Hey guys, got a bit of a problem here. You might have noticed that posts have dropped off a bit in frequency, the past couple months. There’s been a couple of factors going into that and they’re all coming to a head now. I recently found out that my job has more of a time limit attached to it than anyone thought, and I’ve really been focusing on the whole trying to stay employed so I can afford all my fancy hair products thing. Also, the post I’ve been working on looks like it’s going to be taking a while to finish up. Yet another big, wordy one.
I’m really not wanting to leave the blog in the lurch, but I didn’t have a post to go. I figured I’d settle on a compromise. I’ve been writing things for a few years, much of which has ended up in some corner of the internet or another, but I do have some stuff from years past that never found an outlet. Seeing as this stuff’s survived transfers through at least two computers, I figured it’d be fair to give it a home, and help me get some content up in the leaner times.
To start with, here’s a review I wrote circa 2008, on a lesser known N64 RPG, Hybrid Heaven. I make no claims to its accuracy, quality, or the not-being-a-wankerness of my writing. This is something I did when I was still very early to the world of having people read the stuff I just write for fun, and trust me, a lot of my material back then even makes me cringe now. Anyways, here’s hoping you enjoy!
Dear reader, you are in for a treat! Just for you, I shall review the greatest game ever made*!
*That happened to be plugged into the TV at the time I felt like writing a review.
Think way back to 1999, back when Clinton was president, Furby held the world in a deathgrip, and the 32/64-bit era was just winding down. According to many, many reputable tabloid magazines, the world was supposed to end that year, and it almost did. A small mom-and-pop video game company known as Konami birthed this little bundle of joy unto the world, having genetically engineered it from bits and pieces of old games from the action and RPG genres. Calling their brain-child “Hybrid Heaven”, Konami let their adorable little Frankenstein’s monster roam freely, fully unaware that it would soon return to destroy both them and the majority of the eastern hemisphere. For months, it wandered, devastating all in its path, until a small group of teenage survivors from South Korea banded together, realizing that their divine calling was to save the world from this great beast. The battles between the two forces were great, and lasted many, many episodes, plus a few filler arcs, but the monster was finally brought down when he finally learned to love.
Well, I might be embellishing a bit. You can’t prove me wrong, though.
My lacking exposition aside, Hybrid Heaven is, at the very least, a rather unique game. Action-based gameplay with an RPG system, coupled with a story of aliens, clones, and a few poor souls who just got in the way; this game released in the late nineties to wildly varying reactions. Some media outlets pimped this game as much as they could, while just as many held it in great distaste, and as everyone does since the advent of the internet, wanted to spread that feeling around as much as possible. Some people praised it for its story, some people loved the battle system, some people hated everything about the game, most people just ignored it. I can’t blame them. It was an RPG for the N64, after all. You can count the number of goods ones on one hand. Hell, you can count the total number on one hand.
“But Power, was this one any good?” I hear you asking. Well, I’d love to tell you now, but then you wouldn’t pay attention to the rest of this article. And if there’s anything I love, it’s online attention.
Hybrid Heaven tells the story of Johnny Slater, presidential bodyguard, as he fights against evil clones from outer space. He gets dropped into their secret underground lair, and spends the whole game trying to finding his way to the President and back, continually getting lost because everywhere looks the exact same as everyone else. He gets to run, jump, shoot, and fight, in defending the earth from just one of its many alien invasions a year.
Like most RPGs, the gameplay can be easily divided into two different parts, roaming and battle. The roaming sections of the game are very typical; everything here has been used a great many times before. Some people might say Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka has brought them to new levels of quality, that they’ve expertly elevated each factor and woven it into a beautiful fabric of gameplay. Those people are stupid, and you should throw eggs at them. The roaming sections are boring and sub-par. There are two factors dragging these sections down. The piss-poor control, you’ll notice right off the start.. Imagine Tomb Raider meets Resident Evil, and that’ll give you a rudimentary idea You run, although moving in a straight line is difficult. You jump, although not accurately. You shoot, although at a very limited range and with little aiming ability. Luckily, the control is rarely a problem, as the areas are very basic and undemanding. If this had been the entirety of the game, it would not be worth a second glance.
