There’s a lot to make fun of when it comes to RPGs. Many developers don’t seem to care that they’ve been recycling the same stories over and over again for years, and neither do a lot of fans. Instead, there’s this strange movement where retro styling isn’t just nostalgic, but correct, leading many developers to rely on overused gameplay mechanics from 1993 instead of taking advantage of 20+ years of gaming lessons. Needless to say, the genre is ripe for lampooning. The trouble is developers don’t always have the best sense of humor about themselves, and games grounded in parody usually end up being worse than the source material. Luckily, this isn’t the case with Half-Minute Hero, which bursts onto the scene, tongue placed firmly in cheek, ready to point a finger at RPG clichés while managing to blindside gamers with some of the most unique, whimsical RPG gameplay in years.
Half-Minute Hero takes the age-old question of, “Why doesn’t this villain just kill me already instead rambling on and giving me time to prepare for battle?” and turns it on its head. There are no long-winded speeches, just quick, humorous bursts where enemies explain why they’re going to destroy the world. Someone has taught dozens of different evil beings a spell that can destroy the world; it takes half a minute to cast, and they have no intent on pausing to entertain intruders or guests. This means, once each level starts, the countdown is on, and the Hero is only seconds away from total annihilation. Luckily, he’s not alone: the incredibly greedy Goddess of Time offers the ability to turn back the clocks, extending the time the Hero has to defeat the boss. It’s not without its price, though, and it becomes more and more expensive as it’s abused, meaning even some of the harder levels only last a minute or two.
It’s not enough to just get to the boss in each level, either. It’s an RPG, which means leveling up, defeating monsters, buying items, and completing quests. Half-Minute still has all of this; it’s just put on a deadline. The only time that the countdown stops is when the Hero is in a town, but every other moment is spent keeping one eye on the action and one on the depleting timer. Battles consist of both fighters running at each other and attacking, ceasing once one has fallen. The only combat options for the player are holding down a button to run (which drains health), fleeing, and using a healing item. Beyond that, combat is completely automated. It also levels the Hero very quickly, especially when compared to the average JRPG. Grinding is still important, but it’s done faster, and pacing in the overworld will usually be enough to fill the pockets and quadruple the level of the Hero. Eventually, the game will let the Hero know that he’s stronger than the boss, and he can work his way to the castle for the fight. That is, if he’s able to get there. Completing quests found in towns is important to progressing, and there are even side missions that can help make things go easier.
Think of it this way: in any given RPG, there’s likely a segment where the hero travels to a town and hears legends about a mythical weapon that can defeat a certain enemy with ease. Often, this hidden object’s location is only known by one character, and that person will sometimes ask the hero to complete a quest before giving away the secret. After fighting through a dungeon and doing what was asked, the hero returns, and is given the location of the object, which is usually in another cave somewhere else. That cave is invaded, the item is found, and the hero needs to defeat the area’s boss using the weapon. Half-Minute Hero has all of that, and it does it in under a minute. There's there’s nothing to get too excited about in the overarching story, but it’s a parody, so it gets away with being an assortment of short stories that slowly grow into something more interesting. More than anything, it’s a proof of concept, showing that the RPG formula can, indeed, be boiled down to seconds on the hour.
It’s not at all uncommon to defeat any given Dark Lord with only fractions of a second left, letting out an exasperated gasp and slumping down, staring at the milliseconds, and wondering what could have been done to cut down on the time. After it’s over, different titles are bestowed on the Hero depending on his actions, which carry over to later levels, as NPCs that were helped throughout the game will return to aid the Hero at vital moments. While not as much of a thrill as it might be in a 80+ hour story, it’s still exciting to see the archer you saved three missions ago return to help defeat a boss. It doesn’t release the same amount of endorphins that it might in Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy, but it releases them nevertheless. You'll be shocked at how much you care about some of the characters that are only on screen for two minutes.
It is a pleasure, and an experience that absolutely all gamers should indulge themselves in. Playing through the story doesn't take far too long, but should supply more than enough entertainment to justify picking the it up. And that’s just Hero 30, one of four game modes in Half-Minute Hero. Oh, I forgot to mention that, didn’t I?
Half-Minute Hero is cut into four parts: Hero 30, Evil Lord 30, Princess 30, and Knight 30. The first three are unlocked right away, with the fourth being available after they are all completed. Whereas Hero 30 is an RPG shrunk down to 30 seconds, the others each mirror other genres, laughing while they make fun of real-time strategies, shoot-em-ups, and protection quests. Knight 30 is obviously the odd man out here, and while none of the modes hold a candle to Hero 30, it is likely the least entertaining, which explains why it’s locked away underneath the other modes. It features a knight trying to protect a mage, who needs thirty seconds to cast a spell. In that way, it’s an interesting change of pace, but it’s hardly worth spending time on over Hero 30.
Evil Lord 30 has players controlling one of the villains met during Hero 30. It’s a spin-off story of the first, and has the Dark Lord destroying other baddies by creating minions that follow basic attack commands. It’s more Overlord than it is Red Alert, and is only really entertaining if you’re already invested in the plot, which isn’t likely. The combat is essentially rock-paper-scissors, with different unit types being extremely effective against some but very weak against others. It does an all right job at boiling the RTS down, but feels like it could have done much better.
Princess 30, on the other hand, is also an extremely enjoyable experience. It features a princess, who is asked to leave her castle to collect different items to save her father, who has fallen ill. As the game goes on, more reasons to leave the gates are given, but it all falls under the same guidelines: the princess has to leave and return in under 30 seconds. Luckily, she's being carried by a few dozen soldiers and wields a crossbow, making it play out like a shoot-em-up mixed with Wario Ware. While obviously the gem in the non-Hero 30 modes, it still feels like it and the other additions would have been more interesting if interspersed in some way throughout Hero 30, since it’s obviously the star of the package.
Half-Minute Hero is, simply put, brilliant. For every stiff rib to the elbows it has its share of homage, and while it spends most of its time laughing at RPG clichés, it’s obvious that the developers absolutely love the genre. It is, without a doubt, one of the most entertaining games on the PSP, and can go toe-to-toe with almost any other RPG released this generation when it comes to delivering a unique experience. It’s for fans of the genre, haters of the genre, and anyone who has ever wondered why RPG characters can simply walk into strangers’ homes and steal things off of their bookshelves.