Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Game 190: Hydlide


Hydlide
T&E Soft (developer and publisher)
Released 1984 for PC-88; 1985 for FM-7, PC-6001, Sharp X1, and MSX; 1989 for NES
Date Started: 22 May 2015
Date Ended: 22 May 2015
Total Hours: 5
Reload Count: 100+
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: 11
Ranking at Time of Posting: 12/187 (6%)

Well, Hydlide is what it is: a bad RPG that nonetheless serves an important place in Japanese RPG history. Maybe. Some articles claim that it influenced the Zelda and Ys series; others claim that Dragon Slayer is more responsible for those games. I won't have an opinion until I play Dragon Slayer (soon), but for now Hydlide is the first of a peculiar yet oddly-enduring genre: real-time action RPGs in which a little childlike character runs around maps and attacks creatures by bashing headlong into them.

Typical Hydlide shot. I'm in an outdoor maze. A boss-level creature (never got its name) guards a treasure chest below me while a reaper wanders around the maze. The right side shows my maximum life, strength, and experience. I've recovered a sword, a cross, a magic lamp, and one fairy.

The game wasn't originally on my list because it never had a western PC release. I assumed that its PC release in Japan was in Japanese. This turns out not to be true--it's not true of Dragon Slayer or Dragon Slayer II, either--and it makes me wonder what part of JRPG history I'm missing. Why would so many games be released only in Japan but in English? Were Japanese youths in the 1980s so versed in English that developers could simply assume they could read the text? Either way, why not Japanese? Was it harder to display Japanese characters even on Japanese PCs?

In contrast to a lot of later Japanese games, the English here is reasonably good--and they weren't even writing it for English-speaking players.
         
Most people are familiar with Hydlide from the 1989 Nintendo version. By the time it was released in the west, The Legend of Zelda had been out for over three years, and most players saw Hydlide as laughably primitive by comparison. As reader Joseph Curwen recounted in my post on The Black Onyx:

Hydlide was so poorly regarded among kids who owned the NES that when one of my friends stole a copy from his cousin, it was passed around school like a hot potato until finally someone threw it onto the school's roof during recess.

Such attitudes seem typical. In my online searches, I found numerous threads in which commenters, apparently unaware that Hydlide had a Japanese PC release in 1984, thought that the game "ripped off" Zelda.

The Nintendo version includes a magic system and slightly better graphics, but is otherwise very similar.
          
If players thought the 1989 version was primitive, they'd be positively horrified by the 1984 version, which lacks the magic system of the later NES port. All there is to do is charge around killing things and finding a few treasure chests. The only commands are the four cardinal directions on the keypad to move and the SPACE bar, which toggles between "Attack" and "Defend" modes. Even in 1984, it's rare to play an RPG, or even a quasi-RPG, so bereft of tactics and strategies.

The backstory, told on a single screen, sets up the game as such:

In other dimensional space, three jewels kept the kingdom in peace. But the jewels were stolen and Varalys woke from sleep. Varlys made Ann into fairies. A man called Jim who could not endure to see people tortured decided to exterminate the devil. He tried to attack the monsters to reestablish the kingdom.

I have played a lot of PCs in RPGs, most with names chosen by me, some with names chosen by the game, but never before have I gotten to role-play "a man called Jim." I hope that if there's ever a Hydlide movie, that's the title.

There's no character creation: after the welcome screen, you're immediately launched into the game. The outdoor world consists of maybe 9 screens that wrap around on the edges. Some areas are blocked by a river, and to access them you need to cut through one of the game's 4 small maze-like dungeons.

Enemies wander around randomly and constantly. Killing one just makes another respawn. They include standard fantasy monsters like slimes, kobolds, goblins, and skeletons, and the only rule for fighting them is to avoid hitting them head-on. You want to maneuver around their sides and backs; otherwise, even a late game character can rarely stand up to more than a couple of seconds of combat. Success is thus almost entirely based on controller agility rather than tactics or strategy.

Every kill increases your "experience" bar, and when it reaches the far right-hand side of the screen, a little victory bloop accompanies an increase in strength and max hit points. However, every time you level up, some lower-level monster stops producing experience, so you can't run around and kill slimes forever.

Slimes, an impassable river, and the entrances to a couple of dungeons.

Lost hit points regenerate while you're standing on grass. Later, you find some artifact--I was never sure which one--that also lets your hit points regenerate, albeit very slowly, while in dungeons.

The game is laughably deadly even for those with good reflexes. Especially in dungeons, where you have limited avenues of maneuverability, it's not always possible to hit enemies from the side and rear. The AI governing their movement was something I couldn't discern. They appear to operate on a kind of random walk until the PC is near, at which point they are slightly more likely to favor a direction that brings them in contact with the PC. Their movements are erratic enough that flanking them is more a matter of luck than skill. Fortunately, you can save any place you want with a couple of keystrokes. I stopped counting my reloads at some point, but the total was well over 100 for the 4 hours it took to win.

Getting killed by stirges. These bastards can fly over walls, making them particularly hard to out-maneuver.

Winning the game involves collecting a series of artifacts, including a sword, a shield, some gems, a magic vase, a magic lamp, a key, and a ring. I'm not sure what all of them do, but each increases your power and abilities to some degree. The magic lamp, for instance, allows you to see inside dungeons--an absolute necessity. The magic lamp is guarded by a vampire, and you first need to find a cross to defeat him. It becomes clear fairly early in the game what dungeons and areas you can survive and which you can't, and you ultimately find the right path through trial and error.

Getting killed by wisps in a dungeon before finding the lamp.

You also have to free three fairies to win. The first two are hidden in trees; you've got to bump into the right ones (and suck up damage from the wrong ones) to find them. The third, you obtain by allowing yourself to be hit 5 times by fireballs from little "wizard" enemies, then killing one of the wizards. I had to Google this solution on a message board; I can't imagine how players of the era could possibly figure it out.

Freeing the third fairy causes them to transport you across a river to an island with Varalys's castle. It's guarded by a "water dragon" who you cannot kill in a single attack session before he kills you first. Fortunately, enemies don't regenerate hit points like you do, so you can kill him by attacking for a while, retreating when your health gets too low, letting it regenerate, and attacking again.

A dragon guards the evil demon's castle.

The water dragon's death causes all the rivers to dry up, revealing two chests with the final artifacts. One, a healing potion, automatically resurrects you if you die. This is not something you want to waste on a random mook.
   
Entering the castle triggers the endgame. A few screens of dungeon maze, swarming with skeletons and guards, culminates in a room with Varalys himself. He shoots fireballs, teleports randomly around the screen, and is invincible at first, so you have to go one screen past him and destroy a gravestone there to make him vulnerable. Even then, like the water dragon, he can't be killed in a single attack sequence, not even if you get resurrected by the potion to continue the offensive. I had to keep retreating, fighting skeletons, slowly regenerating health, and leveling up a couple of times, before I was finally able to whittle down his health enough for the killing blow.

Taking on Varalys and his henchmen. I need to level up a little more.

Once Varlys dies, the three fairies recombine into Princess Ann and you get a congratulations screen.


The game barely squeaks by as an RPG under my rules. Its limited character development is actually its best RPG foundation. In terms of combat, while your strength and inventory affect damage done, the mechanic is 90% about luck and your speed with the keypad. As for inventory, it doesn't really have a flexible inventory, in the sense of being able to wield, equip, swap out, and drop things. Instead, you just pick up a series of items that become permanently grafted to the character.

In a GIMLET, I would give it:

  • 1 point for a barely fleshed-out game world.
  • 1 point for extremely basic character development with no creation.

I was never able to defeat this giant octopus in the water. Defeating the water dragon made it moot, I guess.

  • 0 points for no NPC interaction.
  • 2 points for encounters with generic mooks, a few boss-level creatures guarding treasure chests, and a handful of puzzles that can only be found out with a lot of guesswork or outright cheating.

Lots of skeletons in the endgame area.
       
