I have to wonder what gave T&E Soft the impression that the world needed a 3D version of Hydlide. Were they unaware of how bad the NES game was? Had word-of-mouth not yet reached them? Were they trying to make up for it? Were they insane?
While it wouldn't take much to be a better game than the NES Hydlide, Virtual Hydlide succeeds at that and little else. Although this game is playable, and there is some kind of masochistic pleasure in playing it, it barely qualifies as a "game". In a view from behind your character, you walk from Point A to Point B on your map, mash your way through a bunch of enemies in a dungeon, find an item, and then repeat. Thank all that's good in heaven and earth that T&E ditched the "bumping into enemies" method of combat and went with the more traditional sword-swinging style. It's certainly easier to use, but also greatly limited by the game's awkward 3D movement. Although you can strafe, most battles are won by simply standing close and slashing away. What's interesting is that once you have a shield, you can actually block with it - something that's essential to beating a few bosses. But your movement is slow, especially when turning around, and limited. You can't circle around enemies like you can in Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Thus, there's only so much that can be done, and the boss fights eventually become a matter of using enough healing items to outlast them.
The overworld is huge and sprawling, but completely free for you to explore. Occasionally, you may find a potion or some gold, but the best treasures are found in the dungeons, which are much more fun to comb through. I must confess I've only completed this game on the Easy setting, in which your goals are marked on your map. The harder settings remove the goal markers and cause the dungeon maps to only fill out as you move through them. While I wouldn't mind the dungeon map part of it, I cannot imagine spending hours roaming the overworld map trying to find the goals, especially since they must be completed in a very specific order. VH's gameplay is simply not good enough to motivate me to play through it multiple times, let alone with that kind of handicap.
One thing Virtual Hydlide has leaps and bounds over the NES game is its audio and visuals. The 3D environments use sprites instead of polygons, so they appear quite pixelated and blocky. Objects move and change size and shape when rotating the camera around them. And yet, much of the outdoor scenery still manages to look very nice. It's like impressionist work, similar to a Monet painting. (Not that it's great art, mind you, it just has that reminiscent style.) I especially liked the forests and the suspension bridge. Gone is that laughably bad, ever-looping rip-off of the Indiana Jones theme. Virtual Hydlide contains a true symphonic score. Although I wouldn't rank it among the best game soundtracks ever, some of it is surprisingly good, especially the Overworld and Trial Dungeon themes.
Anyone who's played the NES Hydlide will be familiar with this game's story, as it's practically the same. The demon Varalys, in one of the most unintentionally-hilarious and cheesiest game openings ever, transforms the Princess of Fairyland into three fairies and conquers the kingdom. The FMV shows Varalys rising up, without any animation whatsoever, behind the castle (which I'm certain is a digitized image of a real castle, but I don't know which one), and a real actress playing the role of the Princess. As she nervously runs around, we can practically hear the director yelling, "Okay, now run this way, now that way, now stop and look scared, now look around..." The ending doesn't quite top that, but it's still ridiculous enough to evoke laughter. But I confess I've been holding back on you. I haven't revealed the mother lode yet. The hero character is also a digitized actor (or maybe one of the programmers, I don't know). The really funny part is when he dons the Fairy Armor, it looks he's wearing some kind of ridiculous ice skater's dress! He's wearing this in every one of my screenshots because it's the best armor in the game, so you can see for yourself.
Aside from text messages telling you what items you've acquired, Virtual Hydlide has no in-game text. So, this is not a game you'd play for the story (though I'm trying hard to think of any other reason to play it aside from the unintended laughs.) There is, however, one really neat cutscene of a palace collapsing. This palace is, in fact, my favorite dungeon in the game. The first part is a multi-floored warp maze. The second is a dark hallway of mazes, the center of which is a "power unit" that has moving parts. You can't fall off these mobile blocks, but you do have to work your way across them by stepping onto them as they line up. It was nice to see some creative maze design, but it must've been used up there. The final dungeon is only a few rooms with rehashed boss fights. *sigh*
As a responsible critic, I can't seriously recommend this game. Sure, it's cute, funny, and a definite improvement over its NES predecessor, but it can be completed in a few hours with little effort. It also still leaves the question of exactly who, or what, is "Hydlide" unanswered. Some people claim that it's the name of the world, but this game still insists on calling it "Fairyland". I guess we just aren't meant to know.
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