Though sadly Japan’s influence over the gaming world has dwindled since the turn of the mmillenium, their games have not lost any of their spark, weirdness, craziness, or WTF-ness.
Half-Minute Hero is proof of that. The self deprecating humour and actual honest to goodness funny sarcasm is something that one would have to look long and hard for in most western games.
As the title implies, this is no epic. The few games modes that there are can be completed in the time that it’ll take you to watch a Metal Gear Solid cutscene. So, still fairly long, but nowhere near the expected JRPG length. However, that’s the beauty of the game. By removing all the time consuming features of the genre such as the dreaded level grinding, item collecting, inventory management, etc., it leaves us free to do what we all want to do most in a role-player, kill monsters and save the world.
The plot is as nonsensical as one would expect but in a good way. An Evil Lord, known as…Evil Lord has cast the spell of destruction, which, oddly enough, only takes 30 seconds to obliterate the planet. Your goal as the protagonist, known only as “Hero” is to speed through the game world and prevent Armageddon against the clock. Along the way, you’ll encounter random battles that are fought automatically and come to the realization that the levelling up is irrelevant, instead the route that you plot out to reach your goal is of the most importance.
Should the clock hit zero, then you can enter towns along your route and replenish health or reset the timer at a small cost, of course. As the title progresses, you’ll attract more cast members, each a parody of JRPG characters, such as a plucky Princess, an obedient Knight, and, heck, even the Evil Lord joins in and gets his own game mode to boot.
Genre mixing comes in here. While in the “Hero” mode we play an RPG, the “Evil Lord” mode offers us a pseudo real-time strategy game, summoning monsters to kill his foes. The “Princess” mode plays like a 2D shooter, while the “Knight” mode plays out as escort missions. Each mode has its own story, such as that the Evil Lord must return his girlfriend back to her former human self. The Princess attempts to rescue family members, and the knight protects an important Sage whose role is revealed to be of major importance to the narrative on the whole and acts as the “big twist” that we can all see coming a mile off.
The problem here is that none of these sections pack the same punch in terms of humour and wit as they are displayed in Hero mode. The best gags are used in the early stages of the game, something that even the scriptwriters acknowledge. The repetition in both gameplay and script will eventually just leave you pushing the skip button to bypass what initially seemed to be a funny plot.
But herein lies the biggest issue with Half-Minute Hero, it’s ultimately a one trick pony. The joke is funny to begin with but wears thin quickly. If the three other modes were as frantic and as funny as Hero mode, it wouldn’t be such an issue.
What you’re left with then is a game that shimmers rather than shines, a game that exemplifies why the Japanese must have an influence in gaming, more so as games become more serious and darker in tone and content. As innovative and as refreshing as Half-Minute Hero is, it really is only worth playing for one quarter of the time.