  • 1 point for an incredibly primitive combat system and no magic.
  • 1 point for a basic inventory of equipment that is more like an adventure game than an RPG.
  • 0 points for no economy.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
  • 2 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics and bloopish sound are very primitive, but the controls work pretty well.
  • 1 point for gameplay. Linear, non-replayable, repetitive, and extremely deadly, it at least offers a short duration.

The final score of 11 is among the lowest I've given, and among the lowest it's even possible for a game to receive. I know some people find it enjoyable regardless, but remember that my GIMLET rates games as RPGs specifically, not how fun they are in general. In my case, I didn't even find it fun as a quasi-RPG. This is absolutely not my genre.

 
I wish I could cap by saying that it was worth playing for its legacy, but as I discussed, even that's questionable. I guess it had an unmistakable influence on its own limited series. Hydlide II: Shrine of Darkness (1985), which from descriptions sounds like a remake rather than a sequel, introduces magic and a limited character creation process. Super Hydlide (1987) includes a choice of character classes, a game clock, a food system, and a karma meter. Virtual Hydlide (1995), only for the SEGA Saturn, turns the action to the first-person. I think all but the last one kept the defeat-enemies-by-running-directly-into-them mechanic, which is perhaps my least favorite combat system in history.

Before we go, we have to figure out what Hydlide actually means. (I'm not an expert on Japanese pronunciation, but I think we're supposed to pronounce it something akin to "HE-DRE-DE" rather than "HIDE-LIDE.") None of the review sites for the game tackle this question. Wikipedia gives the Japanese title as ハイドライド and says that the Japanese phonetic equivalent is Haidoraido. However, if I throw those characters into Google translate, I get Hydride. That's not an English word I'm familiar with, but if I Wikipedia it, it turns out that it's "the anion of hydrogen...an alloy or a compound in which one or more hydrogen centres have nucleophilic, reducing, or basic properties." Glad we cleared that up.

In general, I suspect that the developers were going for something with a hydro prefix, perhaps having something to do with the game's water theme, including the rivers flowing through the land, the water dragon, and the sorcerer's island. The r became an l through the stereotypical Japanese way of confusing or conflating the two characters. If anyone has a better explanation, I'd be grateful to hear it.

That makes two Japanese RPGs that I've played in 1984. Between them, The Black Onyx is clearly the superior game. If I were a Japanese player, Onyx would have left me wanting more, but Hydlide would have left me wanting something entirely different. For this reason, I'm glad we don't consider too many games in this mold to be RPGs.

148 comments:

  1. I am not sure whether they have any connection to Hydlide, but this idea of lightly grafting on RPG aspects (including leveling and hit points) into an otherwise fully action-based game will recur over and over again in the early NES days, though not on games you are likely to play. (And, honestly, you don't want to play.)

    From my childhood, the two that I remember most vividly are Zelda 2 and Castlevania 2, both from 1987. Both were RPG-lite sequels to original action games, unlike Hydlide.

    Zelda 2 had NPCs, town exploration, shops, and dungeons and probably would be a RPG based on your credentials, but flips to a 2D side-scroller for action/combat and dungeon exploration. Link levels up and gains hit points with successive enemy kills and learns new sword techniques which makes the battles easier, but in the end I could never beat the damned thing because I was never good enough at its action parts. It's not an easy game.

    Castlevania 2 also has NPCs, towns, and shops (and even a day/night cycle) but is more of an action game than Zelda as there is no separate overworld view. You also lose all your money when you die so you have to just fight enemies over and over again and it's very boring. It also has some tricks that are impossible to intuit on your own (much like Hydlide) and I do not know anyone that beat it without a strategy guide. But like Zelda 2 and Hydlide, the action portions are more of the game play and I was never quite good enough at the button-mashing to beat the darned thing.

    Historical interest only, but it's clear that in this early phase merging action and RPG elements were done even in very popular series. Of course, games like Skyrim, Fallout 3, and others perpetuate this genre today but in a much better overall fashion.

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    1. In the modern era, we see the same "light grafting" of RPG elements in games like Dishonored, Red Dead Redemption, and all Assassin's Creeds after the first one. I'm going to face some tough calls if I ever get there.

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    2. Zelda II and Castlevania II are both on my master RPG list (though not on my playlist because they're console only).

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    3. Right, I'm not suggesting you play, just musing!

      Neither of these games received a MSX or PC-88 release; they were strictly console-based. Castlevania II did receive a PC re-release years later, in 2002. (http://www.amazon.com/Konami-Collectors-Series-Castlevania-Contra-PC/dp/B00006969T)

      I suspect you have some time before you decide what to do with that information, if anything. I'm not sure that, even with a PC release, it's worth playing.

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    4. > Zelda II and Castlevania II are both on my master RPG list

      Zelda II and Castlevania II are sadly the weakest of both series

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    5. Zelda II is awsome in my opinion and is sponsible for a lot of my love of rpgs, first one I beat other than Dragon Warrior, though yeah it was light as a rpg.

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    6. Dr. Sparkle talks about this in Chrontendo. In the West, people think of the Famicom as being flooded with generic Dragon Quest clones, when in reality it was far more common to graft RPG elements onto other genres for mid-generation (1986-1988) Famicom games.

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    7. I actually remember beating Castlevania 2 as a kid. No strategy guides were available to me at the time, so it had to be an honest victory. Though some puzzles are really tough - especially the "kneel at the rock" one. I think I somehow found the solution while pressing random buttons out of anger and frustration.

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    8. I have read that the Japanese Castlevania II was easier to figure out, but many of the clues to the puzzles were lost in translation. But honestly, it's been so many years that I do not remember the specific puzzles that I was stuck on, nor whether they had a solution in game that I just did not find.

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    9. That's all true about Castlevania 2. Zelda 2 also suffers that too. "I am Error." indeed.

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    10. The "clues" in the Japanese version of Castlevania 2 were just as nonsensical. I think the idea was supposed to be that Dracula's curse was compelling the townspeople to lead you astray with false clues.

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    11. One of the reasons that I loved the re-releases of some of the 1980s and early-1990s RPGs is that they frequently got new translations. Final Fantasy 2 was much better when re-translated, and the original Final Fantasy Tactics had such inconsistent naming that you couldn't always understand it. Thankfully, this has become much better.

      All your base ARE belong to us, now!

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    12. I've always been a fan of Castlevania 2. It might be a little closer to action than RPG, but it definitely had a satisfactory sense of exploration and gradual progression, with weapon upgrades and a nice sequence of unlocking new paths and zones. I don't really remember it being all that difficult, other than maybe a few sections with jumps that were hard to time. I know I won it a few times (though I probably got a couple of hints).

      What was tough was the odd way in which the game tracks time - it doesn't pass in some locations but does in others. The quality of the game's ending is mostly based on time spent, so if you farm experience or money in the wrong places, you quickly get a bad ending. I didn't know this as a kid, but was pretty aggravated when I found out the details later.

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    13. I can only say that: stairs kill more people than monsters in Castlevania.

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    14. >Zelda II and Castlevania II are sadly the weakest of both series

      Calstevania II? Probably. Zelda II? Weaker than Wind Waker? Than Skyward Sword? Really? Zelda II is a great game and a great entry in the series. It doesn't have to be a clone of the Zelda formula (which wasn't even a formula at the time). Zelda II is leaps and bounds better than the original (which I still love) in many categories. The only thing it lacks is in the whole tool/item department, but that only exists because magic took up more of the slack in that regard.

      Zelda II is one of the best examples of a game getting RPG elements added to it during the 8bit console era. Those who can't appreciate the game are really missing something in my opinion.

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    15. I had Zelda 2 back than on the NES, I really loved the atmosphere and I really wanted to love the game but I didn't enjoy it. Zelda 3 on the SNES clicked at the very first second.

