Review: Hybrid Heaven (N64)

In this review, we check out another not-so run-of-the-mill RPG games, Hybrid Heaven. We find out if this RPG fighting game is worth a shot.

Hybrid Heaven was released in 1999 and was a game that offered a unique mix of genres: RPG, fighting, and adventure.

You begin with a general cutscene of Johnny Slater. Someone rings the doorbell and it’s the secretary of defense. One can easily tell so much is off with the meeting until the mentioning of acting like a human is brought up. Diaz, the character you play in the beginning, shoots Slater in a subway later on. the men in suits that accompany him then take him into the underground shelter. This shelter, it turns out, hides a biological weapon factory below Manhatten controlled by aliens. These weapons are synthetically engineered beings of various physical configurations. As you venture deeper into the game, the plot to overrun the world with “hybrids” is gradually revealed to you. It is up to you to eventually stop this plot dead in its tracks.

You have options to select a difficulty. The harder the game is set, the more difficult certain things become. Two immediately obvious things are the fact that bots take more hits to destroy on harder difficulties. Enemies are also generally stronger and moves take longer to learn. The piledriver move, for instance, can easily be learned when you first encounter a monster that uses it on you (provided you survive the encounter of course). On the harder difficulties, you have to venture a little further into the game before you can learn this move. Also, what you win at the end of the game depends on which difficulty you’ve selected.

You start off with an all-purpose keycard that you’ll need to continually refresh throughout the game. Another key item you have is a diffuser that is used to disable small bots, bombs, shield generators, and certain door locks. Additionally, you have a map that is probably always going to be displayed on your screen.

As you go further into the game, you’ll collect items. Some refresh your hit points. They go by a simple color coding scheme (green increases this a little, yellow moderately increases hit points or stamina, red increases something a fair amount, and purple maxes out the stat). Others refresh your stamina. Some can temporarily raise three stats (offense, defense, and speed) during battle or lower the stat of your opponent (same three). Additionally, you can find items that permanently raise your offense, defense, or speed (the last one being rare as I’ve only found two in the entire game).

Another thing you can find are weapons. These fire a blast of something (i.e. fire) at an enemy. There are two types of this weapon: standard and SP. Standard fires one shot while SP fires multiple shots in the same turn.

While adventuring through the large underground shelter can be interesting (what with all the scenery that you see throughout), the main element of this game is held within the fighting/battle sequences. Some enemies that you fight can be seen either wandering aimlessly in the halls or ambushing you from the ceiling. Others appear on teleportation pads that regenerate a set amount of times. Some may not like this as it means more battles, but others might note that these are golden opportunities to raise your characters levels through battle experience.

How you enter the fight depends on which way you or the enemy is facing. If you are both facing each other, you’ll simply enter the fight normally. If your enemy is facing away, you gain an advantage. This means that your fighting meters are maxed out from the beginning while your enemy is confused until it hears you approaching. If an enemy catches you off guard and you enter the battle with the enemy behind you, you get a surprise attack with you yourself confused your with the enemy able to launch an attack on you right away. Half the time, you won’t get much of an opportunity to gain advantage, but this largely depends on the configuration of the room.

When in the battle sequence, you have to wait a short period of time (about 2 seconds) before you are able to attack. This battle system does loosely resemble the system found in Final Fantasy VI or Final Fantasy VII. the key difference here, though, is your ability to move around the room. This allows you to form battle strategies that just aren’t present in other RPG games.

Executing your attacks are also fairly open ended. You can get up close and personal with your enemy and simply hit a button to attack which would resemble what you see in boxing or kick boxing. Alternatively, you can grapple your enemy and execute a different move that would more closely resemble WWF-style wrestling. Either way, you utilize these attacks through a menu system which is actually fairly typical of RPG games. In fact, I would say it’s easier to understand because it’s context sensitive. If you’ve grappled an enemy, you’ll get an attack menu based on your wrestling moves. If an enemy attacks you, you can choose between blocking, countering, or stepping out of the way.

As you attack your enemy, different parts of your body gain certain amounts of experience points. This is broken down into left and right arms, left and right legs, boxy, and head. The more you use that body part to attack, the more it will level up and become stronger. Yes, there is at least one move that allows you to attack with your noggin. Additionally, as you take damage, these same body parts will gain experience points that go into building up your defense. As you level up the defense side of your body parts, they will be able to absorb more punishment and reduce the amount of damage you take.

