Friday, July 25, 2014

Hydlide - A Journey of Hate, Dismemberment, and Discovery

Enter 1990 (maybe early 1991). Hot from months of playing through Final Fantasy(my introduction to the genre), I needed a new RPG to play, but I found my funds seriously lacking. So what do I turn to? The small wall of $20 games at the local Toys R Us. Obviously. And of that lean selection of 15 or so games, there was one that caught my eye, with the description of "Action fantasy role playing" on the back of the box. With a joy that only children with extra funds can know, I bought Hydlide, unaware in the slightest the impact this game would have on my life as a gamer.

Oddly enough on the car ride home I began to feel a bit of trepidation about my purchase. See, that particular wall of cheap games had bitten me before when I purchased King's Knight. Lured in by the price and the promise of "Action Adventure" on the cover, I had bought it without any research. It turned out the game wasn't bad, rather I didn't agree with the "Action Adventure" wording on the front of the box. As I sat in the back seat of my parent's station wagon with my new game, I tried to console myself that this time would be different. I had read the tiny review in Nintendo Power, and everything seemed fine, and the people at NP wouldn't steer me wrong. I opened the box, and everything changed forever.

Hydlide is an action-rpg developed by T&E Soft and published by FCI (in North America) in June of 1989. While the reception in the West was less than warm, Hydlide is a well liked and well respected game in its native Japan. Often seen as the successor of Dragon Slayer and the predecessor to Ys, Hydlide helped innovate this unique branch of action-RPG with regenerating health and two modes of action (attack and defend). This made progress much easier than in Dragon Slayer, where one had to stay close to shelter or risk loosing it all. In Hydlide one merely has to disengage the enemy, hide and wait for your health to come back. Easy-peasy. Fight, hide, fight, hide, rinse and repeat. Jim (the character you are controlling) will slowly gain experience until you level up and you can tackle stronger monsters. And you will be running and hiding. A lot. See, while this game is progressive in its own genre (in its own day), from 1989 and after it is a punishing and tedious game and offers little reward outside of The Grind. You remember <a href="">The Grind</a>, right? Created in a different time, Hydlide could have been subtitled The Grind. But don't mistake this statement, as grinding in Hydlide is very different than in many of it's predecessors and contemporaries. In Hydlide, one must be very patient and crafty in your movements. Remembering to click on the "Save" button (which allows you to load from that point should you die) is essential to success, as otherwise death is permanent. Die in this game without saving or generating a password and all will be lost. Taking on too many enemies with too little health or no escape and you will die. Neglect to use magic on certain enemies or explore (which will net you essential items) and you will die. Press an attack too much head-on on an enemy (pretty much any enemy) and you will die. Yet even with all this, there is a certain something about this game that had kept it in my mind.

Within a few minutes of playing Hydlide I knew that I had made a massive mistake. Granted, I was very well versed in making horrible gaming decisions (Victory Road instead of Simon's Quest, King's Knight, ignoring Dragon Warrior until 1994), but there was something else going on here. For the first time I was told to turn down the sound when playing a game. After an hour the sense of dread was amazing in it's visibility. I imagined I was almost green. I imagined my parents would have used this as an object lesson. $20. Gone forever, never to be seen again. Thinking about another game I could have gotten, all those quarters for the arcade, all those rentals at $3 a day, made me physically sick. I felt helpless and sick. And I would play this game, because that is what I did back in those days. But there was a missing piece of the puzzle. So disgusted in my poor choice of games that I was pressing forward to finish the game (and perhaps bury it in the backyard) that I was not saving the game. I was using the password, but I was dying constantly and having to start over. I would play for an hour, record my password, and turn the game off, having only made a bit of progress (if any at all). I was not playing the game the way it was meant to be played. See, a conservative and dedicated person correctly utilizing the save system can finish the game in a few hours. A stupid kid who only basically understands the mechanics of the game but understands the save system perhaps six or seven hours. I played the game for several months of one hour sessions, never getting far. Within the year the I decided to punish the game in the harshest way I could think of: I removed the game chip and buried the Hydlide case in the backyard, a fate not even reserved for the likes of broken Cobra and Foot Clan action figures. As for the game chip I kept it in a case near my other NES games, just so it would know how much I hated it (as if that was a thing). I wouldn't play Hydlide again for over twenty years. But I did think about it. Occasionally.

Part of the reason I like to share my personal anecdotes on gaming subjects is to help me understand how this wonderful yet often expensive hobby fits into and affects my life. So how does one deal with a game that one abjectively hates so much that one would actively shun it?  My eventual answer was repurchase a copy of it, along with the Japanese version, a sequel, and a remake. Makes sense, right?  No, I don't understand it either. But yet I still cannot deny the fact that while this is a frustrating and often tortuously plodding game, it still has its place in history, not only of the NES (and Famicom), but of the action-RPG genre as well. Now I'm not suggesting you should buy the game, or if you already own it actually play it. What I am saying is that the next time you pass it in your collection, the next time you see it at your local game store, the next time you see it on a garage sale table or thrift store shelf, maybe spare a thought for it, knowing the importance that this game had and the ripples it created in some of the games that you enjoy.

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