      I also enjoyed Wind Waker until this search of the pieces, an unnecessary prolongation of the game, would be a good game without it

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    16. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesJune 4, 2015 at 2:54 PM

      Zelda 2 is the best of the series, and one of my favorite games. Castlevania 2 is a joke: A game that involves nothing more than wandering around, occasionally killing easy enemies until you stumble upon a puzzle solution through blind luck. I love the old Castlevanias, but that game is almost as bas as Lord of Shadows.

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    17. Castlevania 2 may be a bad Castlevania game, but that doesn't mean it's a bad game. It's a game about exploration, atmosphere, and immersion. It presages a lot of elements from the Souls series. If combat in Dark Souls is like Castlevania 1 (memorizing and mastering a group of enemy patterns which lead up to a skill-test boss), then the rest of the game is like Castlevania 2. You're exploring a hopeless, depressing world full of mostly crazy NPCs, who will occasionally give you advice or items but just as likely will spout non-sequiturs or straight-up lie to you. The world is real, not just a series of unconnected levels. Your most valuable tool is not your weapon, but your holy water. You're supposed to be throwing that shit EVERYWHERE in order to uncover the tomes that give you hints about how to progress, which if you pay attention, will allow you to get past any of the more "obtuse" parts of the game. Also remember that the game was released at a time when you were expected to share information with your friends or schoolmates. If you were stuck on a puzzle, maybe someone you knew had the answer. This social aspect was a prevailing design philosophy for Japanese devs back then, and it influenced a lot of NES games.

      I could go on, but I'll stop here and say that although the game has a ton of flaws, it was extremely ambitious for its time and I think is still interesting to this day.

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    18. >In the modern era, we see the same "light grafting" of RPG elements in games like Dishonored, Red Dead Redemption, and all Assassin's Creeds

      I don't think any of those would qualify as RPGs, even if you stretch, so there'd probably be no room to fit them into the blog. (heh, in 2040), but if you allow yourself non-RPG time, Dishonored was an extraordinary game. The plot and voicing aren't quite up to the standard of the rest of the title, but the worldbuilding, lore, level design, and actual play mechanics are all world-class. It's one of the finest games ever done on the PC, stealing ideas from many great titles, including Thief, System Shock, and Deus Ex. It executes almost flawlessly, and even when it doesn't match the best points of some of the older games, it's usually a close second, in every area at once. It's a remarkable achievement. It's just a shame that the voicing wasn't a little better... they hired names, rather than talent, and the direction was a little weak. It's not horrible, but not up to the standard of the rest of the game. It's just off enough to break immersion a little.

      Red Dead Redemption is also very good, though not as groundbreaking. It's ... sort of, um, Grand Theft Horse. You can definitely see the GTA engine's influences, but it's still a lot of fun, and much more interesting than most Rockstar titles.

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    19. It's actually possible to win NES Castlevania 2 without any info other than the game manual. You just have to spend a lot of time exploring and trying stuff. It's not really so much different than old text adventure computer games in that respect. Anyway, I managed to beat it in 1989 (at age 17) without guides or help. I guess maybe it helped that I didn't consider it "impossible", and nobody had soured my opinion of it, or put ideas in my head about how games "should" be designed. I really enjoyed playing it and trying to solve the mysteries. I guess it also helped that i also played a lot of tabletop D&D those days, and so was used to situations where things are not always as they seem (lots of red herrings, false rumors, and dead end trails in those old D&D adventures...)

      This game, along with Zelda II and Faxanadu are amongst my favorites of the NES library.

      If you really want a hard and almost unfair NES game, these are not it. Try something like Deadly Towers instead. ;-)

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    20. Heck, I hear that Call of Duty has RPG elements in it these days. CALL OF FREAKING DUTY.

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  2. "I think all but the last one kept the defeat-enemies-by-running-directly-into-them mechanic, which is perhaps my least favorite combat system in history."

    Slightly off-topic, but I'm curious whether this applies to roguelikes, as well, or if it's exclusive to real-time games. To my mind, the utter simplicity of the base combat mechanic is what allows, say, Nethack's enormous tactical complexity (in maneuvering and inventory options) to work. Could there be a real-time equivalent?

    Also, while I've never played Hydlide, I can only assume that your observations and assessment of the game's merits and shortcomings are spot on.

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    1. Exactly. On the surface, Hydlide and NetHack share that in common; in reality, they couldn't be more different. I don't mind the combat in a roguelike at all. It's turn-based, so you have time to think and there's no controller dexterity at work. You have options associated with maneuvering and inventory, as you say. Not to mention missile weapons, thrown potions, and such.

      I'll probably never like an RPG combat system whose primary mechanic is "react fast."

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    2. "Bumping into enemies to attack" in most Roguelikes is basically a convenience. Nethack (at leat the 3.4 series, which I'm familiar with) internally has separate commands for "fight" and "move"; the game just guesses which one you want to do. 99% of the time that's fine, but with the (M)ove and (F)ight commands you can override the game's predictions. Hydlide is nothing like that.

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    3. Does that include the Elder Scrolls series and Fallout?

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    4. TES and Fallout games, while real-time, don't feature much 'twitch' gameplay. The combat isn't dominated by block/dodge windows, precision movement and combo timing. TES can be a bit arcadey, but not compared to games like Infinity Blade, The Binding of Isaac and Devil May Cry. Fallout is mostly sniping, VATS and spamming left click in melee.

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    5. Fallout 3 & NV, you mean. Because opening VATS to fire your Plasma Rifles repeatedly at a Super Mutant, who is about to smash your face in with a sledgehammer in melee range, is utterly stupid and unrealistic.

      Fallout 1 & 2 is mostly character planning and tactics. With proper advancement, your unarmed character can punch through a Centaur in the head with a single blow. You can do that in Fallout 3, yes, but you do not need planning or even tactics.

      That said, there is a delicate balance in Action RPGs to be made. The market for ARPGs are larger now than it ever was, with the rise of MMORPGs and MOBAs, which requires a lot of manual dexterity on the player's part. The action part certainly is welcome to drive down the boredom of grinding but if there is too much grinding required, there already is something wrong with the game.

      Good RPGs shouldn't make you feel that it's a chore to "play" them. Grinding is senseless repetitiveness that would melt brains and I abhor the necessity of this part in many electronic RPGs. You don't see this happening on Tabletop RPGs at all.

      Crap, I digress. Anyway, should RPG mechanics supplement the action game or should the action gameplay supplement the RPG system? So far, I've seen the former more. Deus Ex and System Shock came close to being the latter, though.

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    6. Obvious invitation to post that the Fallout website has updated with...something...

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    7. Hopefully the folk at Bethesda are looking to NV as a launching point wither than F:3.

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    8. Fallout 4 is confirmed, the first trailer is out, and Boston looks to be the likeliest setting.

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    9. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesJune 3, 2015 at 5:20 PM

      I love Fallout, unlike that unimaginative mess Wasteland 2 and I am quite interested in the new one. Boston could be an interesting setting: Maybe a faction could be rebuilding Harvard or M.I.T. and fighting the fanaticism and technophobia of the Brotherhood of Steel. Assuming this is set after the GECK saved the world and brought back life and clean air, there might be rebels within the brotherhood questioning its stupid beliefs and acting as double agent.

      I think the contrast between the colorful past and the ruined future is interesting: Maybe this game will be set in the time when the GECK is slowly rebuilding the world, returning it to health. It could be interesting for storyline progression.

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    10. In roguelikes, "bump into enemy to attack" generally means "attack enemy with held melee weapoon".

      Generally, that is only one of the options available. Usually you can retreat and come back later (or avoid the enemy completely). Or you can do something else, such as casting a spell.

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    11. I don't think calling Wasteland 2 an unimaginative mess is quite fair. If you want a mess, you can also play any Fallout game on the day it's released.

      I think WL2 is a respectable member of the Fallout extended family. It might not represent the pinnacle of what top-down turn-based RPGs can be, but I don't think there's a clear frontrunner in the genre - WL2 is among the heap of good-but-not-great games at the top of that pile.