What makes the game worth playing is the battles. This game layers the traditional JRPG menu-driven combat on top of a more active interface, where one can move around with a degree of freedom until the player or the adversary launches an attack. Most attacks fall into the punch, kick, or grapple categories, and are never very flashy. In fact, if you’ve ever seen a martial arts flick and an episode of whatever pro wrestling show the kids are watching these days, you’ve likely already seen everything your silent protagonist can do. Battles are always one-on-one, although each enemy type functions differently, returning a bit of complexity the one-on-one system loses. They move at a good pace, not fast enough to be overwhelming, but not slow enough to be boring, although the huge amount of menus the player has to slog through is worth noting.
The gameplay when you’re roaming is simple to a fault, and leaves you ill-prepared to handle some of the obstacles the game throws at you. There is almost no polish here. You’re free to walk or run in any direction, you have a pretty limited jump, and you’re supplied with a “defuser,” a pistol that only works on electronic devices, to handle those out-of-control defense systems. You’ll need your defuser often. Roving mines, flamethrowers, mobile laser turrets, ASSHOLE MISSILE LAUNCHERS, all these and more are waiting for you to nail them with a couple shots of your completely unresponsive “weapon”. Running around works decently, jumping isn’t required often enough that it’s a major problem, but the gunning portion of it really drags down the gameplay. Gunning is controlled remarkably similar to the way it is in the Resident Evil series. Holding a shoulder button ceases the player’s movement and aims their weapon, where they can aim freely horizontally, but at only three levels vertically. It takes one about a second to whip it out, and another couple of seconds to aim, all while their immobile self is under fire. The weapon has an irritatingly slow firing rate, and pathetic range. The defenses practically have to be giving you a lap dance for you to be close enough to hit them. If the player gets nailed at any point while trying to fight back, they get knocked down and have to start over again. They controls are slow, unresponsive, and by the end of the game, the security systems are fast enough that fighting back is absolutely ineffective; you’re going to get nailed either way. It’s lucky that the game gives out health pickups like creepy old men give out candy, because otherwise, Johnny’d be screwed..
Although a lesser issue, the control when just running around is pretty bad as well. The camera tends to subtly shift when there’s no reason for it to do so, leaving Johnny able to walk in a straight line about as much as you were the last time you got pulled over. Usually, it’s not much of a problem, it might cost him a few hp here and there. There are, however, a few of those narrow walkways with gaping pits to each side sprinkled around, to keep players on their toes. While they’re not too tough to navigate, provided the player pays attention and follows the shifting camera, the view does often make a drastic jump as soon as they step on the walkway, meaning the players with slower reflexes could easily end up plunging into the draw-distance fog. Jumping isn’t quite so bad, mainly because it’s not usually as vital as running.. Jumping in this game is really similar to the jumping in Tomb Raider, in form. If you remember how irritating the jumping in that game was, that’ll give you a good idea of how it is here, except you never need to rely on your jumping prowess. It seems the crappy jumping was foreseen, and the game is mostly devoid of big gaping pits and areas were you have to jump to escape enemies.
Adding on to the shit parade is the fact that the presentation is really lacking. The character models aren’t bad, for the time, but the area graphics were dated even when the game was new. Everywhere you go, it’s pretty much the same brown wall and floor textures. They mix it up a bit by playing with the lighting, and occasionally changing up the colors, but you’ll be facing the same surroundings for almost the entire game. They’re ugly, and it’s boring. I get the point, that all this is taking place in just one underground structure, but come on! Vary it, please! When you finally leave the shelter, and make it to the Gargatuan’s spacecraft, it still looks the same, save for a single room! Of course, you’d think that if they were going to copy and paste the same textures throughout the entire game, KCEO would have put the time and effort into not making them look like crap, but you’d be wrong. That’s why I’m writing this review, and not you. All the walls, floors, and ceilings are made up of the same blurry, flat, usually poo-colored metal, repeated thousands of times until the game is finished. There are a couple rooms with different textures, but not enough to make a difference. They can’t have spent more than ten minutes creating these texture maps before handing them off to some poor intern to apply to every barrier in the game. And that poor intern probably has nightmares to this day.
