Anyone who grew up with a SNES or a Playstation in the house will probably remember one of the dozens of classic JRPGs produced for both systems. It’s a shame that the genre is just so time-consuming, making it difficult for the modern busy gamer to put in forty or fifty hours of grinding in exchange for forty-five minutes of solid storytelling. Of course, dealing with this issue is what makes Half Minute Hero so ingenious. By distilling everything down into thirty seconds or less, Half Minute Hero provides an amusing commentary on JRPG conventions while also providing a fine JRPG at the same time. It begins as an amusing parody but slowly unfolds into a downright brilliant epic.
Here are the basics. Most of your time with Half Minute Hero will be spent in “Hero 30” mode. In this mode, a mysterious figure has been equipping various evil lords with a spell that destroys the world thirty seconds after being cast, and it’s up to the eponymous Hero to defeat the lord before this happens. Since that doesn’t leave much time for grinding or side quests, the helpful Time Goddess appears to accelerate Hero’s leveling speed, while also rolling back your scant thirty seconds, for a price. Each of the levels functions as a miniature JRPG, complete with title screen, credits, plenty of side quests, villages to save, and enemies to grind through quickly. This means there’s a completely unique narrative and map for each of these levels as well, which makes figuring out the fastest route and best timing a bit of a puzzle game. To satisfy completionists, the game then throws in a handful of medals and achievements for each level, unique branching paths for completely different experiences, and plenty of equipment to unlock for later. All of these additions do a lot for the replay value, but that’s only scratching the surface.
You also get plenty of bonus modes beyond “Hero 30”. The best part about this PC release is that it includes both the XBLA bonus modes as well as the PSP ones. The PSP edition uses retro sprite graphics and includes three separate 30-mission campaigns that significantly change the gameplay. Evil Lord 30, for example, uses a real-time strategy formula in place of RPG mechanics, while Princess 30 arms you with a crossbow in a weird hybrid of arena shooters and rail shooters. Change to the cartoonish XBLA graphics and you get different, shorter bonus modes. These are much more similar to the original style of gameplay but with unique mechanics and dangling plot threads from “Hero 30” mode. It all comes together in a big, grandiose finale that rivals the epic boss battles of any JRPGs we’ve ever played, as well as a ridiculously challenging level with only three seconds instead of thirty. Not to mention that it has a half-decent multiplayer mode. Clearly, this is a game that isn’t short on content, despite the thirty second premise.
But including hours of gameplay isn’t necessarily a good thing if the gameplay isn’t much fun. Fortunately, Half Minute Hero uses its unusual premise to deliver rock-solid, unique gameplay that isn’t duplicated anywhere else. As mentioned before, racing between villages comes across as a bit of a puzzle game, but a puzzle game based entirely on your own knowledge of RPG stereotypes. By including a unique gimmick solution to each map, the game tests how well you remember your RPG conventions by playing with them. If a villager complains about a fire monster in a cave guarding a magical weapon, taking the time to deal with that miniboss might help you out in the long run but will eat into your time limit. A nice piece of armor might come in handy in later levels, but do you have the time to grind the gold for it? Decisions such as these complement the fast-paced gameplay while amusing and referential dialogue sets the scene. But as you play, the tone changes from jokey to serious, with scenes that rival the sort of emotional heft you would find in Final Fantasy VI or Chrono Trigger. It’s always fast but there’s still a clear sense that the developers have a real respect for the genre, and this is more of a loving homage than an antagonistic parody.
This is all wrapped up by the excellent presentation. Both graphical styles are well realized; however, some of the PSP sprites can be a little muddled by the low resolution, although this is never a very serious problem. The neat customization of Hero’s sprites based on equipment is an excellent touch. The game also features a fantastic soundtrack that, while having slight problems in terms of repetition, makes up for it with the unique themes it pulls out during key dramatic moments.
Final Verdict: By packing in a ton of content from both previous versions of the game, the PC version of Half Minute Hero proves to be the definitive release of Marvelous’ cult hit. If you’ve got fond memories of old, classic RPGs, or you appreciate puzzling and planning on a time limit, Half Minute Hero is certainly worth picking up.
This review is based on a review copy of the Steam PC version of Half Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy provided by Opus, distributed by Marvelous AQL.
- Tons of Content
- Great Puzzle Action
- Quick, Bite-Sized Gameplay
- Won't Appeal to Those that Don't Like JRPGs