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    12. >Because opening VATS to fire your Plasma Rifles repeatedly at a Super Mutant, who is about to smash your face in with a sledgehammer in melee range, is utterly stupid and unrealistic.

      Well, to be fair, that's kind of necessary to make up for the lousy framerate in those titles. Trying to play those things like twitch shooters is very difficult.

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  3. The game that inspired this and a lot of other action games with light-RPG elements was Namco's The Tower of Druaga, a hugely popular arcade game from mid-1984 that took Pac-Man-esque maze exploration and added RPG elements and tons of hidden items that players had to share notes to figure out. Hydlide came out 6 months afterwards and features a lot of similar elements, including enemy-bumping combat.

    The use of English is pretty common in Japanese games/media/etc. due to its perceived coolness factor, and Hydlide was made in an era when technological limitations meant English was much easier to display than Japanese. The developers were also probably huge fans of existing English-language CRPGs like Wizardry and Ultima, Tower of Druaga was in English for similar technological reasons and because Arcade games were typically exported worldwide, etc.

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    1. As for the name, is it possible "Hydlide" was just an attempt at creating the kind of "fantasy" name you see in other media? I should see if one of the devs is on twitter these days...

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    2. I think the name "Jim" was also added for the "coolness factor". For American ears, "Jim" couldn't be more mundane (except for maybe "Bob"), but I guess the Japanese associated American super-soldiers with it. Some japanese names we associate with samurai may have the same impact.

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    3. Yeah.
      Sanjuro, Kabuto, Tamago; they're all cool.
      Please don't Google them and make me sound like a fool.

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    4. Re: Jim - Maybe the developers were Star Trek fans?

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    5. Here is another example of american name in japanese RPG - in Final Fantasy VI main protagonist name is Tina (In japanese version), and in US version during localization it was changed to Terra.

      http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Terra_Branford

      Japanese people sometimes using cool sounding names from english in their games.

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    6. mpx, that's the same example I though of- how "Tina" is supposed to sound mysterious and exotic (so it's very appropriate for the character) to Japanese ears, though I didn't find "Terra" to have a similar effect in English- it just seems like a strange variation of "Tara".

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    7. Sometimes they get that effect by accident, too. One Final Fantasy IV character had a fairly common Western name, and was supposed to keep it in translation - but the R/L problem turned "Lydia" into "Rydia".

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  4. This review reflects how I feel about most JRPGs. They are more like action games with RPGish elements. Monsters are named after D&D and you play a role, but then again, the monsters could be called spaceships and the game would play the same, and you cannot create your own role, it is pre-written for you (or a twelve year old, sorry, trolling). This big divide continues all the way to Final Fantasy games.

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    1. I guess the "RPG" genre actually has two meanings: For one, playing a role, i.e. making plot decisions, or character growth decisions, or setting a moral course. And secondly, the purely technical aspects of it, i.e. weapons with different strengths and weaknesses, different character classes, the inventory.
      The JRPGs do not fall under the first definition since it's more like playing through a movie, or an adventure game, and they only superficially fall under the second definition.

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    2. Final Fantasy at least has turn based combat with lots of choices, an inventory/equipment distinction, and a basic economy (i.e., shops).

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    3. That's not really true. I would cite the game that shall not be named as a prime example of a JRPG with lots of npc interaction and game-effecting plot decisions AND an alignment system that gauges morality. I would also mention certain Final Fantasy games that had lots of character creation and decision making (III and V) were not released in the U.S. because they were deemed "Too complicated".

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    4. Lots of JRPGs employ multiple endings and branching plots based on roleplaying decisions made throughout the game. The obvious example would be Chrono Trigger. Radiant Historia has branching plots for every chapter.

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    5. "I would also mention certain Final Fantasy games that had lots of character creation and decision making (III and V) were not released in the U.S. because they were deemed "Too complicated"."

      While there was a small aspect of that, the real reasons were more likely to do with timing. By the time they were bringing a second FF game to America, the SNES was already out, so no way were they going to bring those out when there was FF4 ready to go as US FF2. And they were going to bring FF5 out, but they took their time and by the time it would have been localized FF6 was already done, and a LOT more impressive visually among other reasons, so FF5 got skipped and 6 became US 3. They were going to go back and release it anyway, as FF Extreme (it was the 90's...) but for various reasons it never panned out.

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    6. "so no way were they going to bring those out"

      should read

      so no way were they going to bring those remaining Famicom games out

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  5. Nice review. I haven't played the Japanese computer versions, but given what the NES version added to the mix (magic, mainly), I can imagine they'd be even less engaging than that already-reviled release.

    "The third, you obtain by allowing yourself to be hit 5 times by fireballs from little "wizard" enemies, then killing one of the wizards. I had to Google this solution on a message board; I can't imagine how players of the era could possibly figure it out."

    Whoa, this was very different in the NES version -- in that one you merely have to hit all three wizards with a single magic attack. People complain about that but I think it's relatively easy to deduce from various contextual clues.

    In the PC-88 version, is there any special sound effect that plays when you get hit by wizard fireballs in that specific screen? Or some other cue? Because otherwise...

    That said, Jason Moses's point about Tower of Druaga (and players comparing notes) is a very good one. These games were meant to be puzzled over for weeks, and gradually figured out through trial, error, and simple accident. Japanese game design of the mid-1980s is hard to put up with today, but I imagine if you were a schoolkid at the time, it would've been a different thing entirely.

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    1. Yeah, almost all the hints online were for the NES version. It took me a long time to track down a single message board that had the solution for the original. I don't think I ever would have gotten it on my own.

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  6. Why would so many games be released only in Japan but in English?

    There's two technical reasons for that. For one, English letters are graphically simpler than Japanese characters- 8x8 pixels each is plenty to represent the entire English alphabet (at least in all uppercase). The other is that while you can store a full English alphabet with 26 different characters, a full Japanese alphabet (for only one of the three alphabets) would take a minimum of 46 different characters (for the smallest possible single alphabet,) saving on memory (which was often scarce on these machines.) The entire NES/Famicom "Hydlide Special" ROM is 40KB and only had 8KB (128 blocks) of CHR ROM (basically, ROM for graphic tiles) and each character in either language would have taken up one block.

    This was enough of a problem that until well into the 80s, computers in Japan were considered impenetrable to those who didn't know at least some English, and why specialized word processing machines (Wapuro) were popular. (Bill Bryson talks about this problem with early Japanese computers briefly in The Mother Tongue: English And How It Got That Way, and while it's 25 years old and has a few notable errors, it's still a very good primer on linguistics for English speakers.)

    The reason some words are highlighted in color in the intro is to tell those Japanese players who may not have enough of a grasp on English which words they should pay attention to- that they should probably be looking for "JEWELS" and "FAIRIES", rather than looking for a "DECIDED" or an "INTO" to win the game with.

    Also, since you mention the game world size, it's actually 6x5 screens plus dungeons, rather than nine total.

    Anyway, it's really interesting to see you go outside of your "comfort zone" and basically rip apart this game, and I'm sure you can see why the NES game was reviled.

    As for the items you weren't sure about, here's a guide to them (for the NES version, but it should still apply) http://shrines.rpgclassics.com/nes/hydlide/item.shtml.

    As for recovering on different terrain, here's how it works (dependent on the number of jewels you have): http://shrines.rpgclassics.com/nes/hydlide/item.shtml

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    1. I just realized I contradicted myself. While 8x8 is plenty of resolution for the Latin alphabet, I forgot that many Famicom games managed Kana just fine in 8x8 tiles as well. Still, in general, the Latin alphabet took less memory to encode than one of the Japanese alphabets.

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    2. What I don't get is why they wouldn't just transliterate the Japanese words instead of writing it entirely in English? At least in modern times it seems most Japanese can read the roman alphabet, even if they don't speak any English.