For the most part, the music isn’t anything to worry about. It’s dull, but it’s quiet. Most of the time, you probably won’t even remember it being there. Most of the time. Of course, there are always exceptions, and in this case, the exceptions are hideous. In a few areas, the game decides it wants you to feel heroic, or endangered, or… something. I don’t know, it’s indiscernable. The music really picks up there, driving into a fast beat, and feels very awkward and out of place, like that kid back in high school who never picked up the skills to relate to people, yet always tried to hang out with you and your friends, blissfully unaware that you guys only used that as an opportunity to make fun of him. Essentially, you could play through all the roaming sections with the sound turned off, and it wouldn’t affect your enjoyment of the game. And thanks a lot, you asshole! I was only trying to fit in!!
This game would be absolutely worthless, if not for the battle sequences. The presentation’s still very weak, with bland music and absolutely ridiculous monster design (someone apparently thought that a potato monster was a good idea), but the combat system is entertaining enough to make up for it.
Battles are always one on one affairs, and except for one, every adversary faced is humanoid. The protagonist is free to walk or run around within the confines of the room, however, escaping from the fight is not an option. The player may be a huge wuss, but Johnny Slater isn’t. The tempo of the fight is controlled by the power bar, which charges up constantly in inverse proportion to how fast the combatant is moving. In other words, the faster one is moving, the slower the power bar charges up. It’ll charge up the fastest when Johnny’s standing still or taking small steps, slow to a crawl if he’s making large strides, and almost stop if he’s running. This injects a bit of strategy in the fight, making the player choose their evasive maneuvers carefully. Taking big steps at the right time can help you avoid attacks, but if these strides are used when they’re not needed, it delays the time at which you can make a full powered attack. You can launch attacks as long as your power bar is above a certain point (although the point is low enough that situations where one is unable to attack when they need to are rather rare.). In a very shocking innovation, the amount of damage done in an attack is actually proportional to how much your power bar is filled. Unlike most games, if you attack when the power bar is about 90% filled, you’ll do about 90% of full damage, rather than hitting your opponent for dick just because you pressed the button a second early.
Standing, Johhny has three kinds of attacks: punches, kicks, and grapples. Almost all of your moves are very direct and utilitarian, lacking all of the flash and fancy spins kids think are cool these days. All of Johnny’s punches are stupid, and you should never use them. They’re short range, and usually weaker than any of your other attacks. Real men use their kicks. These have longer range, more power, and can hit the opponent at any part of their body, rather than punches, which can only hit the chest, head, and sometimes arms. Anyone who’s smart would rely on their legs for most of the game. Grapples are powerful, but risky, especially at higher levels. Johnny has to grab his opponent before initiating these, leaving him open for quicker enemies to activate their own attack and throw him around before he can get his off. They lose a lot of usefulness in the endgame, where it’s just not wise to use them very often, but they’re damaging enough in the start and mid-game that it’s worth training them up through those sections, at least.
When the enemy attacks poor Mr. Slater, there are again three options for the player to choose from in the fierce struggle of not getting their asses kicked. The first is to Step, which, obviously gives him a single step in any direction, aiming to take him out of the enemy’s range. The step doesn’t take Johnny very far and is a little slow, so it’s most useful when he’s already moving or already a short distance away from the enemy. The second defensive option is to Guard, which will usually halve the damage taken, if Johnny can bring it up in time. This is most useful if he’s standing still, as Johnny does not posses the ability to move and guard at the same time. The third option is to Counter, in which Johnny will match an opponent’s attack with one of his own. Unfortunately, this isn’t very reliable. To execute this, the attack would have had to miss Johnny anyways, but he has to be close enough to hit them with his own attack. Unless if he’s behind or to the side of his opponent, this method will generally end in Johnny getting nailed.
