Holy Diver
Box Shot
Holy Diver
Platform: Famicom
Publisher: Irem
Designer: Irem
Genre: Action
Players: 1
Published Date 1989
Reviewed by: Rob Strangman

The Japanese seem to get every game that's released, whether it's good or bad. It's not very often that you'll hear of a game being canceled in Japan. Unfortunately, a lot of games slated for a U.S. release get canceled before they make it here, because of "lack of interest" or some other bogus claim. More often than not, U.S. gamers never find out why these games are canceled, either.

Irem's Holy Diver is one of those Japanese games that falls into this category: it was due to be released in the U.S. in 1989 (along with the much anticipated Gradius II) but was canceled due to reasons still unknown to us. There was even a picture and a short writeup run in Electronic Gaming Monthly that year stating that it was due out here, but for some reason the game was pulled. Now that Irem has gone under, we'll probably never know why. If you happen to stumble across a copy, though, grab it. It's a very fun game in the vein of Castlevania.

I have no idea what the plot to this game is, because the instructions are written entirely in Japanese. However, I could read one thing: the number 666. It's been thought that this is the story of a "holy" warrior descending (or "diving") into Hell in the the year 666 to destroy Satan (and this is why the plug was pulled), but this is all speculation. It doesn't matter, though: it's a very fun game.

The resemblance to Castlevania is what attracted me to Holy Diver in the first place: the main character resembles a Belmont, and a lot of the enemies have attack patterns like the ones in Castlevania. The game itself plays like a cross between Castlevania and the Sega Genesis game Mystic Defender (a really cool first generation Genesis game). The character (I'm just going to call him HD from now on) shoots fireballs out of his hands like Joe Yamato (the main character of Mystic Defender). Also (much like Joe), he gets special powers at the end of each board (for reference, these are Twin Fire (which you start with), Blizzard (level 2), Breaker (level 3), Over Drive (level 4), and "Thonder" (I think they mean "Thunder", don't you?) (Level 5)).

There are five levels in the game, and unlimited continues. There are no passwords, though it would have been nice. Graphically, the game is nicely done, having some of the better-looking graphics I've seen come out of the NES (Check out the crosses on the wall in the first level to see what I mean). The enemies are nicely detailed, and HD is is pretty detailed himself. The controls are fairly smooth, although jumping and switching weapons in the middle of battle can be a pain sometimes. HD doesn't only bear a resemblance to the Belmont family, he also jumps like them. The music is alright, although slightly annoying at times (except for the first level music - that's pretty cool).

The game is tough, so don't expect to walk right through it. The unlimited continues definetly help. A lot of the enemies take several hits before they go down; I'd recommend a controller with a turbo setting for HD's regular weapon.

All in all, it's quite an enjoyable game. Of course, with Famicom games being so hard to find these days (even in Japan), you might search for ages and never find a copy. But if you happen to get lucky and dig one up, get it. It's a good addition to anyone's NES library.

Perhaps HD is a distant relative of the Belmonts. Maybe. We'll probably never know for sure. . .