Half-Minute Hero Review
Half-Minute Hero [PSP]
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 (2-4 Ad-Hoc)
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release Date: October 13th, 2009
The RPG genre is filled with parody…and why not? There’s so much material to work with and clichés to make fun of. From venerable classics like Earthbound/Mother and the recent Disgaea games, laugh-out-loud RPGs have helped the genre stay fresh and appealing for those who might have otherwise grown tired of it. This humorous approach is also taken with Half-Minute Hero—an arcade action game billed as an RPG.
The plot is a variation on the ‘save the world’ theme—but you do so over and over, dozens of times. It runs from one mode to another, so none come off as extraneous to the experience. At the onset, you assume the role of the Hero, and work with the Time Goddess to prevent evildoers from casting the spell of destruction. You can also play the Evil Lord mode whenever, which focuses on the evil lord trying to lift a curse from his lover, and Princess mode, where a young girl is trying to lift a curse from her father and save her kingdom. None of this is serious, so there’s something in each stage to make you laugh, whether it’s ridiculous dialogue or crazy characters. HMH is a throwback to the classic 16-bit RPGs with respect to visuals, and filled to the brim with silly jokes and puns. Other RPGs tend to be saturated with hours of narrative, trying to make the player care more about the characters and push forward. The approach here is considerably different, giving the game a sense of instant gratification with non-stop action and jokes to prod the player along. It feels like an arcade action game that’s easy to pick up and play in short bursts.
The timer is a dynamic all its own, even though the concept is usually met with groans from gamers. Timers can be frustrating and cumbersome, tacking on an unnecessary challenge and limiting exploration. Or, it can provide the necessary motivation to adhere to the rules. Such is the case with HMH, which was clearly built around its 30-second time limit, and it works very well.
Unlike RPGs that tend to drag on with serious exposition, HMH is meant to be played in short bursts. There are several modes to conquer, starting with Hero 30. Therein, you take the hero’s reins and must save the world in 30 seconds. However, there’s a clever hook. By paying the Time Goddess statues spread across the various towns on the world map, you can reset the timer. This can’t be abused though, because upon each reset, the next is more expensive. The stages are designed with specific routes in mind, so you need to figure out the best options, where to go, and execute. For instance, you might need to visit a town, acquire directions to find an item, obtain and return it, then receive a bonus which will help you conquer the evil lord. Or you could grind on monsters to become stronger. By satisfying certain conditions, you might discover an alternate route and find a hidden bonus—for example, finding a boat changes your route to sea levels, whereas a mountain path has you follow land. There are lots of methods to finish levels, which makes the game great for replays. There’s a lot of incentive to just see it all.
Like its name implies, Hero 30 has 30 stages, each with multiple bonuses that can span several hours by itself depending on whether or not you want to complete everything. Some stages can be skipped when pursuing the end. It’s interesting to enjoy the equipment, battle and leveling up that an RPG typically offers, just on a much faster scale. You can even choose to dash to move faster, and avoid enemy encounters, but drain your health. The gameplay promotes strategy. Luckily the other modes are also well-thought-out. Evil Lord 30 and Princess 30 also feature 30 stages each (a lot of 30s!). In Evil Lord 30, the game plays more like an RTS, but again, with the 30-second time limit. You summon monsters to fight for you in a rock-paper-scissors-like fashion. You can order shooter, nimble, and brute units. Shooters beat brutes, brutes overcome nimble units, and nimble units defeat archers. In each stage, you need discern your enemy’s units and call forth the right counters. There’s a sense of strategy, but far different than a typical RTS. The timer can also be reset–however here you simply touch a barrel with the Time Goddess in it. The only problem is that sometimes you can be knocked into a barrel by enemies and be forced to spend your hard-earned money. It happened to me a couple times, and it’s rather annoying. Other than that, Evil Lord 30 succeeds, despite a seemingly incompatible time limit.