At the end of each battle, you’ll also have the opportunity to level up other stats like hit points. This isn’t your typical level up where you gain enough experience points and you gain one overall level. Leveling up in this game is broken down into very specific stats like overall HP, defense, offense, etc. What triggers these levels up specifically, I’m not sure, but you’ll often get level ups of different kinds at the beginning. These taper off in later levels and you’ll definitely encounter a battle where you’ll level up nothing later on in the game.

Another aspect of this battle system is how you learn moves. At the beginning, you’ll only have a small handful of moves. As enemies execute these moves on you, you have a chance to learn that move. If you survive the battle, these moves will be added to your inventory of moves. Like many other things in this game thus far, these moves can be leveled up. The more you use a certain move, the more powerful it gradually becomes (over top of the body part leveling up in overall offense in the process). If you use primarily middle left and middle right kick exclusively for a few battles, then try using an upper left or right kick, the upper left or right kick will actually be weaker even though those body parts have better overall offense.

With this level of detail put into moves and stats, it’s easy to see how you can gradually form different strategies throughout the game. Interestingly enough, your character will actually take up a stance in battle depending on what you have developed the most. Initially, you’ll simply have a standard fighting stance. If you develop your punching abilities, your character will actually take up a boxer fighting stance. If kicking is more your thing, your character will change to a kickboxing stance. Naturally, if you develop your body moves, you’ll take up a wrestler stance. If you keep a balance, you’ll generally retain the standard fighting stance. I thought this was an interesting subtlety added to the game.

While the implications are obvious when it comes to training your character (offense allowing you to do more damage, defense cutting the damage dealt to you down, etc.), the lesser obvious implication appears later in the game as your stamina increases. You can eventually earn a box just below your attack meter. What this allows you to do is perform combo moves. Every time you fill up your meter, it goes directly to one of those red boxes that turns green. You then can see your meter charge all over again. Every time your meter fully charges, you are able to execute a move. If you turned a box green and filled your meter again, you can perform a combo move that can double your damage. You can either use one of the predetermined combo moves (that change as you get more boxes) or you can create three different patterns that can be stored for later use. This can be really convenient for training purposes. You can earn up to four of these boxes which means you can execute a combo move as long as 5 strikes in a single round. The drawback can be that you find yourself waiting longer, but typically the wait is worth it when you can unleash hot fury by unloading multiple punches and kicks.

One little known fact about the combo moves is that when you reach towards the end of the game, it’s possible to find hidden “finishing” moves. If you execute a certain sequence of moves, your character can unleash a bonus attack you can’t otherwise use in normal conflict. Unfortunately, only a select few moves have ever been uncovered, but the advice is that if you execute a combo move in some form of logical order, you can uncover one of these elusive finishing moves. Generally speaking, you’ll never really have access to these moves on the easy setting. You have to at least set the difficulty to medium before you can start searching for these moves.

One other thing to note about battle sequences is that as you fight more and more of them, some enemies will have a certain pattern to their attack. Some might just gradually inch forward while others can charge at you with bursts of speed. One can even go invisible while another can drop low level items after you perform body moves on it (look for the enemy with bags on its hips). These patterns, more often then not, can be manipulated to your advantage as you find ways of boosting that attack meter in efficient ways. Moving away from your enemy will slow how fast that goes up, so patterns in enemy movement can be key in making your battles easier. Sometimes, you can retain a specific distance from your enemy. By doing so, your enemy may never attack until you are ready to strike first. This certainly takes a good amount of experience in the game to pick up on.

One critical flaw in these patterns is the fact that enemies will do a little move before unleashing an attack on you. This can often be a players cue to step back (or jump back by tapping twice away from your opponent). For most enemies, this can allow a player to ensure the enemy hits nothing but air. You can also defensively make a step away on top of it all to ensure you dodge your enemies attacks. This doesn’t work on all enemies (some have the ability to take a large step and attack. Some have special shooting attacks. Some will perform this move with every step.), but for a large majority of enemies you encounter, you can drop the difficulty of this game quite substantially. Some might go so far as to call this cheating, but this is primarily up to you if you want to exploit this or not since you never build good defense if the enemy never lands a punch.

Like other RPG games, you can get status ailments. The most common ailment is an injured body part. You can use an item to heal up or give yourself time to heal. This is caused when an enemy hits a part of you particularly hard. The worst is if you have a head injury which means you basically lose conscious temporarily. At that point, you just hope the enemy simply wastes time or doesn’t use too many moves to finish you off because all you can do is wait things out. If you injure your arms or body, it simply means you can’t fight with that arm or use your wrestling moves. Legs are the same, but you can get a “slow” status. This means exactly what you think it means as you can only move more gradually throughout the arena. Another status ailment you’ll encounter is poison. This simply means that you lose HP over time until you either use something like a poison restorer or you just wait it out as poison will clear itself out on its own. While you don’t encounter this very often, you can also become frozen. This is basically the same as losing consciousness, only you are simply waiting to thaw yourself out.

