Let me begin this post by saying the following: I actually legitimately, unironically love Hydlide. To a lot of people, this sounds ludicrous; like my myriad of mental illnesses have finally taken over to the point where I will say with 100% sincerity that Hydlide is a good video game.
This sounds ludicrous because, outside of Japan, Hydlide has been a running joke for so many years now. Frequently torn apart in reviews, most notably with the Angry Video Game Nerd and, ugh, ProJared. Given that its two biggest detractors are a gimmick not meant to be taken seriously, and a guy who got caught showing his dick to children last year, I feel like the game deserves better in the English speaking critical world. Which is why I’m here.
I’ll try to avoid going too in-depth in Hydlide’s history, since you can just read up on that on Wikipedia, but maybe a bit of context is necessary. Hylide was released in 1984 on Japanese computers, and along with Falcom’s Dragon Slayer and Namco’s Tower of Druaga (all released within months of one another), it kicked off the whole Action-RPG subgenre. So like, The Legend of Zelda would have been a game influenced by Hydlide. And also, strangely enough, Metal Gear Solid 5.
It was a big hit in Japan. However, over here, we did not get Hydlide until 1989, five years later. So we’ve already played at least two Zeldas, Faxanadu, and several other action-RPGs that long since expanded upon Hydlide’s foundation. Hell, Hydlide 2 and 3 were already out in Japan, with the Sega Genesis port of Hydlide 3 coming out in the US later in the same year. As a result, and without any context regarding Hydlide’s influence, all people saw was this game that looked worse, sounded worse, and arguably played worse (“arguably” is an editorial insert) that games that had come out in the past half decade.
But with all that said, I still like it. Charm and personality go a long way for me. I mean, the main character is a knight named Jim. Hardly a heroic name, to be certain. Jim the Knight has to rescue Ann the Princess from a demon named Varalys, who uses his magic to turn her into three fairies, who have been displaced across the country. It’s a very simple, stupid story that I can’t help but like it. It’s a game made during a time when technology and experience wasn’t really there to put together a compelling narrative. You combine that with its very lo-fi art style that I find to be very cute, and it’s a good time.
Admittedly, a lot of my love for these old, obtuse games tends to be superficial. Lo-fi graphics, nonsensical progression that sometimes feels like you’re accidentally making progress, big fan of all that. And Hydlide is full of it. Having to find a cross out in a field, so you can fight the Vampire in the castle. Searching a grouping of trees to find the right tree that contains a fairy, the others containing a group of dangerous bees. Having to defeat the Wizard by hitting him and his magic duplicate with a single “Wave” spell, which only travels horizontally, and you have to fight in a small vertical space. Avoiding a massive dragon, burning down a tree that blocks entry to the castle it’s guarding, also the only time you have to use magic on something besides an enemy. Like, this all sounds like a game design nightmare, but I love it. I’m not sure what it is about this era of esoteric cartoon logic design, but it’s extremely appealing to me. Probably because I grew up in a time where you needed to crouch and wait for a tornado, or blow up random walls, or stand in front of a waterfall for five minutes in real time. Probably because I’ve fallen back in love with obtuse shit in a post-Demon’s Souls world. Although, quick side bar: Falcom’s Legacy of the Wizard goes way too fucking far with that shit. There is a limit to what people can take.
Here’s a secret thing for you here: in this section of the desert, you have to hit three worms with one wave spell.
And when you do, these dinosaur footprints appear in the sand, and you get a full magic meter and unlimited magic for a short time. Of course, outside of two specific instances I’ve already mentioned, magic is more or less completely useless (it was added to the Famicom version to give it some added appeal to an audience more than familiar with the PC original), but it’s cool that it’s there.
So much like me, the game is cute and weird. And also like me, it has its problems. For one, something that will make itself readily apparent the moment you start the game is that fucking music. An irritating ten second loop that’s nearly a note-for-note ripoff of the Indiana Jones theme. It’s actually the title theme to Hydlide 2, but some rocket scientist at T&E Soft thought that a short loop originally meant for an opening “PRESS START TO CONTINUE” screen would be appropriate for the length of an entire game. My advice would be to turn down your emulator and listen to something a little more appropriate. Or at least something that doesn’t even last a full thirty seconds. That being said, it may as well be Yuzo Koshiro’s entire catalogue compared to the PC music, which is best described as a five second loop of noise.
Another complaint is that, because the game is so short, the grind for experience so bosses and higher-level enemies don’t immediately kill you can be long and tedious. I’ve alleviated this by using the Hydlide Rebalance ROM Hack, which reduces the grind by a significant amount.
You may have noticed that I’ve been talking about the Famicom port, and not the original computer game. This is because I skipped over it in favor of its 1999 remake. Yes, Hydlide has not one, but at least two remakes.
And the Hydlide remake is pretty much the same thing, but with new graphics and some new sound effects that sound as though they came from AOL Instant Messenger.
Main difference is that the magic system is not implemented here, so a couple of things are slightly different. For one, to defeat the Wizard, you just have to stab him and his clone after he’s shot you with his fire spell five times. And for the castle at the end, you just hit the space bar on the empty space in front of it.
The other difference is that rather than fixing the grind of the original game, the developers instead opted to include an “Overdrive!” mode. Press O on your keyboard, and you pretty much become completely overpowered, take almost no damage, and gain experience several times faster than you would normally. You can even one-shot the final boss while in Overdrive. So yeah, Hydlide Remake literally has a “win” button.
But it does have a neat feature of being able to switch back and forth between the new graphics, and the original PC look.
You can nab this version over at the Internet Archive. Keep in mind though that it does not include the arranged CD music, so you have to live with the shitty five second loop I mentioned earlier.
There was another remake on the Sega Saturn released a couple years earlier called Virtual Hydlide. It’s really good, but I feel like it’s deserving of its own write-up, due to how vastly different it is from the original (think along the lines of Resident Evil on Playstation compared to Resident Evil on Gamecube). I did do a stream of it last year, if you got a couple hours to kill and want to watch me play the game and make jokes the whole time.
Looking through the manual for Hydlide on the Famicom, there’s something towards the end that may catch your eye. Admittedly, this is actually the main reason I made this post in the first place.
It’s an advertisement for a cross-promotional single for Hydlide Special (the name of the Famicom port). The singer in question is Mayumi Chiwaki. Her heyday was in the 80s-early 90s, followed by short comeback from the the late 90s until 2001, where she settled into a radio gig.
I was a bit disappointed at first, if only because of my own brain immediately associating all 80s J-Pop with City Pop, and the dreamy synths it contains. But that’s just me being me. The song itself is fine, and it’s definitely a far cry from the Idol shit I posted in my piece on Heinkyo Alien.
Unfortunately, you can’t just search for “ANGEL BLUE” on YouTube and hope to find the track. This is thanks to Japanese music labels and their severe allergy to anyone actually being able to listen to their music. The most you’re going to get is a guy pointing a camcorder at his record player. It’s pretty fucking grim.
LUCKILY FOR YOU, I happen to have the song, which I’ve gone ahead and uploaded.
That’s Hydlide. A weird game that deserves better, especially now that thanks to From Software, jank is back in style. Go into it understanding that thirty-something years of technology and design has since built off of it, but you should still have fun with it.