Players will be either really good or really bad at combat. There is no middle ground. Success hinges on the gamer’s ability to pick up on subtlety, something the net-fed nerds that seem to play this game aren’t well known for. Each enemy type is unique, and has a unique method of fighting. Thus, the player has to tailor their fighting style to what they’ve learned from their opponent. The enemies’ unique traits may be glaringly obvious, such as the monster who spends the whole fight rushing around the field, while others may take a number of battles to figure out, such as the enemies who follow a variable pattern of attacks. Consistent victory will not be gained without the player learning to adapt. However, there are a few constants that can help even the most monstrous of retards hold their own.
The first constant is that every single opponent has the same tell. They will juke their hands before launching a punch, or lift their leg before striking with a kick. At first, they’ll strike immediately after the tell, giving Johnny time to make some space. However, as you become wise to this trait, the game becomes wise to you. Deeper into the game, more and more enemies are able to use the tell in advance, leaving quite some time before they actually attack. You’ll still know it’s coming, no worries. When it’s coming, however, is up for grabs. The smart gamer might be able to step in and step out, triggering the attack to a miss. The dumb gamers probably wouldn’t have lasted this long anyways, so it doesn’t matter.
The second constant is that enemies are very pattern focused. If they do something once, they will do it every time. No variance, no adaptation. If an enemy attacks immediately upon Johnny entering his sight, that’s what he will always do. If the player pays enough attention, and fights each monster type enough times, they should be able to predict the enemy’s moves before they are made. Of course, that’s assuming a reasonable level of intelligence in the gamer, and judging from the most vocal players of this game, I’m not so sure.
The third constant is the fact that enemies are incredibly single minded. It kinda makes me question the amount of work that went into the AI. If the enemy attempts to launch an attack and is interrupted, they will repeat that attack over and over until it goes through. If the player is swift and lucky enough, they should be able to keep their foe on the ropes for a while.
As in most games with RPG elements, Johnny does level up as the game progresses. However, experience points are eschewed in favor of the use-based systems seen in many other games. The more Johnny attacks with a particular part of your body, the stronger it becomes. Individual moves and Johnny’s defenses level up in a similar manner. It’s a simple and easily understandable system, but it does run into a few problems.
You know what the advantage is of writing a review for a game none of the readers are going to play? I can load it with as many spoilers as I want.
Hybrid Heaven harkens back to a magical time, where men were men, and women were an endangered species consisting almost entirely of love interests, sentimental villains, and throwaway enemies. People back then didn’t need weapons to kill each other, no sir! A good pair of knuckles sufficed. If someone used something else, it was a sure sign that they were a prissy-pantsed nancy-boy.
You begin the game as Diaz, warpaint aficionado and liaison to the overground from the Hybrids, a race of genetically enhanced clones living in an alien shelter burrowed underneath Manhattan (with the Ninja Turtles! Hell yeah!).12222781 qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqhy (My cat would like you to know that he hates you.) You start the game waiting in a New York subway station, escorted by two totally discrete redheaded Men-in-Black clones, who nevertheless draw less attention than you and your bad pink-shirted, face-painted self. Pretty typical for a New York subway, all in all. As your contact, clone of presidential bodyguard Johnny Slater, nears, you notice his crappy leather jacket and “bad boy” haircut, and decide he’s trying to hard to look cool. The voices in your head tell you to shoot him, so you do, right in front of the original Johnny Slater’s girlfriend. Sensing something might be mildly amiss, your escorts jump you, bringing you into their expansive underground shelter. You escape, release all the Hybrid’s bioweapons, and make your happy little way deeper into the shelter, rather than heading back to the overground. You retard.
Escaping from the Hybrids, their bioweapons, and the wimpy electronic security, Diaz ventures along until he encounter the Gargatuans, source of the voices in your head and slave labor to the Hybrids. Taking the renegade hybrid into their secret hidey-hole, they reveal that he is not Diaz at all! He is, instead, the more monochrome, less interesting, Johnny Slater, the original of the clone that you killed up above. As it turns out, those weeny little pacifist aliens kidnapped the original Diaz, wiped Slater’s memories, and applied a skin that made him look exactly like Diaz, all so he could be put in place to rescue the American President before he’s replaced by his evil clone. Unfortunately, as he is getting his Diaz covering removed, the Hybrids burst in, recover the original Diaz, and capture all the gargatuans. Armed with his newfound knowledge, he sets off to rescue the president, then later, the rest of humanity. I wonder if that’s in Mr. Slater’s job description.
