Gamevil, the same guys that brought Zenonia to the West, deliver HYBRID: Eternal Whisper to your iPhone and iPod touch, a game that raises the eternal question: how J do you like your RPG? You play as Grey, thus named for his hair and eyes, a boy haunted by the suspicion that he, like some monstrous creatures, is a Hybrid. Set in the world of Platina, a place that seems doomed to be overrun by unstoppable Hybrids, everyone throws up their hands in despair and sits back to wait for the prophesied Guardian that will slay the Dark Spirits. Grey, however, goes ahead and tries to do battle himself taking him on an adventure that spans parallel worlds.
There is a seriously complex story at work here, with a lot of text, and for the price of HYBRID you get equal parts book and game. Between chapters are some really fantastic combat sequences, seventy in total. Fairy is Grey’s companion, an other-world creature with protective powers and the ability to divine the names of Spirits so Grey can land a blow (the idea is you can’t harm Spirits until you speak their name). Fairy can be summoned into battle, and in addition to blocking attacks she can scorch enemies in a ferocious lightning storm.
All the side-scrolling, bas-relief gameplay occurs in real-time. An on-screen D-pad is in the lower left with your standard sword attack control in the lower right. The d-pad is incredibly responsive, and for those that struggled with Zenonia’s controls I can reassure you this is a different animal altogether. I did have trouble moving right – I just couldn’t get my thumb to the right place to consistently move that direction. Integral for powerful combos is switching up Grey’s sword grip from standard to reverse grip, a trick made possible with a quick tap of the grip button located next to Attack.
The really cool part of HYBRID is the magical attacks component. Grey acquires six magical attacks that you employ with on screen gestures in a very Okami way. For example, the fire magic attack is like the act of striking a match, a quick diagonal drawn from the lower corner of the screen to the upper opposite corner. Chains of magical attacks send enemies skyward for an impressive slice-n-dice. Switching between standard attacks and magic attacks is a bit of a trick in itself, but some clever use of the dash maneuver gives Grey room, time and the ability to unleash the magics. The combat is incredibly satisfying, combos are really fun to pull off and simple tools like reversing grip and dashing keep it from feeling like you are trying to send your thumb through your screen. With “Stylish points” award post-combat, you’ll be combining dashing, standard attacks, reverse grips and magical screen swipes with fervor.
Also earning style points is Grey’s scarf, trailing behind him in magnificent fashion as he unleashes combos. HYBRID is a good looking game with well-drawn sprites and characters. The game has been tweaked for the iPhone and the effort shows in the graphics. Each battle takes place in a relatively small scene, with a map indicating where the opponents are in the space. Combos are tracked onscreen in bright and gratifying text. Your inventory allows you gussy up Grey with all sorts of gender-bending accessories like bracelets and necklaces as well as potions, each of which increases his skill in Attack, Defense and Critical. The online component allows you to send messages and items, which should encourage a community but aren’t the type of features I typically take advantage of. However, plenty of hardcore players will like enjoy the open loot exchange.
The plot is incredibly complex, and what starts out as a lot of text and a handful of cast members quickly escalates into the Korean version of a Russian novel. Another enemy pops up to reveal its alliance with Dark Spirits, some random priest guy shows up, and there is whispering. It’s confusing, and when the combat is so enticing it’s really hard to pay attention. I just kept thinking “I wanna fight!” and when that’s going through your head watching a cut-scene is just unbearable.
There are a lot of new characters, enemies and mystical helpers alike. It’s hard to criticise Hybrid for all this content when I really want to praise it for bringing this type of game to the Western mobile market. The game is not easy, in subject matter or in achieving combat excellence, this is a game for real gamers, and I’m curious to see if such a deep gameplay experience will find an American audience. Maybe we can snag some of the Bejeweled crowd and draw them deeper down the rabbit hole! Hardcore and casuals alike will have an easier time appreciating the game’s charm if they hit “skip” on all the cut scenes, but then I’ve never been mistaken for a patient person.
I have an uncomfortable feeling that the lengthy narrative unfolding in HYBRID: Eternal Whisper is just proving the point that Western audiences can’t handle the depth of story our Eastern counterparts are so fond of. Which stinks, really, given the amount of cost and effort that must have gone into translation. An element that should enrich the excellent combat and provide a beautiful framework ends up weighing down the combat, which glows. I guess I’m giving Gamevil the green light to dumb things down for us. The combos and loot are very rewarding, and HYBRID has combat that shouts, not whispers. You may not always understand Grey’s motivations past the initial cut-scenes, but it doesn’t really matter why you’re killing monsters when it’s this much fun.