I’m going to be honest, I really have no idea what to say about Super Hydlide. In fact, the reason I haven’t updated in five months isn’t because of a lack of time or interest, it’s because Super Hydlide is such an inscrutable beast of a game that I am honestly left without words to describe it’s unique brand of incomprehensibility. Even for a series famous (if at all) for it’s questionable merit and inscrutability, Super Hydlide is a complete enigma of a game. And this is the same series that gave us Virtual Hydlide for the Sega Saturn:
Hydlide as a series tends to get a lot of flak from the LOL BAD GAMES crowd, and it is pretty easy to see why. When the first game came out for a fistful of Japanese personal computers in 1984, it was a vast open-ended adventure that was a formative influence on the nascent action RPG genre. But by the time that the Famicom port limped to American Nintendos in 1989 courtesy of FCI (the company also tellingly responsible for the horrible SNES reworkings of later Ultima games), we had already been spoiled by the likes of Legend of Zelda and the Master System port of Ys. The very gameplay of Hydlide seemed outright broken in light of its progeny, to say nothing of bad graphics or the single repetitive jingle that played you through the entire game. But if one stuck with the game (which understandably very few did) they’d find a pretty expansive adventure that nearly, but not quite, made up for the game’s legion of flaws.
Coincidentally, 1989 is also when Japan saw it’s second third-party Mega Drive release in Super Hydlide, an enhanced port of the third and penultimate in the series, the excellently titled Hydlide 3: The Space Dream. Rather than evolve with the genre, Hydlide seemed to surrender itself to its natural niche and just complicated the formula. New to the series (at least to Americans, who never received the second game) are largely interchangeable character classes and an opaque morality system that punishes you for fighting certain creatures by having plot-essential NPCs refuse to talk to you and shops overcharge for goods. This being an action fantasy game from mid-80’s Japan, there is a huge amount of hidden content in the game, most of which is effectively required for progress between marathon bouts of experience grinding. To further complicate things, every character has a rather strict weight limit before they are immobilized, and everything from equipment to money acts against this.
Perhaps an example can explain why this game has actively stymied any attempt to write about it: The first goal of the game is to reach Subterranean City from the starting area of City of Forest. God help you if you started the game as a Thief (which feels like a mistranslation, because the class itself has more in common with the traditional fantasy barbarian) though, because your Morality Factor will be too low for many NPCs to tell you this. And even if you set out immediately for Subterranean City, which is about a dozen screens away from City of Forest, you’d most likely be instantly taken down by Cannibals (which are, naturally, carnivorous trees that eat you). So the natural inclination here would be to go out of town and grind for levels. However, unless you are extremely efficient at grinding, this is a losing proposition, as experience is scarce and money rarely drops fast enough to replenish the rations you need to eat every six hours to prevent death by starvation. In addition, the money will drop in coins worth 10 gold, each, which will weigh you down incredibly quickly. The quickest way around the experience issue is to go to the lake within City of Forest and use a 10 gold coin at a very specific spot to the left of the decorative bridge and kneel, where tossing a coin in for good luck apparently made the hero find thirty experience, which is roughly 7.5 slimes per coin toss. This doesn’t actually use the coin, so the player should repeat this for several levels, which takes up half of the in-game day. Doing this doesn’t raise your morality or money, so you still need to intersperse actual monster slaying, which is not nearly as generous with experience. So to get around your money weighing you down, you need to go find a money changer, which is apparently a heavy machine that automatically reorganizes your coins in the largest possible denominations, and is hidden about seven screens from City of Forest with very few (if any) hints. On your way there you may as well stop at a shrine that contains the entire game’s soundtrack, and walk through a wall within and kneel at a very specific spot to pick up a 10,000 Gold coin. But be sure to make it back to City of Forest and to the inn by 11 PM, or else you’ll get sleepy and start losing hit points at an alarmingly rapid rate. From being sleepy.
Now you can hopefully see where this game has utterly mystified me. The things like the 10,000 Gold coin and pond-side experience are ostensibly hidden bonuses or cheats, but in the harsh world of Super Hydlide they are effectively necessary to make any semblance of progress. But the entire fun of the game, as it is, can be found in these moments. The sense of exploration is still engaging 20 years after the fact, and the game hits all the experience grind pleasure centers of your reptilian brain. But there’s a reason I have no idea what happens after you go to Subterranean City: despite my fondness for little-loved games, I honestly can’t recommend this one. Even though the game takes a major step forward for the series with actual Legend of Zelda style attacking instead of holding down a button and hoping for the best, it’s still extremely choppy even before you factor in the fact the game takes away your ability to control your character for a certain percentage of time calculated by the weight of objects you are carrying. And the game is ugly. Hideous, really. I have no idea how anyone played it on a tiny television with an RF connection. I feel like there is a certain responsibility not to hold a game’s age against it, especially when that accounts for the majority of the flaws. However, Super Hydlide is defined by these flaws, which started as the price of innovation and became the character of the series. Such is the cost of trying something new.