Review: Holy Diver (Famicom/NES 1989)

I first found out about Holy Diver in a famicom import article somewhere on the net and i knew immediately that i had to get this game. It is a Castlevania-ish game of hellish difficulty and it pays multiple tributes to heavy metal like the album Holy Diver by Ronnie James Dio of course, King Crimson and “Ozzy” as an example. The game was never released outside of Japan probably because of copyright issues which is a shame really.
So i think i have already established that we are diving (pun intended) into a game with a kickass theme and a bunch of potential but does the game live up to it?
Well, for starters the game plays and feels like a Castlevania game and your character (Randy) looks badass. The backgrounds and sprites look pretty good but the OST is kinda average, especially because the game starts reusing tunes from earlier stages later on. Still, if you listen closely you can imagine that the tunes would sound good if it was played by a proper metal band. Overall Holy Diver gives a great first impression, but very soon the game gives you a giant slap in the face and the difficulty gets so punishing that your only option is to hone your skills and memorize every small aspect of the stages.

The game has pretty cool scenery

Now normally I’m not against brutal difficulty in games like this, but the level of difficulty we are dealing here is just insane. Holy Diver is at a Battletoads/Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins level of brutality which is just too much, even for me…. The knockbacks are here in full force and some of the enemies act like jerks, but at least you can change your jumping direction in the air….
So yeah… i didn’t beat it. I got to the boss of level 5 (out of 6). Stage 4 has to be one of the most brutal video game creations of all time, luckily the game has infinite continues because it probably took me about 100 tries before i finally cleared the stage. Stage 5 was not as difficult but my impatience got the better of me, and the game has no saves, no passwords and no level selections which is Holy Divers’ 2nd biggest fault. After all Holy Diver is made by Irem, the same fuckers that gave us R-type.

Holy Diver_(NES)_04a
I found this pretty fun comparison to Castlevania on “super adventures in gaming”. The gameplay is very similar but in Holy Diver you can shoot upwards and change your direction mid-air. You are not stuck in the stairs and you can turn into a motherfucking dragon!

Now it might seem like I’m just ragging on the game so i have to remind me and you readers of that I actually had a bunch of fun playing it, and despite all that the game is fundamentally solid and well programmed. As you go you get new abilities a la Mega Man and you use them the same way you would use magic in Adventure of Link as in you pick a skill from the start menu and press select to activate it. Unlike Mega Man these are skills that you actually use in the game since many of them are really powerful, in fact clearing the game without them would be freaking impossible.


I was in Tokyo pretty much going to every other Hard-off store(2nd hand store chain) in the Kanagawa area and i found a copy of Holy Diver in great condition for about 60$ which is way below the internet prices so i could not resist, and i you spend 60$ on a game you just have to play it, you have to make those 60$ count. I spent a whole weekend (not the evenings though, then I went to parties like cool people such as myself do) trying  to clear the game but sadly i had to finally turn off my NES and give up. That was a pretty fun weekend and i still feel Holy Diver is a great game that deserves another shot from me to clear. Highly recommended if you are into games like Castlevania/Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins

Gameplay 8,5
Visuals 8
Music 7,5
Lasting appeal 7 (I’m throwing the no saves/password fault in here)
Has it aged well? 8

Overall 8 a very good game

Here some guy makes it look easy in a longplay:

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