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    3. That wasn't unheard of (see the Famicom Transformers: Comvoy no Nazo's ending, otherwise known as "That one Japanese Transformers game that's TERRIBLE", but was uncommon. I don't know, but suspect that it had to do with the fact that when transliterated, words in Japanese tend to be longer than their English equivalents (therefore, more memory, and meaning you could squeeze less text on a screen.) For example, "eat" is three letters in English, but the transliterated Japanese equivalent is (generally) "Taberu", six letters (although it's three characters in Japanese.)

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    4. Also, English is quite common in Japan at a rudimentary level - it's a required class in schools, and it is extremely common for random English words to be used as if they were Japanese in signage and such. This means that, even though their understanding will probably be limited, English isn't foreign to the same degree that Japanese is here.

      There's a better explanation from a semi-professional Japanese to English translator here.
      http://legendsoflocalization.com/the-legend-of-zelda/gameplay/

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    5. The level of English employed in Hydlide is way over the standard of Japanese junior-schoolers though. That said, it is true that it would be way easier & lighter to display English (especially when it's all in Uppercasings).

      Japanese Katagana was also primarily used in early console games because it's a b!tch to display Kanji. Which is why it's literally impossible to find a game with, at least some plots, made by Chinese developers prior to the 16-bit era because of the limitations.

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    6. The people who played these early MSX games were usually programmers and stuff. Most kids didn't have computers

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    7. Well, even though there's still a bit of confusion, I appreciate that everyone tried to answer my question about Japanese games in English. I think you've come up with some good hypotheses, even if we'll never know for sure (barring an original developer coming along).

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    8. To clarify another point on my previous posting, about NES CHR ROM, the 8KB that Hydlide (and all NES games without mappers; without a mapper for bankswitching the NES can only handle one 8KB bank of CHR ROM plus one or two 16KB banks of PRG ROM) for CHR ROM was 8KB divided between 128 8x8 background tiles (including text, since virtually all games on tile-based systems process text as background tiles,) and 128 8x8 sprite (moving object) tiles (many sprites take up more than one tile; for instance most of the monsters and the player in Hydlide are 16x16, or four 8x8 CHR ROM tiles. So basically, 4KB for *all* of the game's background graphics, including the alphabet. (Though I don't think the logo in the corner of the screen to remind you what game you were playing was a good use of CHR memory.) This is why many objects in NES games seem to conform to a certain "blocky" size.)

      This is what happens when you have someone who's dabbled in ROMhacking in your comment section, who sometimes mixes things up and yet hates spreading inaccurate information, even about trivial things. :P

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    9. As a aside to the discussion, this is also why a lot of Japanese-to-English games in have a name field that's not very long for items, equipment, and character names - individual Japanese words tend not to be very long (due to the sheer number of characters they have to work with), and text was one of the biggest memory hogs of the early era - there's a total-text-in-game breakpoint between "English takes up less space because it can use as few as 36-40 characters (A-Z + 0-9 + punctuation)" and "Japanese takes up less space because the larger character set makes words more compact.

      One interesting side effect of this is that the switch from the Japanese character set to the Latin one in the English releases of several games (most notably the original Final Fantasy) freed up so many characters that they were able to provide an icon for every category of equipment to compensate for the small text space provided for each item.

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    10. Just to sum up some things about English in Japan.

      - Most Japanese kids could be expected to know a few English words as English was taught in school.
      - They would also be able to pronounce the Latin alphabet to some degree as romanized Japanese text - romaji - was common.
      - Many Japanese words - especially common, slang or technical words were English loanwords. e.g. ガール - garu = girl, シリコン - shirekon = silicon, パソコン - pusocon (a contraction of personal computer).
      - English words had a certain cachet in Japan - especially during the 80's and were used frequently in advertisements (not always in exactly the way you would in English). I have a copy of a full page ad from a Japanese magazine somewhere. It has a headline which reads: "SYSTEM UP MY TECHNO LIFE!"

      I'll add one other thing that home computers were a US trend that migrated to Japan. If you look at the PC-8801 which was one of the earlier personal computers. It had a QWERTY keyboard augmented with Katakana. It ran the BASIC programming language. Which is effectively in English. As Westerners we often forget how Anglocentric programming is. What did "print" mean to someone in Japan in 1979? This was the same in China with a couple of notable exceptions where there were computers which developed Chinese versions of BASIC. Which I would kill...or at least maim...to get my hands on.

      So while this did not produce a generation of perfectly fluent English speakers. There was enough penetration of the language to allow for the minimal competency required to read game text.

      The Dragon & Princess RPG that is often regarded as the first JRPG is actually partially written in English with large segments of description in Katakana. It's written in BASIC too, so it probably wouldn't be too hard to translate.

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  7. On another note, if you ever have a chance to play Hydlide 3 ("Super Hydlide" is a Genesis port of Hydlide 3 and not a separate game) I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. While it still has action-based combat, it's more based on pressing an attack button than running into enemies. It's about as good as a game could possibly be and still have roots in Hydlide. There are equipment choices, resource management, basic character creation, (small) choices in character development (do you spend your EXP to level up or learn more spells?) and a game world with a bit of history and lore.

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    1. Super Hydlide was my introduction to the series, and I enjoyed it for being different, and especially for the music.

      It's one of the few games I'd fire up just to listen to the music - there's a grove you can find where you can enter and play tracks at will.

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    2. Yeah, some of the best use of that Genesis soundchip, especially from those early days.

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  8. Hydlide is certainly more similar to The Legend Of Zelda than Dragon Slayer was (at least the first one), but both games were very popular upon release so they probably both heavily influenced later games.

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    1. These early Japanese RPGs were actually very popular. Supposedly, Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu sold nearly half a million (!) copies in Japan- ten times as much as contemporary RPGs sold in the US (although WRPGs were actually very popular in Japan starting in the mid-80's.) It was so big that Origin representatives traveled to Japan to meet with Falcom to discuss localizing Xanadu, although the plans fell through when Origin saw that Xanadu's shopkeepers originally plagiarized art from the Ultima III manual.

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    2. IMHO, Hydlide (1984) influenced Ys (1987) more than any other games. Most Action RPGs require attacks to be more than bumping but Ys I (and then Dragon Slayer I; later in 1990) shares that same primitive mode of offense.

      I say primitive because it assumes that your character will, and can only, be a swordsman. You can't choose classes or buy other melee weapon types, like polearms or whips (sometimes not even a bow/spell that you can use by pressing the A button or something).

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    3. Well Hydlide, Dragon Slayer, and Ys were all Nihon Falcom games. They're all like that. But Zelda is hugely influenced by all these games; the whole top down interface with a guy swinging a sword couldn't have been possible without these games.

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    4. "Dragon Slayer I" released in 1990 is the Gameboy port of Dragon Slayer, which was originally released in 1984, and is coming up in a few games. While bumping into enemies is the only way you can damage them in Dragon Slayer, there is a fair variety of spells (although the closest thing to offensive spells you get are spells to freeze enemies.)

      In Hydlide 3, there's a fair variety of magic (12 spells,) and most of it is useful. It's interesting that the same year Hydlide grew out of its "bumping into enemies" mechanic, Ys was first released, which is probably the best-regarded series to use that mechanic. (And there's about fifty other things that Hydlide 3 improves upon, to make it seem like a minor masterpiece for its time.)