As for the rest of the plot…well, there’s not really a whole lot left. Johnny keeps fighting, the real Diaz is pissed off that he stole his persona, the base blows up, a really lame plot twist is thrown in (discussed later), and the President save’s Johnny’s ass, then finishes the game by sending Johnny to go bang his girlfriend while the President fights his own clone. I’d vote for him.
There are a number of accounts I’ve seen of people claiming that the plot is the sole reason they play this game. I’m not usually one to fault a man his entertainment choices (after all, I actively enjoy my Gamecube), but if you enjoy Hybrid Heaven for the plot, you must have a really sad life. Hybrid Heaven’s plot is decent, but rather lacking. It doesn’t present too many clichés or hammer the player with last year’s plot like many JRPGs are wont to do, but it is comparatively lacking in content. After all, Hybrid Heaven isn’t a plot-focused game. Yes, yes, I understand your shock. No problem, I’ll wait as you gather your jaw from the floor. Yes, Hybrid Heaven is a pseudo-RPG, from Japan, no less, that doesn’t focus on the plot. The plot is to this game what it was to most games in the 8- and 16-bit eras; an excuse. It’s only there to provide a reason for the player’s avatar to face the setting and conflict he does; then, after the exposition, it serves to keep the player fired up for the next part. Yes, it’s somewhat unique and interesting, but if you want your story, there are much better plot-oriented games out there. Or you could, you know, read a book.
The story’s kind of unique, and certainly has potential. If it had been more integrated into the game, it could have developed into something good. Or it could have been crap. Who knows? Inconsequential as it is, there are still a couple things I’d like to mention. After all, it’s my soapbox, and I’m going to use it.
There are two main twists in the plot. The first is the revelation that the player’s avatar is not Diaz, but actually Johnny Slater. Yes, this is contrived, and is delivered in a very abrupt manner, but functionally, this is a very beautiful twist. It provides a reason for the player character to delve deeper into the dungeon, explains everything that’s happened previously, creates a direct antagonist for the main character, and really opens up the game. The second twist is just painful. At the end of the game, you meet of with The Master/The Traitor (his name depends on who’s referring to him), the gargatuan who had betrayed the rest of his race and created the hybrids. Shortly after defeating him, it’s revealed that, oh no! He’s actually been controlled the whole time by an alien parasite! Yeah. It’s as if they were afraid the players would be afraid of something new, so they just reached into the cliché box, and grabbed the first thing they found that’s already been used a thousand times before. The character was a lot more interesting back when he was simply evil; it was just irritating when the game was attempting to make me feel sorry for him. Even at the time this game was made, the whole “controlled by an evil entity” bit was already played out. But the most insulting part? In addition to making the villain lame, and the aneurysms it created, the series of fights it spawned are among the lamest in the game.
One of the most interesting things about the plot, as judged by me, is the game’s use of hubris. Most of the hybrids you face are specialized, created for a specific purpose, and it is that purpose that brings them to their knees. The plot-makers, at least in this instance, used far more subtlety than is found in most video games. One instance is presented clearly to the player, in which one hybrid, the matron of the group, feels regret for what the hybrids are doing to the human race. It is suggested that her role makes her more emotional than the rest of the hybrids, paving the way for many, many bad PMS jokes, and a few good ones. For the player that pays attention, this applies to most other hybrids as well. The scientific Dr. Bross is rendered absolutely inneffective at capturing Johnny, due to his preference of conducting combat experiments. The lapdog Jerry wants a position at The Master’s side, and is willing to make any stupid decision to get it. While not apparent at a passing glance, this shows up to anyone paying enough attention, and brings a nice dimension to the plot.
