The book came out in April 1986, just a few weeks after the Famicom version of the game it’s written for. I wasn’t expecting too much from a thirty year old book that barely scrapes past the 100 page mark, but I was soon found to be wrong.
With that out of the way we’re finally on to the gui-oh. No we’re not; we’re onto a special fourteen page manga that serves as a prequel for the game. It sets the story up in a lovely 80’s RPG sort of way – all princesses, fairies, and sudden attacks by evil monsters - and the colourful art matches the charming illustrations found throughout the rest of the book.. This is also the part where I realised that the entire book’s in full colour, which feels quite unusual for the era and a nice sign of quality – my memory of UK guidebooks from around this time is that they were almost non-existent, and those that did find their way onto shop shelves were generally text-only affairs printed on the cheapest paper the publisher could find with a few colour pages in the middle if you were very lucky.
You’d think by now the writers would have dispensed with the (brilliant, but) frivolous extras, but before starting you off on your epic quest the book takes a few pages to explain the controls, the UI, and the password system. This might seem like filler to some people, but I do like to see a guide that includes this sort of information as it’s a handy reference tool if you do forget something and even if you do already know it all it can be taken as an indicator of a writer that cares enough to be thorough and isn’t going to assume too much.
Then we move on to the gui- oh, I mean the ‘World’ section, which contains a bestiary showing damage and XP tables for every enemy in the game, as well as a screenshot and an illustration to match. Then there’s a tour of all the magic spells Jim can learn on his quest, and these all again have their own descriptions, art, and screenshots to go with them.
It’s my great pleasure to announce that at this point we’ve finally hit the actual guide part of this guide book – and I love it! It’s laid out as a sequence of key events, making it easy to see what you’ve done and removing the need to follow it religiously from start to finish for it to be of any use. There are actually three walkthroughs for you to choose from – a normal one that includes recommended levelling up spots, a high speed one that only lists the bare minimum required tasks to get through to the ending, and one that takes you on a journey to see every monster in the game. The illustrations here are absolutely wonderful, small but endearing images that aid the brief bullet points and enhance the entire guide.
If that’s too brief for your tastes you’ll be happy to hear the book then dedicates two chapters to monster killing strategies (as well as monster avoiding tips), and a more traditional walkthrough that takes key areas of the map and how to tackle them, littered with extensive screenshots, hand drawn maps, and yet more art. These in-depth areas cover right up to and including the very last battle in the game – sparing you the ‘Good luck!’ rubbish that some Japanese guides do, presumably for fear of spoiling the final boss (who are these people buying guide books and then complaining they tell you how to beat the last boss?!).
This slender guide has clearly been produced with love and care that goes far beyond what was strictly necessary, and the information has been broken up in a way that allows you to find exactly as much or as little as you want, when you want it. I wish more game guides in any language were like this little book – a good selection of useful information that takes the time to explain things when you need the extra help but doesn’t forget that sometimes you just want someone to point you in the right direction. Of course modern games are very different beasts to Hydlide Special, but even so I think there’s something FAQ writers of all levels could learn from the structure of this unassuming little book.