Princess 30 mode is a scrolling shooter game of sorts, almost in the same vein as classic shmups like Gradius. However, as you might expect by now, there are distinct twists. A 30-second stage curfew is imposed, and if you don’t return in time, you fail. You must blast through monsters with your crossbow, be wary of hazards, obtain power-ups, retrieve the end item, and make it back. Your defense is a horde of soldiers, which is swept away if you bump into enemies or parts of the environment. By moving towards the front of the screen, you can pick up speed, but risk being hit. Luckily HMH lets you know what direction to focus on so enemies don’t have an unfair advantage. HMH is perfectly diverse, and well-suited for the portable pick up and play enthusiast. Knight Mode 30 is mentioned in the manual as a main mode, but must be unlocked first. If you don’t want to read about the hidden modes, skip to the next paragraph. Beyond everything else, there’s Knight 30, Hero 300, and Hero 3. In Knight 30, you protect a Sage through 30 stages until the time runs out. You ram enemies, use items/traps, etc, to accomplish the goal. Hero 300 gives you 300 seconds to finish what feels like a “final showdown” type level. It mirrors Hero 30, only it’s just one stage with a timer that can’t be reset. In Hero 3, you have three seconds to save the world—THREE. It’s a super-hard experience that tests your patience, but provides a great challenge if you think the main game is too easy.
Multiplayer is also featured via ad-hoc. Up to four players can throw down in Hero 30. It’s essentially the same as the single player campaign, but you merely compete to finish first. Players can also fight each other or interrupt battles (help the monsters). HMH also supports online rankings via the official website. After you finish the game you’re prompted with a code that accesses your rank. It would’ve been nice for this to be available in the game itself, but it’s not much of a loss. I would also push for DLC, but the game feels complete as it is.
HMH enjoys a great sense of progression. New elements are slowly introduced, which help you feel like you’re accomplishing other than just finishing timed stages. The levels become slightly more difficult, though most of the game is fairly easy once you figure things out. It’s all fun and engaging thanks to how different it is as a whole. HMH is great for on the go. My main complaint is that repetition rears in if you play it through in one sitting. I could delve deeper, but after gaining your bearings, it’s noticeable that the developers wanted to make something original. Completing everything will certainly take hours (for some, up to 25 or so), though you can probably power through HMH and enjoy the ending in around 10. There are a couple issues nonetheless. Most stages are too easy on Normal (Hard is a better challenge). Also, the goals are repetitious across levels (i.e. either beat the bad guy or find the special item first). This issue is partly addressed with the different modes, which provide a great contrast to the main Hero gameplay.
The visuals appeal retro game, especially 16-bit RPG, lovers. The low-resolution sprites (magnified to huge proportions during cut-scenes) and colorful 2D bring to mind classic RPGs like Final Fantasy IV and Breath of Fire. They in no way push the PSP, but the style is neat. The scrolling effect when you fly on a dragon is especially cool, and the game looks jazzed up thanks to great-looking effects that weren’t possible on older platforms. It’s also awesome that all equipment alters the Hero’s sprite. It’s not very detailed, bur a nice touch nonetheless. Some cut-scenes feature pretty decent artwork. The character designs and art you can unlock in the gallery are good. The sprites are a jumbled mess when blown up ((during some story scenes in particular), but it often fits the game’s funny atmosphere. The music, on the other hand, doesn’t opt for the retro route. The sound quality is excellent, with an awesome assortment of tunes that span orchestral to metal. The opening theme alone is incredible, with fantastic guitar riffs. The soundtrack warrants listening to it outside the game, and compels one to buy the OST. It’s that good!
With a comedic storyline, diverse gameplay styles, tons of levels, an amazing soundtrack, and healthy replay value, Half Minute Hero is a no-brainer for any PSP owner. RPG fans of course may be the most compelled by it, but it’s a clever and fun game that transcends its genres and becomes rather accessible to anyone. There are flaws like the easy difficulty, repetition and bland menus, but HMH offers some fun originality that many games do not, making it well worth the price of admission.
Overall (Not an average): 8.8/10
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