      I'm gonna go so far as to venture a GIMLET Hydlide 3, since I keep saying what an improvement it is...
      GW- 4 for a world that seems much more alive. It has towns, people, a backstory, and history (though much of it is revealed later in the game.)
      CD&C- 4. You pick a class, and make decisions about when to level up and when to learn spells. Considering it lets you carry more weight (and therefore use more equipment practically) as you level up, even a single level up can be very satisfying.
      NPCs- 2. They're mostly the standard "Talk to people who say a few lines in a town" in JRPGs, but you do need to pay attention for clues (and a little backstory.)
      E&F- 5. Very much varied enemies, much better combat than Hydlide, and very well-done boss battles that really feel "epic" and require strategy to win. The "Moral Fiber" system could allow some light role-playing.
      Combat- 4. It's still action oriented, but much less primitive. Even things like which hand you hold weapons in matters, and there can be a lot of running around, hiding, etc. Plus, those boss battles!
      Equipment- 5. Most of the game has meaningful choices, weapons are hugely varied for the time, and your character's graphic changes as you upgrade equipment.
      Economy- 5. For the first half of the game you're always saving up for stuff, and while there is a plateau for much of the second half, you spend that mostly saving up for one useful but non-vital item- the Camping Gear. (Also, a bank for your money that even gives you interest is an interesting idea.)
      Quests- 4. While there's a mostly linear series of quests, there's lots of subgoals, and for the first two-thirds or so of the game, you don't actually know what your ultimate enemy is.
      GSI- ? (Can't rate this for the computer version, I played it on the Genesis, which is supposed to be an extremely accurate port.) Still, in all the screenshots I've seen, you can still tell what everything is supposed to be.
      Gameplay- 3. Combat can still be repetitive, and you do have to grind, but it's a little less linear, more replayable, not as deadly (once you get used to it), and generally not as... well, crap, as Hydlide. (Though the encumberance system can take a lot of getting used to, and is an early stumbling block for many players.)

      That's a 36, plus whatever it gets for GSI, so I think it's reasonable to estimate that Hydlide 3 would GIMLET around 40, and a 30 at the bare minimum. That's nowhere near as offensively bad as Hydlide, and I'm still amazed when I play it that it's a sequel... to Hydlide.

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    5. I mean Dragon Slayer was Falcom. Yeah, Ys is pretty much Hydlide. Sorry, I got confused

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    6. How about virtual Hydlide XD?

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    7. Virtual Hydlide... does not exist. Sorry.

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    8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_Hydlide

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    9. No, that's a fake article. In my reality, Virtual Hydlide does not exist, because IF it did, it would make the original look like a masterpiece of role-playing with deep tactical options and a rich, detailed world, despite coming out eleven years later.

      In other news, I found a Youtube video that says that Hydlide 3 on the MSX has an English option. That means Chet might be playing it after all.

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    10. Why would I just makee up a game? Virtual Hyllide exists, it's just terrible. The graphics are so bad XD

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    11. Apparently, my sense of humor is not transferring well online.

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    12. Genesis Super Hydlide is in English, I've got the cart to prove it. ;)

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    13. "Apparently, my sense of humor is not transferring well online."

      Protip: pretending a terrible sequel doesn't exist doesn't qualify as humor, whether you're applying it to Highlander 2, Star Trek 5, or Virtual Hydlide.

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    14. "Genesis Super Hydlide is in English, I've got the cart to prove it. ;)"

      It is, but seeing as this blog is only comprehensively playing games available in a Latin alphabet language on computer platforms, it's also very relevant whether or not it's playable on a computer platform in English.

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    15. I mean, I can play it on my mac with an emulator. Does that count XD?

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    16. Plenty of Genesis emulators will run this great on a computer. (In fact, due to this post I loaded it up under iDOS on my iPhone to play around with it (and listen to the music!))

      Chet, do I need to mail you the cartridge and a Nomad so you can play it on the plane? ;)

      Though I wouldn't recommend it - the battery pack looks way too much like bullets, and I swear TSA can't handle strange looking electronics, even if you can turn it on and show them "SE-GA! and Sonic 2..."

      That and you'll probably want to use save-states.

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    17. I'm pretty sure you can switch the language display in the original PC-88 Hydlide III [/Super Hydlide] into (often hilariously bad) English.

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  9. Completely unrelated to Hydlide, but a message for Chet & possibly Ragnar: the data mining site you have linked no longer works ever since the google docs spreadsheets got upgraded.

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    1. Thanks. I'll take down the link until Ragnar can re-point it.

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  10. "Success is thus almost entirely based on controller agility rather than tactics or strategy."

    Don't forget grinding! Grinding is at the core of every JRPG. If you grind for an hour or so, you'll get to the point where nothing hurts you and you one-hit.

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    1. Doesn't really work in this one, though. Even at max level, early-game enemies were capable of killing me in a few hits if I approached from the wrong angle.

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  11. I actually enjoy this game a lot, but I'll admit it's not for everybody. It's dungeon crawling distilled to it's primitive core: Killing monsters and getting XP. The satisfaction that comes from leveling up in games like this can't be matched.

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    1. Six hours of Hydlide (what it took to beat it when I seriously sat down to do it) was kind of fun, if much too slow. A lot of the appeal of Hydlide (such as it is) lies outside of its RPG aspects. To take a far better game for an example, while Deus Ex is a fine role-playing game and has all of the criteria in the sidebar, it's also a fine FPS (though perhaps not quite as good of an FPS as an RPG.)

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    2. I'd go so far as to call Deus Ex a first-person RPG with light FPS elements. It's very different from twitch action games like Half-Life or CS in that no matter how good you are at aiming and shooting things, if your character is untrained in your weapon, you aren't going to hit anything, bub.

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    3. I put Deus Ex into the stealth sub-genre of FPS games, and consider it closer to Thief (a non-rpg) than it is to Morrowind or Fallout 3.

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  12. The Games of the Year list on the right hand side does not show 1990.

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    1. GOTY for 1990 is obvious: Megami Tensei II.

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    2. HHSSSS!!! You have mentioned the-game-that-shall-not-be-named! HSSS!!! Then again, I do concede that it was really better than most RPGs released on PC in that year with its rich lore based on actual real-world mythology and a game-world tied so close to our own that the player will have no problem relating to it.

      Couple that with Wizardry-like controls & Might & Magic-like game system, you get something so freshly innovative (during that era) that it overloads your imagination and begin looking at the world with an all-new perspective.

      I ran a D20-Modern campaign based on SMT and it was freaking excellent.

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    3. I missed the joke with SMT somewhere, I think? The entry in the FAQ baffles me.

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    4. I had a comment "rule" that SMT could only be mentioned once per week. I deleted it because people didn't realize that it was a joke.

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    5. Someone else played d20 Modern? SWEET!

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  13. About the name: those characters are from the purely phonetic alphabet and have no inherent meaning. As such, when you put them into a translator you're just getting a transcription of the sounds they make, not a translation.

    Chances are good they meant to invoke 'hydride' as you surmised. For a smipler chemical explanation of what a hydride is, you can just think of it as another element combined with hydrogen (technically true, even if it misses some of the details) Water for example, is oxygen combined with hydrogen. Considering the water dragon being a major feature of the game, it seems likely to refer to that.

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    1. Thanks for the clarification. I didn't realize that there was such a thing as a "purely phonetic alphabet."

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    2. An "alphabet" generally is phonetic. I think here "alphabet" is meant as "writing system," specifically one of the three writing systems that Japanese uses: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana and katakana are purely phonetic syllabaries (not alphabets, really, as each symbol represents a syllable), while kanji are meaningful characters originally borrowed from Chinese that can often be read multiple ways depending on context. Hydlide, as a foreign-based made up word, was originally written in katakana, which can be transliterated into the English alphabet to represent its Japanese pronunciation ("haidoraido"), but has no inherent meaning. Hiragana is generally used for native Japanese words, while katakana is used for foreign words or for emphasis (like italics in English). Hope this helps clarify (yes, I studied both Japanese and linguistics in college).

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    3. Helps a bit, thanks. I'll need a longer crash course in Japanese writing systems if I explore JRPGs in more detail someday.

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    4. When I was little and heard of Hydlide, I thought it was Hydro+Ride/Slide, and it was a game about water slides or something.

      I was a weird kid.

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    5. That explanation of what hydrides is very wrong. A hydride is just H-. Hydrogen mostly exists as neutral hydrogen (H2) or the positive ion (H+). For example if you break water into two you get HO- and H+. However, if you bind H to a metal, you get H-, which gets the special name, hydride. For example, NaH is sodium hydride. Hydrogen doesn't really like being negative, so hydrides don't occur in natural all that often, and a number of them do fun things like catching on fire when exposed to air.