One last note on fighting creatures is the fact that some have special moves. Some enemies have spit attacks like fire or ice. Some enemies can tail kick you. Some can simply hit you with a non-damaging knockdown move (such as your first boss fight). All of these are obviously moves you can’t learn, but you can eventually obtain weapons that shoots fire, ice, etc. Simply looking out for this is all you can really do about these attacks.

A criticism I heard about this game is that this game is way too short for an RPG game. I would have to disagree on that assessment since on the easy setting, I clock at roughly 18 hours of gameplay. The harder the setting, the more hours are required to complete this game. I tried medium and it took me over 20 hours of gameplay to finish. I didn’t try ultimate, but I would imagine I would clock a lot more hours. to put that into perspective, Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, Breath of Fire, Final Fantasy IV, and Diablo takes about as long to play. Yes, there are longer RPGs such as Might and Magic 6 – Mandate of Heaven, The Elder Scrolls III – Morrowind, and Demise – Ascension, but you have to do some serious digging before you find games that take a lot longer. To suggest that this game is short for your average RPG is, I find, just plain wrong. I found that this game was at a nice length for an RPG, personally.

A criticism I will agree with is that the camera does behave funny a times. This causes your controls to slightly alter and be annoying. It doesn’t happen that often, but it can happen in tight spaces or if you run around walls. Of course, the camera problems are nowhere near at the catastrophic levels as games like Silent Hill where you can find yourself running directly towards the camera for a few whole city blocks at a time, but it is noticeable in this game from time to time.

Another point of criticism in this game was the drop in frame rate. One person went so far as to say that the frame rate drops to the point that this game becomes unplayable. To say the game’s framerate drops to the point of this game being unplayable is simply false in my opinion. If you want a game with a framerate that drops to the point of the game being unplayable, try Midtown Madness on certain set ups. So, I disagree it was extremely bad like that.

One thing I’ll say about this game is that while there are different difficulties to try after you complete the game, I wasn’t exactly too motivated to try to play through again. I think a good amount of rest from this game is required before trying to beat the game again on a different difficulty.

Generally speaking, this is one of those games that gradually opens up to you. The more you play it, the more is revealed to you. This is not just in the plot itself, but also in your development of your character and developing strategies. It’s all about subtleties that makes this game a treasure trove of exploration.

Graphically speaking, this game is decent enough. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but the pure amount of different environments you encounter was something to praise this game on. You might think that the architectural patterns found in the different parts of the game will be like the beginning, but you would be dead wrong on that. You’ll encounter storage rooms, fiery pits, burning hallways, watery incubation areas, wide open mechanical areas, claustrophobic hallways, and a whole lot more. The textures can get a little more pixelated than I would have liked, but I thought the variety of environments really helps make this game stand out.

The sound in this game was definitely phenomenal. Some people didn’t like the sound the diffuser made, but I didn’t mind it. I wonder if there was the expectation that the diffuser would make a laser gun sound from Star Wars – Dark Forces or Perfect Dark which sparked that criticism in the first place. Personally, I would say it’s about average myself, but at least it was unique. The other sounds were great. From the grunts your character makes from having his clocked clean to the alien sounds your enemies make, the sound effects really stood out for me as excellent. The music was also fantastic. Most of the music was simply droning ambient music, but others were cinematic orchestral tunes. Probably my favorite was the boss battle music, but other general levels tracks that constantly evolve as you progress were also nicely done. Excellent stuff there.

Generally speaking, this is a great game that uniquely mixes righting and RPG elements all within a sci-fi environment. The plot is interesting and everything has an explanation if you explore far enough (i.e. why you can’t use actual guns – you are deep within the Earth and it could puncture the protective shelter). While some things are obvious, there are a lot of subtleties in this game that really makes it shine. Some of the criticisms I’ve seen were either misleading or wrong, but a few of the smaller criticisms were warranted. The graphics were well done when you realize the scope of the game. The audio was superb. At the end of the day, this was a great game that was certainly underrated.

Furthest point in game: Won on easy and medium difficulty. Started Ultimate, but had a pretty good idea of what to expect on that last difficulty.

General gameplay: 24/25
Replay value: 6/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 5/5

Overall rating: 86%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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