Hello and welcome! My name is Katosepe and I’ll be your host for today’s Video Game of the Day.
Licensed games are nothing new. Games based on other media properties such as movies and TV shows have been around for a long time. We’ve had games based on books and comics and anime, all sorts of things. But did you know we’ve had a game based on a music album? It’s probably not one you’d expect either. Today’s game is Holy Diver, developed by Irem and released exclusively in Japan on the Famicom in 1989.
As fans of 80’s metal have likely already figured out, Holy Diver is a game inspired by the metal genre, with the name Holy Diver coming from the debut album of the band Dio. Holy Diver, the game not the album, takes place in the year 666 and The Black Slayer has come to take over the world of magic. The Crimson Emperor Ronnie the 4th sends his children Randy and Zakk into exile with his most faithful servant Ozzy to be trained as wizards. 17 years later, Randy returns to find the five Crimson Emblem Seals and defeat the Black Slayer and his army. Yeah.
The game is a 2D side scrolling action game and has been compared to Castlevania in both style and difficulty. After each level, Randy receives additional magic powers which he can use to get through the later levels. Randy can swap between his magical abilities in a pause menu, similar to the NES Mega Man games, with his default fireball spell always being available. There are six levels in Holy Diver, five for seeking out each of the Crimson Emblem Seals and one to defeat Black Slayer himself.
Referencing western music icons is nothing new in this era of gaming. Ozzy himself is also the namesake of the character Ozzie from Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. Still, having this level of devotion is fairly unique with nearly every character, location and even most of the enemies having their roots in 80’s metal history.
While you’d expect that this game, with all of its many references and themes, would be an officially licensed Dio game, it actually has no affiliation with any band or label at all. Some have speculated that this could be the reason why it was never localized but there are other possible answers to that as well. Nintendo of America had known rules about religious imagery and Holy Diver not only has the word Holy in the title but contains numerous images of crosses and demonic enemies. It’s possible they blocked release without changes Irem wasn’t willing to make. It’s also simply possible that the game was deemed too difficult for western audiences, a common sentiment among Japanese developers at the time.
Whatever the case was, Holy Diver would not see a western release on the NES until 2018 when company Retro Bit obtained the licenses and released several collectors editions of Irem’s games, including Holy Diver.
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