Super Hydlide (10/6/1989)

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.

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7 Responses to Super Hydlide (10/6/1989)

  1. Octopus Prime says:

    Its like a beautiful dream.

    Completely disjointed and makes you confused rather then relaxed.

  2. Andrew Weiss says:

    My friend demonstrated the gameplay to me back in the day, and I could not wrap my head around how so much of it is based on punitive measures.

    It makes Demon’s Souls feel like the 2008 Prince of Persia game by comparison.

  3. captainphat says:

    M-more posts!?

    My body is ready for as much Genesis as it can handle.

  4. Dr. Sparkle says:

    I’m all for a video game series keeping its sense of identity through multiple generations of hardware…. but, Jesus, those screenshots make it look like the NES Hydlide with brighter colors.

    I’ve been curious about this game, but that curiosity is now rapidly diminishing.

  5. Samael says:

    This is a game that only works in it’s own time period, in a land that respects it. Can you imagine the excitement of being the first to discover the 10,000 gold coin, and taking credit for that discovery? It’s almost like the secrets in Mortal Kombat. Either you’re the kind of person who thinks the search for Reptile was worth it, or you’re the kind of person who thinks you should be able to play the entire game without almost hacking it, and neither side thinks the other really understands what gaming is all about.

    Honestly, I walked away from your review with a genuine respect for the series now. I wish I had time to play something that deep beneath the surface.

  6. Sean697 says:

    I think that I bought this game purely on the basis of A:) There were not many RPG’s available for any system at the time. And B:)There was game called Hydlide on the NES that I thought I heard was somewhat good and by golly, this was SUPER Hydlide! Well I was sorely dissapointed but of course grinded my way through and beat the game. If there wasn’t such a lack of games at the time I surely would never have even bothered. For the life of me know I can’t remember anything substantial about this game other than I would go to the aforementioned sound test screen and play this song (Fairy something?) that at the time by god I thought was the best piece of music ever heard on a videogame console. It was that kind of light jazzy sounding piece with the flute. Oh and I would also listen to that Dragon song you include on the PSGYEARONE soundtrack blasting away on my friends dad’s stereo. Honestly was there any better sounding synthesized electric guitar track up until that point in time? I honestly let my friend borrow my Genesis for a week and the only playing he did with this game was to listen to the soundtrack on the soundtest screen. I give you credit, I could never go back and replay this game again. But I do remember at that RPG starved period of time at least getting some enjoyment out of it.

  7. matt c says:

    You don’t lose hitpoints from being sleepy. You lose STR from being sleepy (which can affect your LC (total carrying capacity)) and makes your weapons useless (you get the ‘armor class exceeds creature damage ‘TING’ sound effect)

    You lose HP from not having food (you can tell when the Hero eats food because of the ‘sproing’ sound effect). If you have four Food Rations for example, you can survive without HP loss from waking at 07:00 until 13:00 the following dat (he eats at 13:00, 19:00, 1:00 and 7:00). With ten Foods, you could keep your HP for ages, but you’d be sleepy.

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