It's strange that after having played Hybrid Heaven, I didn't know where to start with this review. I was, in fact, drawing blanks until I remembered the summer movie seasons of 1996. Independence Day (ID4) was the big hit and consequently, perhaps, many missed out on a lesser-known film released the following summer entitled Starship Troopers. They were each hyped as the biggest and most epic movie of the summer and expectations were extremely high. But after ID4 was released, it stole all the limelight and left little room for Starship Troopers. A similar situation seems to have appeared, this time in relation to the Nintendo 64 console. Since its inception, the Nintendo 64 has always lacked (and continues to) a halfway decent RPG library. So, naturally, when two heavily hyped RPGs, The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time and Hybrid Heaven (Hybrid Heaven), were on the horizon, fans had their eyes set squarely. Konami had hyped Hybrid Heaven as the best RPG to hit the console and stated it so loudly and clearly that they were shooting high. We now all know what happened to Ocarina Of Time and the impact that it had on the industry. But Hybrid Heaven has only just arrived and now must make strong waves of its own to save Konami's credibility, among other things.
The developers, KCEO, obviously set their sights high for this game. One look at the cinematic intro for the game and this point becomes apparent. Its length and use of voice-acting is initially very impressive for a cart-based game, but upon further inspection, it becomes a metaphor for the rest of the game and is ultimately what's wrong with Hybrid Heaven. The building-up is like that of an episode of X-Files, where everything must build calmly and culminates with a surprisingly violent or, otherwise, shocking incident. We are then held in suspense while the opening credits roll by. In this case, they are successful thanks to a bit of a plot-twist right at the beginning of the game.
But whatever points it gets for style, it loses in overall presentation. For one thing, the graphics are so bland that I was ready to turn off the game as soon as I started it up. It got to the point where I was wondering whether or not I was looking at a first-generation title and that left me feeling cold. Hybrid Heaven's textures are crude and repetitive. Did I mention that they were bland? It was amazing how muddy and average most of the levels in the game looked as a result. I am usually pretty forgiving to a company that makes games on the Nintendo 64; with the relatively small size-limitation of Nintendo's ROM carts. I understand that there are going to be times when developers run into inherent limitations and simply must reduce the quality or amount of graphics and sounds of a game just to make it all fit onto a cart. But when it comes to a company like Konami, with its kind of resources and experience, my expectations are raised and on this point, Konami does not come through.
Graphics aside, Hybrid Heaven does take big steps towards innovation. With "hybrid" in the title, I knew I was to expect the best of both worlds; an RPG and an action-adventure game. To their credit, KCEO took the role-playing game angle in a different direction. The fighting system doesn't put various spells, potions, or monsters at my disposal and rather gives me control of the basic fighting moves. I can throw an upper cut on an enemy if I wish or instead throw high kicks with my right foot with a simple selection on a menu. It is such a different angle that it was not without a bit of frustration on my part that I played through each fight. I do like having that option, but the pacing is so slow and the interface so clumsy that I sometimes wished they had dumped the menu system and focused on the shoot-and-destroy elements also in the game. Let's face it, the fighting system is Hybrid Heaven's bread and butter and if it wasn't perfected, they should have never released the game.
Whereas Starship Troopers was simply beaten to the punch by ID4 (both movies were amazingly average), Hybrid Heaven has arrived long after Ocarina Of Time and seems unable to get out from under Zelda's albeit very large shadow. Amazingly, aside from the graphics and the fighting system, Hybrid Heaven isn't horrendous. It just looks a lot worse compared to Ocarina Of Time and other titles on the market. If Konami had spent more time on this, it would have certainly been a more rewarding experience and would have gotten a higher score.