On the other side of the spectrum, though, and much more blatant, is how contradictory the plot is. It’s like the writer got drunk enough each night after work that he completely lost his short-term memory, forgetting everything he’d done the previous day. The executives noticed, or course, but he always threw such great parties, they just couldn’t fire him. So, he just kept doing what he was doing, and we had to pay for it. Case in point: the gargatuans. They need Johnny to fight the Hybrids because they themselves are: a) pacifists, and b) too weak physically for combat. Factor A is immediately blown out of the water when they reveal that their plan for defeating the Hybrids is to retract the underground shelter, crushing everyone inside. Peacefully, of course. Factor B holds up most of the game, until the end, when The Master/The Traitor, a fellow gargatuan, puts up a decent enough fight against Johnny Slater, slayer of clones. As you might expect, it doesn’t end there. I understand that this isn’t a plot-focused game, but c’mon Konami, at least respect me enough to think things through.
At times, these contradictions really mess up what the plot is trying to make you feel. At the game’s end, the writers try really hard to make Diaz seem like an honorable guy, and imply that the fact that you can’t be dead enough for his tastes was just caused by a twist of fate. And I suppose they might have come close to that effect, assuming the player forgot all about Diaz’s crusade against the helpless gargatuans, just to find out where you are. And the player was expected to forget all about Diaz’s attempted use of heavy artillery against Mr. Slater’s unarmed self. Unfortunately, it seems there was some miscommunication between the scenario team and Konami’s marketing group, as I don’t recall hearing about anyone trying to sell this game to goldfish.
This game tends to be structured in a pattern. There will be a few rooms to adventure through, than a few rooms to fight through. You can tell the director(s) had some vision with this game, as it definitely carves it’s own niche, but it is sorely wanting for polish. The roaming sections are awkward and dull, and I’d bet that most players just slog through them in order to reach the far superior fighting segments. The roaming sections really hurt the piece as a whole, and should have gotten more attention. At least some attempt should have been made to make them less bland and crappy.
The combat is enjoyable, and that’s what carries the game, for better or for worse. There’s no backup, nothing else to enjoy as your enemies become less creative and more routine. As a result, the game’s flat out boring towards the middle. It picks up again near the end, as your enemies become varied and interesting once more, but might it be too little, too late? I hate having to work before I get to have fun in the video games. That’s what I did at my job, making the money I then used to purchase the game. I work hard enough at my job, I don’t want to pay to work some more. It never becomes unpleasant to play this, but I’m pretty sure I never would have finished this game if I didn’t have some other purpose to work to. After one spends a couple of hours working through the monotony, it gets better about an hour before the end. A lot better, very quickly I’m convinced that either the design team made the end of the game close to the start of the process, or the director replaced himself with a crash test dummy equipped with a voice box and a pull string. Nobody knew the difference, so they just took the orders. Later, the director came back to discuss his royalties, realized everything was boring, and got to work. Nah, that never happened. Game people don’t care if their game is boring.
Rounding off the package is the fact that the presentation absolutely sucks. This game has very little polish. The visuals range from crappy to sub-par, the music ranges from non-existant to blaringly out of place, and I’m pretty sure the monster designers did all there concept work in a single trip to the zoo. “Hmm, there’s a rhino? How about a rhino-MAN! An orangutan? We’ll make and orangutan-MAN! Hey look, there’s the lizard hut! I’m having a breakthrough here, guys! Let’s make a lizard-MAN! Oh, I’m such a genius!” The plot rides the line between good and poop. It does provide a bit of a drive, and breaks sections up nicely, but it’s not present enough to either enhance or detract from the gameplay. So, all in all, the game gets
3 out of 5
If the roaming sections were able to stand up to the combat rather than leaving it to support the entire game… hell, if they just had some effort behind the roaming sections, this might have been a great game. As it is, the combat is fun but slacks off in the middle, while the roaming sections are just something you go through to get to the combat. All in all, its a decent game, but there are many more games more worthy of your time in the world. Then again, you’ve spent your money on worse (I know you have) and hey, it’s an RPG-ish game for the 64. There’s like, five of those, most of them worse than this lesser known piece.