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    6. NOW you tell me. Where were you 6 months ago when a hydride killed Irene?

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  14. I would never claim that Hydlide is a good game, but I will say that going back a few years ago and playing through the NES version with a walkthrough was pretty fun. The old-school aesthetics triggered my nostalgia receptors pretty well, and it was kind of rewarding to actually try out such a widely-reviled game. That's all.

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  15. Congratulations on beating a very frustrating, ancient RPG! Even with save states, it sounds like a chore.

    The PS3 action-RPG 3D Dot Heroes (its gameplay is similar to the original Legend of Zelda) also has 3 fairies that combine into a princess. My first reaction to that was "Huh?", but apparently it's a Hydelide homage.

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  16. I disagree that the graphics are primitive. Compare them to almost any western computer game from 1984, and they're extremely detailed and colorful. Systems like the PC-88, PC-98 and FM-7 were not well suited to things like smooth scrolling, but excelled at graphical detail (and sound, a bit later on) compared to most western computers. The few western developers and journalists who had direct interaction with the Japanese computer gaming market of the era were generally blown away by their relative superiority in contemporary reports. Historical/chronological context is key here.

    Regarding this comment above:

    "The people who played these early MSX games were usually programmers and stuff. Most kids didn't have computers"

    That's not true at all, at least in terms of the MSX. The MSX occupied roughly the same niche in the Japanese market as the Commodore 64 did in the US. It was very popular with kids as a game system, and had basically the same player demographics as the earlier wave of Famicom players (mostly born in the 1970s). Systems like the PC-88 and FM-7 did indeed have an older user base, generally speaking.

    "Japanglish" dates back to early Japanese arcade attract screens and has much more to do with the discussed "coolness" factor than memory constraints. You'll see a chaotic mix of language usage in early Japanese computer games, often without rhyme or reason. This was especially true in the text/graphic adventure department, which was very popular at the time.

    Comments above about Tower of Druaga are spot on, and this general sort of "hidden secrets" inscrutability was a key design element of Japanese gaming (especially in platformers and arcade adventures/action RPGs) during the mid to late 80s. For someone like me, it's a one of my favorite things about classic gaming, and is highly associated with the "golden age" of Japanese gaming by nostalgic Japanese adults, but for the largely younger crowd of modern day retro gamers, the smooth, ironed-out slickness of the 16 bit console generation is what they seek, making such designs seem bizarre and frustrating in comparison. Thus all of those "lets rant about 'crappy' 8-bit games that we weren't really old enough to play in real time!" videos that are popular on Youtube. I find the same phenomenon is true when it comes to classic arcade adventures on platforms like the Spectrum, etc. A bit too arcane for today's 16/32/64 bit nostalgics, unfortunately.

    If you're interested in the earlier, obscure history of JRPGs, Hardcore Gaming 101 did a brief series of articles on it a while back that you might want to check out. I offered some comments there as well.

    I think you'll find Dragon Slayer quite different, by the way. A definite Caverns of Freitag influence there, I think. Like I said, the Apple II scene loomed large at the time.

    By the way, I recently did some research on unreleased western computer conversions of The Black Onyx and Hydlide III that you might find interesting. You can read about them here:

    http://www.gamesthatwerent.com/gtw64/results/freetext/black+onyx/

    http://www.gamesthatwerent.com/gtw64/hydlide/

    P.S. It seems that my comment was "eaten" and disappeared the first two times I submitted it, so I'm trying in a different browser. Hopefully I'm not making duplicate posts.

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    1. All three of your attempts originally went into spam, probably because of the URLs. Blogger has a way of identifying legitimate comments with URLs as spam while letting actual spam through.

      In all my ratings, I'm rating games from a current perspective, not the experience of the time (which I can't replicate). The graphics are "primitive" for 2015.

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    2. Fair enough. But in that case all retro game graphics are primitive, and I'm not sure I see you calling them out in every entry here. I think the "chrono-gaming" route that you have taken is replicating the experience of the time as well as anything would, at least within your selected genre, so I don't think making relevant era-appropriate comparisons would be too difficult.

      By the way, the Sharp X1 release had smooth 4 directional scrolling, IIRC, so I think that was considered the "definitive" version at the time.

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    3. Okay, it's more complicated than that. I'm actually working on a longer post about it. I don't consider ALL old game graphics to be "primitive," because many of them are quite clear in showing what they intend to show--for instance, the crisp iconographic interfaces of the Ultima titles or even the wireframe dungeons of Wizardry. They don't attempt to be more than they are, so they're fine in what they convey.

      Hydlide (and many other games) tries to be more complex graphically than it has the ability to be. Look at the chest in that first screen shot. It's shown from an oblique angle, with what's supposed to be some striping or something. The graphics capabilities of the computer weren't up to that level of detail, so it ends up looking rather like a big blob unless you carefully study it The character icons are similar. Thus, Hydlide gets a pejorative like "primitive" while another game from the era that doesn't try to overreach, like Sword of Fargoal, does not.

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    4. I'm with you, Chet. I prefer simple icons over graphics which are visibly technically limited (you won't belive how much I despised the early 3D-cards and really ugly games like NWN 1). Icons aged far better as well.

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    5. A pretty good (and quite possibly more intuitive) way to look at it is to compare the early-gen 3D models (my go-to example is Final Fantasy VII, because it's one of the better known games from the period) to the late-generation spritework that preceded it (such as Final Fantasy VI). While the models looked amazing in 96 or 97 from sheer novelty, the modern eye looks at them and sees an extremely crude blob. Meanwhile, the 16-bit sprites that looked so amazing when they came out... look almost as good nowadays. A bit pixellated, and less detailed than you might like, but it is quite clear what they are, and the artistic effort that went into them shows clearly - the only real objection that someone can have to them is stylistic.

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    6. Interesting points. However, Richard Garriott, Robert Woodhead, Ken Williams, Doug Carlston, etc. would not have agreed with you at the time. They were quite impressed with the superiority of the resolution, colors and graphical detail of the Japanese systems of the era, and said so in print. Those "cleaner" representations were born more out of necessity than choice. I understand the personal preference (for instance, I greatly prefer the look of ZX Spectrum graphics to the supposedly superior Commodore 64's, which often ended up looking like a blocky, muddy mess) but I just wanted to highlight the historical context.

      Delete
  17. When I was a kid I wanted this game *SO BAD*, because I only got to play it in 1-minute increments at the NES kiosk at the mall. I couldn't figure out what the trick was to damage enemies, and thought if I owned the thing I could manage it by experimenting with the control pad and buttons.

    Little did I know, it was just a horrible mess of a game. At that same kiosk, years later, I bought Dragon Warrior 2 supposedly several days before it was officially released, for far too much of my paper-route money.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, and my entry for the "What was the name supposed to say?" contest is "Hydro-land."

      If you're going to open up your experiences to much more joy and pain (on the NES), I can't wait til you get to Faria: A world of Mystery and Danger.

      Delete
  18. I just wanted to warn you Addict.

    Do not play Witcher 3.

    There is a real big chance that you hang your blog for a long time.
    The Witcher is a different level of experience of CRPG.
    This is a game where you will find everything you were looking for in other games ...

    Consider yourself warned.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That game is seriously in overrated territory now. It's really not that great even compared to the previous entries in the series let alone other CRPGs. Yet it's being hyped up like it's the best thing since sliced bread.

      Delete
    2. ... so basically:

      "Do not do this fun thing. It is too fun for you."

      Delete
    3. Hypebeast? Spam? I cannot decide. I believe that the entire point of visiting this site is to AVOID posts like "Anonymous". Also....

