The PSP brand has, if nothing else, had a tough time of convincing players to part with their money. Whether it’s the failed launch of Sony’s new digital only endeavour – the PSP Go, the rampant piracy that has plagued the system from its very start, or the dwindling number of quality PSP titles seeing release, one thing is for sure, less and less money is being funnelled into the most powerful handheld on the market. Equally, the market for JRPGs has been dwindling for years now, a genre becoming more and more niche, serving fewer and fewer consumers, for less and less return on investor’s money.
So along comes the Rising Star published, Marvelous Entertainment developed Half Minute Hero regardless, going against rational thought and developing a new IP JRPG exclusively for the least popular handheld on the market. And by god, they’ve gone ahead and made a fantastic little title.
Far and away the most accessible, elegant and downright playful JRPG since Dragon Quest VIII, Half Minute Hero’s primary game type gives so much to the player by taking away all of the filler. Providing a stripped down experience of playing a JRPG in short, exceptionally moreish bursts, this main quest revolves around the concept of having just thirty seconds to stop an apocalyptic spell being cast by a series of ‘Evil Lords’, with our Half Minute Hero having to consistently save the world time and time again whilst tracking down the uber baddie responsible for spreading this world destroying bit of Voodoo throughout the land! Think WarioWare meets Famicom era Final Fantasy and you’re not far wrong in both feeling of frantic play and plot cohesion, the game having an irreverent, slightly silly humour to all of the proceedings. Fans of Paper Mario’s slightly surreal, slightly self-aware writing will feel instantly comfortable with the superb translation present throughout this, and indeed all of the other modes of play HMH has to offer, but more on these later.
So what exactly is it that HMH does differently and how does it remove this so called fluff? Well apart from the main hook of a half minute time limit (that can be extended by giving gold to an exceptionally conceited but well intending goddess whose mantra is ‘time is money’), the neo retro, 8-bit graphical stylings and absolutely rock-tastic soundtrack, Marvelous’ genius lies in taking processes that are now rote in the JRPG mantra, flipping them on their head and automating or concentrating them to such a point that every other Japanese role playing game seems nigh on banal by comparison. Take combat for instance, instead of asking you to repeat that age old (and frankly laughable) activity of requiring you to hammer the action button until the enemy is defeated, HMH takes this role out of your hands entirely, fisticuffs is little more than two pixel art characters crudely bashing against one another until one runs out of health.
That’s not to say that progression in combat isn’t challenging, it certainly is, but none of the thinking takes place within battle, the puzzle of defeating enemies instead lies within the world map as you try to discover the best way of tackling each enemy type and boss character. Insects for example can prove a real pain early on, and unless you’re going to grind Hero’s level (and risk that thirty second time limit ending), you simply won’t be able to progress. Unless of course you use the clues given by NPCs to find a fly swatter, at which point clearing out the creepy crawlies is a breeze. The game’s pace is intense, there’s no big reliance on stats, character stereotypes are lampooned instead of celebrated, and all the other stuff that is so off putting to the ‘average gamer’ is simply gone. It’s so refreshing that the game becomes an utter joy to play.
The other modes mentioned earlier utilise the overall aesthetic and world created in the main game but try something new, to varying degrees of success. Among these are Princess Mode, a side scrolling shooter with incredibly light RPG elements which is a fun, if limited diversion, and Evil Lord Mode which is a very rudimentary and slightly obtuse strategy game. These aren’t the main bulk of the title, and in comparison to the Hero Mode, they pale into insignificance.
Players who understand the mechanics of JRPGs will instantly fall in love with Half Minute Hero’s concepts and structure, whilst finding the gameplay twists fantastically compelling, likewise those grown tired of spiky haired adolescents moping around for thirty hours or more will find a title that makes the genre relevant again. PSP owners have a new must buy and damn good reason to keep hold of their console, RPG makers have something to aspire to when developing their own new titles and we all might have, barely three months in, a serious contender for Game Of The Year 2010…
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: PSP Release Date: 19/02/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Half Minute Hero for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PSP-2000. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.