Virtual Hydlide

Developer: T&E Soft Corporation
Publisher: Sega/Atlus

Often the butt of every joke, Virtual Hydlide, like the rest of the series has gone on to live in gaming infamy. Many popular YouTubers have already given their comedic take on these games, which only served to raise the series' notoriety.

I'll admit even I was tempted to rip this game a new one at first, but eventually decided against it and review it as I would any other title.

Virtual Hydlide is a remake of the original NES title, HydlideThis bit of trivia is likely to slip by many players neither the game nor its European manual state this information.

What little story there is told through two intro videos, the first being a silent cutscene featuring a real life actress in front of a green screen and the second a text crawl explaining what we just witnessed. I've noticed several users who played this game were completely unaware of a subsequent introduction, one can hardly blame them as Virtual Hydlide boots up the start menu when the first FMV sequence, giving no hint of a follow-up. Why the developers didn't choose to simply join both videos as one is beyond me, though this is the least of Virtual Hydlide's problems.

Upon entering the main menu we are greeted with what is perhaps one of the only two veritable strong points of this game: its music. While this soundtrack does not hold a candle to Enix's or Squaresoft's musical offerings these are still enjoyable and fitting tunes in their own right. All melodies were clearly created digitally though they try to emulate real life instruments with mixed success. Still, regardless of whether these tunes sound orchestrated or synthesized, they are still pleasant. 

Players may start a new game by creating a new randomly generated overworld or inputing a code of their own. A new world to explore on every playthrough may seem like an enticing gameplay mechanic, but sadly these maps are always barren offering no towns to explore or quests to undertake. Instead you are on a constant, linear fetch quest going from dungeon A to dungeons B, C and always in the same order. This is only the beginning of Virtual Hydlide's issues of which sadly there are many.

The game's graphical style is often derided. It features a digitized main character exploring 3D-ish environments. While the hero looks photo-realistic every other asset was clearly drawn, making the main player stick out like a sore thumb. Not only that but everything has a pixelated, low resolution look to it, even by 32-bit console standards. The visuals seem reminiscent of what you would find in a 3DO title and I don't mean this as a stab to Virtual Hydlide or the 3DO, it's a graphical style I've always found charming but is clearly not for everyone's cup of tea.

What shouldn't be anyone's cup of tea is the frankly, shocking framerate which the game runs. Up this point I could have forgiven many of Virtual Hydlide's faults, even with all its issues there were still positives to find (to which I'll address later). If the gameplay .gifs seemed choppy, I assure you it's not due to the image quality, it really runs that poorly. Sadly, this uneven experience is the definitive deal breaker, it kicks in as soon as you start playing, running at what I assume is a paltry 5 frames per second and it only gets worse from there. While exploring one of the final dungeons there was a point where I'm sure gameplay stuttered below a single frame per second, it got to the point where it wouldn't even register button presses anymore. Generally speaking, the more enemies and polygonal objects appear in the camera, the worse it gets.

I cannot emphasize enough at how horrific the frame rate is or how it affects gameplay. If an enemy attacks you from behind, the mere act of turning around becomes a patience-testing task. The camera can also choose the poorest of angles when navigating through tight spots, often times I couldn't see where I was nor where my enemies were placed. It doesn't help due to your character essentially being a 2D digitized sprite it's often hard to judge distances when swinging a sword. Now, add all that to the fact enemies sometimes appear to clip between walls (a bug not a feature, I assure you) and you've got a recipe for disaster.

Weapons, armor and non-quest important items are randomly placed in each dungeon. This adds a roguelike element to the game as you don't know if a weapon is cursed or carries any bonuses unless you equip it or use a magic scroll on it. Fighting enemies can also be fun when they are not swarming our main character and lowering the frame rate even further. Unfortunately, there is no reward for killing enemies save to increase your score. Now granted, points can be traded for better weapons and items, but even this shop is easy to miss, it's entirely likely most players will finish the game before even coming across that particular location which leads me to my next point: the sense of loneliness.

This is the other strong point in Virtual Hydlide, the feeling of loneliness. At no point will the player ever meet any helpful or neutral NPCs. Instead we explore cemeteries, abandoned mansions, mines and dungeons, but all of its beings, living or undead are out to get you. It genuinely made me wonder where is everyone and why am I the only human left in the world. Yes, the intro explains the princess was turned into three fairies, but it doesn't specify what happened to her people. Of course none of these questions are ever actually addressed in the game.

Monsters and enemies generally feature poor A.I. as most of the time they seem to have as hard a time hitting me as I do hitting them. Often they even seem to "forget" about me, attacking me once or twice and then moving on as if nothing happened. At least the game is mercifully short, it took me a little under three hours to finish it on my first attempt.

For all its faults, I truly believe Virtual Hydlide was a labor of love. A mere glance at its credit sequence shows it was created by a small team who dreamed big but could not fulfill their vision. This game fails on every technical level but the concept ideas were solid, just awfully implemented. It's easy to forget the original Hydlide preceded the Legend of Zelda and that for its time, it was a solid release when compared to competing MSX and Apple II RPGs. Sadly, Virtual Hydlide is much like that kid who fell behind the rest of his class, he may have genuinely tried his best to catch up and get a passing grade, but it was already too late.

Trivia: Though it's never stated in the game or PAL region manuals, Virtual Hydlide is a remake of the original Hydlide.

- Successfully captures a feeling of loneliness in a hostile world
- The music while not deserving of an award is pretty good in its own right
- For better or worse, it's still a unique experience

- A constantly terrible framerate completely destroys any chance this might have had.
- Underwhelming graphics
- Despite featuring a randomly generated overworld, each playthrough is exactly the same

Final Grade: F

Oh dear, this cover is not good at all. I'm not even sure where to start. We have the main villain, Varalys represented through poorly aged mid-90s CG. As if that weren't enough, he's flying while spreading his legs wide open, that does not seem comfortable at all.

Then we have a knight and I assume the evil wizard boss standing in front of Varalys via poorly done photoshop job. Worse still, both the knight and wizard seem to present themselves in a far more realistic look than Varalys, making the demon stand out for all the wrong reasons. Finally, we have a blurry photo of a random castle at the bottom. Essentially we have three different art styles all within a single cover all clashing with each other. This image is so crowded and busy I don't even know where to focus my eyes on, its composition is a mess.

The packaging comes with the bare basics: manual, CD and an early Saturn game case. By now I've made it abundantly clear I am not a fan of early PAL region Sega Saturn cases. These have a tendency to break and/or rip easily.

Its manual is a bit of an oddity, half of it is spent discussing obvious settings like the sound, brightness and saving options while dedicated very little information to game itself.

What little backstory we get is just a retelling of the intro video (which already has its own in-game retelling though a FMV cutscene). It does provide some useful information but it's written in such a way that one could easily mistake it for meaningless fluff.

The first time I read the manual I completely missed the instructions how to regenerate health simply because of how padded out the text was (see fourth paragraph on the image). With all that said, it does provide plenty of screenshots and generally does a good job at introducing newcomers to Virtual Hydlide. It's not a terrible booklet, just short with only 13 pages and padded out.

I wish the packaging would have at least redeemed Virtual Hydlide, but between a terrible cover, a short booklet with meaningless padding and no extras I can safely say not a lot of effort went into the European edition.

Packaging Grade: D

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