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
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
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. . .