We don't regret the hundreds of hours we've sunk into Japanese role-playing games over the years. Not even the time we sketched out dungeon maps on graph paper for Phantasy Star. Honest. It's just that Half-Minute Hero has taught us that a game can deliver a true RPG experience without any of the time commitment. Sure, other games have tried - ProgressQuest extricated the player entirely from grinding, although that was more of a post-modern joke than an actual game - but none have so cleverly or humorously deconstructed the RPG formula as Half Minute Hero.
As the title implies, Half-Minute Hero is a short game both in individual sessions and in total. You can power through all six game modes in as many hours and individual quests usually last under two minutes, but that's the beauty of the game. The main thrust of Half-Minute Hero's quest to liberate the RPG from the bonds of monotony lies in the three main Hero modes. These modes take the traditional turn-based RPG's monster slaying and gear collecting, strip out anything that's remotely time consuming, like combat, equipment management, skill trees and level grinding, then wraps them up in a deliciously cliche fantasy narrative.
In your quest to stop the Evil Lord before he casts his Spell of Destruction, which, coincidentally, takes only thirty seconds, you'll barrel through the overworld randomly encountering monsters as your sprite autonomously battles for experience. This hurried play style encourages not measured grinding, but sniffing out optimal routes between towns where you can replenish hitpoints or reset the countdown timer with the help of the Time Goddess, a hilarious fourth-wall busting NPC prone to shouting "hooyah!" Peggy Hill style, and chiding the player for having too much time on their hands. You'll (not much) later attract party members that round out the cast, some of which are featured in their own game modes including Princess Princess, the plucky cross-bow wielding heroine, the dutiful guardian Knight and the incessantly narcissistic Evil Lord.
The Evil Lord, Knight and Princess modes attempt to similarly distill action and strategy RPG elements, but they aren't nearly as well realized as the Hero mode’s take on the turn based RPG. Evil Lord mode highlights monster summoning to kill enemy soldiers within a set time limit; Knight mode forces you to guard a spellcaster as mobs attack and Princess mode plays almost like a shoot 'em up. The story in these modes revolves around Evil Lord attempting to change his cursed bat-lover back into her human form, the Princess rescuing members of her family's royal court and the Knight protecting the Sage who (spoiler) turns out to be the reincarnated Time Goddess. The trouble is that these sections lack the humor of Hero mode, instead falling victim to the same tired RPG story tropes and cliched dialogue that has plagued the genre for years. Luckily a metal orchestra soundtrack powers you past the dull sections while accenting the game's kitschy texture.
At its best, Half Minute Hero is equal parts love letter and roast to the beloved RPG genre with a sprinkling of pop-culture references and self deprecation. It's definitely one of the most original games we've played on the PSP even if it is a short trip.
Oct 21, 2009