/Radical Entertainment (Game Boy version)

The Legend of Zelda, being one of the most popular video game franchises ever, has had quite a lot of imitators over the years. From The Binding of Isaac to Okami to Horizon: Zero Dawn, the various ways the series has evolved over time can be seen reflected in their clones. And of course it’s not just recent games — developers have been ripping off the adventures of Link for decades. Take, for instance, The Battle of Olympus, developed by the husband and wife team of Yukio Horimoto and Reiko Oshida (under the name of Yukio’s company Infinity, a tiny dev outfit that initially seemed to exist largely to serve Yukio’s passion of bringing western games to Japan, with such credits like the PC-98 version of Doom, a project Yukio fondly remembers.)

The Battle of Olympus was supposed to be Infinity’s big success, with Yukio spending many sleepless nights to get the game out the door in time. He has cited Zelda II: The Adventure of Link as explicit inspiration, and indeed one can see the influence. It’s not a 1:1 clone, to be sure, but it’s close enough that one can see just how much of a glorified reskin it really is. A lot of the sprites are quite similar, with a similar one-frame wind-up when you swing your weapon. In retrospect that’s probably part of why the game was a big flop. In spite of its clunkiness, Zelda II could and continues to get by on the strength of the brand name; The Battle of Olympus with its extreme difficulty had no such cultural cachet, and as such has remained in obscurity for decades.

As the name suggests, The Battle of Olympus is rooted heavily in Greek myth (which, let’s be real, Zelda isn’t all that different from, especially aesthetically.) Helene, the girlfriend of Orpheus (no relation to the mythical figure, so far as I can tell?) has been kidnapped by none other than Hades himself, who seems on a tear across an ancient world teeming with monsters. Orpheus (or Orfeus as the character limit in the naming screen would have it) must venture across Greece to find a way into the underworld and rescue Helene. Beginning in the forests of Arcadia, he’ll visit Athens, Sparta, Crete, and more, fighting monsters mundane and out of myth and interacting with several of the big names in the pantheon to gain favor and passwords to preserve his progress with.

Like its primary inspiration, Battle of Olympus is hard. I don’t know how anyone could get through it without liberal abuse of emulator save states; at one point I wound up binding quickload to one of the shoulder buttons on my controller since I was hitting it so often. It might actually be one of the hardest, most unforgiving games I’ve played. While it plays quite a bit like Zelda II, you aren’t nearly as agile (no downward slash for you!) While there are a lot of clues — nearly everyone you talk to has useful information — it’s still rather opaque, and unless you’re closely following a walkthrough, it could take you a while to unlock everything. (And the walkthrough I was following did not tell me I needed 80 olives to buy something until I was already deep into the ruins of Crete! Thanks, asshole.) Getting around is also very unlike Zelda II; instead, the entire game is one long linked series of sidescrolling sections, with the “overworld” merely being a quick look at the map to tell you what area you’ve just entered. In this sense it sort of has a Metroidvania vibe, but Metroid and Zelda have always been two sides of the same coin.

What makes Battle of Olympus is almost entirely aesthetic. The Greek myth theme is rare even today, though the NES certainly had a few titles with it: Maze of Galious, the Glory of Heracles series, and of course Kid Icarus. Battle of Olympus, for its part, blends the theme with an already solid vibe from Zelda II, utilizing a similar palette (and whole-ass sprite and tile ripoffs) while going further and having some interesting backgrounds from time to time. Veteran composer Kazuo Sawa’s music, while mostly a lot of very brief loops, does a lot to bring a certain vibe to the proceedings (even when he’s reusing public domain music such as for the temples where you meet the various deities.)

While Battle of Olympus was a NES game, released at the height of the platform’s popularity, it did curiously have a Europe-only Game Boy port, developed by Canadian outfit Radical Entertainment (the Simpsons: Hit and Run and Prototype people.) Yukio actually had no idea this existed, which is funny by itself — likely it was mandated by either Imagineer (Infinity’s main publisher) or Brøderbund, the North American publisher. I haven’t played it, but it’s there if you want it.

I don’t know that I’d ever play Battle of Olympus again — it’s too hard, too obtuse — but I felt a sense of accomplishment when I’d completed it. I did like the final battle with Hades himself, a unique twist on the Dark Link battle from Zelda II. In this case, you need to use a certain crystal to make the moon appear, the moonlight causing Hades’ reflection to be visible on the lake that serves as the final arena, at which point you can see your enemy as he fights you in the endless night of Tartarus. There’s a lot of value in games like this, regardless of how poorly executed they sometimes are — they remind us that for some people, video game development is a true passion, an art form that doesn’t need to be dominated by corporate interests. I hope Yukio Horimoto is having a good day today.

-june❤

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june gloom

Media critic, retired streamer, furry. I love you. [she/her]