      * I make $800 a day at home using this one trick. Professionals HATE me! @@@-

      Delete
    4. No, I rather understand what he's saying. From stuff I've heard about the game, I suspect he may be wrong, but in any event, I'm always loathe to play a later game in a series if I haven't played the earlier ones (Fallout is perhaps my only exception, and even there it annoys me that I missed so many references), so there's no danger I'll play The Witcher 3 until I've played the first two. I did play a bit of the first one a few years ago, and it didn't grip me enough that I'm eager to rush back to it.

      Delete
    5. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesJune 4, 2015 at 2:40 PM

      I loved The Witcher 1, it had a cool main character, a good plot and fun combat. Number 2, on the other hand, was Dragon Age 2, Ultima 8 and Castlevania 2 on the list of horrible sequels that felt nothing like the previous. It was a grey and dismal game, with a dumbed-down plot, an uninteresting character, a terrible combat system, and a sense of ever-increasing tedium and frustration. It was just no fun at all, everything felt like it had been the the draft of an idea that could be written on a bar napkin, and I quit out of boredom within the first half of the game.

      Delete
    6. Is Obdurate the same person as 'Kill Bioware'? They both speak almost entirely in hyperbole.

      Delete
    7. Not only are Obdurate and Bioware the same person, but they're the same as last year's commenter "Japanese games are the best," i.e., that guy who's morbidly in love with The Game That Must Not Be Named (which was forbidden because he's the one who hyped it way too hard)."

      Delete
    8. No one commenting anonymously--which is in violation of an ACTUAL rule, not just one I made up as a joke--has any business criticizing anyone else's user names.

      Y'all just need to get accounts. It's not that freaking hard.

      Delete
    9. Freaking agreed. Watching a couple of Anonymouses (Anonymice?) commenting to each other is like listening to an old folk mutter to him/herself.

      Anyway:
      Witcher 1: Nice plot. Wonky combat.
      Witcher 2: Boring plot. Less wonky combat. More content.
      Witcher 3: Better plot. Lesser wonky combat. Large amount of content. Very amusing glitches.

      Delete
    10. Not going to comment on the commentators other than to say if you have trolls, you've "made it." And I don't pay as much attention to comments as I do to actual blog posts. Just wanted to see if there was any Witcher talk going on with my favorite RPG blog. Seems there is.

      Personal opine:
      Witcher 1: Lost me around CSI:Temeria still trying to trudge my way through it.
      Witcher 2: Without the patched in tutorial I found it impenetrable. Afterwards I was close to naming it my game of the year of 2014 (doesn't help that only crap came out that year).
      Witcher 3: Open worlds can be a bust as well as a boon. Soo much stuff to do... I need some more gwent cards now.... This game isn't the best things since sliced bread that it may be purported as currently. Aside from emergent weirdness factors that can pop out of Bethesda games though I do think it beats them out. It's not the ultimate cheese but it's pretty good.

      Delete
  19. CRPGAddict, you are getting a ton of comments and activity from doing this game. I think that you are onto something :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hydlide combines fame and infamy, so lots of people know it, plus it's one of only a few early JRPGs with an English release.

      Delete
    2. Come to think of it, it seems to be the first RPG out of Japan to see any sort of official publication in the US (Black Onyx might have found its way out of Japan on the MSX and the Australian release of the SG-1000.)

      And possibly the earliest Japanese game native to a computer (not counting arcade games, ports thereof, and console originals, naturally) to come out in the US officially. (Does anyone have any earlier examples for either?)

      Delete
  20. 100th comment!

    Have there ever been so many...?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alas, I can't control how many comments each post gets.

      But yes, we've exceeded 100 plenty of times before.

      Delete
  21. I'm imagining the trailer for "A Man Called Jim":

    (voiceover guy)
    In a world located in other dimensional space,
    One man decided...to exterminate the devil.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't forget, he could not endure to see people tortured.

      Delete
  22. I played NES Hydlide back in the 90s. It was one of the few games that I actually finished. I did it without any hints or anything, not that Hydlide was particularly hard. I liked the JRPG aspect of it as I didn't know much about JRPGs back then. I remember feeling completely ripped off by the ending. "CONGRATULATIONS" and that's all I get? F U

    ReplyDelete
  23. Bless you for completing the PC-88 original. I just wrapped up the NES port myself. I've been reading this blog for some time and I'm curious - which JRPGs are you including on your list? Seems like you're playing those that are in English as well as the "classics" that can be rolled through with no knowledge of Japanese (Dragon Slayer, Black Onyx, etc). Is that accurate? Obviously you aren't doing all of them.

    And to reiterate what was said above - there is a decent PC port of Castlevania II. Check that one out!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pretty sure they still have to be in English one way or the other. A lot of the very early Japanese CRPGs are in English anyways (like Dragon Slayer and Hydlide), and some have a Fantranslation (Black Onyx, Rance).

      Delete
    2. Yes, they either need to be in English or have no text. I think my list reflects those, but I might be missing a few.

      Delete
  24. "The third, you obtain by allowing yourself to be hit 5 times by fireballs from little "wizard" enemies, then killing one of the wizards. I had to Google this solution on a message board; I can't imagine how players of the era could possibly figure it out."

    I'm not entirely sure, but since some JRPGs from that era came with supplemental material that was neccessary to beat the game, I'm willing to bet a clue was provided in the manual or something like that.

    A good example of this is the game Dragon Slayer III: Romancia, which provided no in-game hints whatsoever. The game came packaged with a manga that you needed to read in order to know what to do. Other games like the early Dragon Quest games also had no in-game maps, but there was a physical map included in the game box, so you didn't end up wandering around aimlessly.

    If you're going to tackle more JRPGs from the 80s, you might want to check if some of them had this kind of material. It varies from game to game, but some of them today are unplayable without a walkthrough if you don't have access to these supplements.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. This would remind me of a Sega Saturn pseudo-RPG Shura No Mon.

      It's a game (& manga) about a mysterious teenager who came from the countryside to study in the big city. As he was into an obscure form of Karate (actually, more of an MMA-type of Karate+Ju-jutsu+Judo kinda combination fighting art), he elected to go to a dojo to while away his after-school hours.

      In the manga, he proceeded to whoop everybody's arse and easily imitate every opponent's moves that required hundreds of hours of practice. In the game, you would have to do *exactly* what the manga did - down to when he chose to dodge, block or counterattack.

      If you didn't, you't have to do some trial-and-error or end up losing the fight. Worst part of it?

      Manga does not come with the game and it spans over 31 books. And the books aren't those 4-mm-thick DC/Marvel type of comic books either. These are "tankobons" (compilation volumes) that are easily 3-4 times thicker and they don't come cheap (about US$5). Are you prepared to pay US$155 for a hintbook?

      Delete
    2. "A good example of this is the game Dragon Slayer III: Romancia, which provided no in-game hints whatsoever. The game came packaged with a manga that you needed to read in order to know what to do."

      Oh, man, thanks for that information. Now my thwarted attempts to play Romancia make a good deal more sense. (Or less sense.) Has the manga been fan-translated?

      Delete
    3. BTW one US-released game I know that does sort of the same thing is Sküljagger for SNES. It's packaged with a comic book that contains subtle clues that point the player to secret areas and codes. Most of this can be safely ignored, but the final boss battle is almost impossible without using the code you're given by the comic book, which gives you a ton of health items and powerups for the fight.

      Delete
    4. Sounds like those Atari games that had puzzles in them you could play to enter a contest to win real treasure. Too bad Atari went bankrupt in the middle of it.

      Delete
  25. I'd like to point out that the supposed 1989 version was originally released in 1986 (in Japan), as "Hydlide Special". Special's aesthetics make a lot more sense as an early NES game.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I didn't read all the comments but didn't Y's use a similar combat system of running into enemies. I thought that either or influenced one or the other.... Hylide - Y's?

    Also, thinking to Deadly towers and Hypher made me think that perhaps something is similar to Hylide and Hypher... probably not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The series is called Ys, not Y's, and is mentioned in the very first paragraph of the article.

      Delete

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