At its best, Half-Minute Hero is the most productive kind of satire.
Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo ClimaxPublisher: Microsoft
Format: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
ESRB Rating: E
Release Date: 2011-06-29
For such a fun game, there is one thing that Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax is terrible at: expectations management.
More specifically, it's called "Half-Minute Hero". Even a fleeting glance at the publicity materials (or the description of it on Xbox.com) suggests that it will get the player to complete an entire RPG's worth of gameplay in the space of a mere 30 seconds. Very quickly, the player realizes that this is not the case, that the 30-second timeframe is far more of a guideline than a rule (despite the very large timer that takes up all that real estate at the top of the screen), and that there are many ways to get around that limit. Perhaps as a concession that some people don't read as fast as others, time stops in towns as well. Not only this, but you can reset the clock as long as you can pay the hilariously greedy Time Goddess enough money to do so; her price rises the more times you try it, but given the spoils of grinding, it's still plenty possible to reset that clock five, seven, even ten times. In some of the longer later stages, adventures can last upwards of ten minutes.
I will grant that ten minutes is still an absurdly short amount of time into which to compress the entirety of an RPG's experience, and when you even throw things into the mix like side quests, alternate endings, and hidden loot, what the developers have pulled off here is impressive. The problem is that despite the successful satire, the game still manages to feel a little bit drawn out, even slow at times. It feels a little off to be grinding for a full minute and a half in a game called Half-Minute Hero, especially when there's the added stress of making sure the Time Goddess gets paid before any given 30 seconds runs out, yet that's what you end up doing, especially if you're going for some of the more valuable equipment.
There's also a bit of attempted addition-by-subtraction in this version of the game, a fundamental change in a key segment that either smooths out the play experience or removes some of the variety, depending on your point of view. The original PSP version of Half-Minute Hero features modes that touch upon genres other than the RPG, where shmups, strategy games, and action games were sent up as well. In the Xbox Live Arcade release these modes are condensed down into single-mission RPG-style modes, one-offs that feature some slight variations to the normal "Hero" mode, but feel lightweight and inconsequential. They are cute, but there's little incentive to linger with them.
Still, both of these criticisms are based on a priori knowledge of the game, assumptions based on the press for the current game and reviews of the game it purports to update. It has to be acknowledged that for a player going into Half-Minute Hero bereft of expectations, it will be a frenetic and joyous experience, particularly if that player is acquainted with the tropes and traditions of the JRPG genre.
At its best, Half-Minute Hero is the most productive kind of satire, the kind that implies searching questions about its target. When a battle consists of simply watching your hero wail on the enemy of the moment while the game takes over the menial task of jamming on the 'A' (for attack!) button, you wonder why this principle can't be applied to JRPGs on a wider scale. It's not as if the battles are completely void of strategy, given that items can be used and the player can still elect to flee if an encounter looks a little too dangerous. Granted, there's no possibility of a mechanic along the lines of, say, Final Fantasy XIII's paradigm system in that sort of a battle, but one could still imagine a variation in which the attacking gets cut off for the sake of strategic input. Battles should always be over in three or four seconds; this is what allows for more time being spent doing the stuff that people play RPGs for: experiencing the story, exploring the landscape, customizing a character.
Other abbreviations similar to this way of doing battle occur throughout Half-Minute Hero. A character in this game will say in ten seconds what it takes five minutes for the same character in your prototypical JRPG to say. New equipment is automatically equipped. Bosses don't need hours of exposition to reveal their true motives. It's all extremely refreshing, and that's even before the cute little meta asides offering insight into the plight of the poor, tortured developers.
The advice for the prospective player, then, is to abandon any existing expectations for the game and try to enjoy it on its own merits. The Super Mega Neo Climax subtitle hints at a sort of expansion of the original game, whereas this version is actually more concise than the original; more directed in its aim. Despite the option to go back to the graphical style of the PSP original, Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax actually functions more effectively as a remake than a deluxe edition; the cartoony graphics are beautifully drawn and effortlessly vivid, successfully improving on the admittedly appealing 8-bit style of the original. What has changed isn't necessarily for the better, and what is here isn't necessarily what's advertised by the title, but none of that is enough to remove the smile that gets ironed to your face when you play it.