Half Minute Hero falls into all the traps and tropes that it makes fun of; it is what it parodies.
Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax is an effective parody of JRPGs. However, it’s also more than just a parody; it’s a full-fledged JRPG itself, one that falls into all the traps and tropes that it makes fun of and not in a clever wink-to-the-audience kind of way. The title says it all. “Super Mega Neo Climax” is obviously a joke at the expense of the often hyperbolic titles of Japanese shows, but at the same time being part of the title, this is how the game defines itself. It’s not just a parody, it is what it parodies; it’s quite literally a parody of itself.
For the most part, the utter JRPGness of Half-Minute Hero works in its favor, but the worst trap that it falls into that it embraces the unintuitive menus typical of the genre. The basic menu that describes what you’ll find in each level is filled with icons and “titles” but no description of what those icons mean or what you have to do to earn those titles. Each one will light up as completed if you perform some action during the level -- if you find a teammate, collect all the weapons on the map, find an alternate solution, etc -- but you’ll only realize that after playing a level multiple times and while paying close attention to what actions you do and what, if any, icons light up. The menu that’s meant to quickly show you what you have and haven’t done is so poorly explained that you won’t know what any of it means without careful study.
Then there’s the grind, fighting monster after monster for experience or money. Of course, since every level is only 30 seconds long (or some minutes at most, since you can reset the timer), the grind is cut down to seconds rather than hours. In this way, the game is making fun of the JRPG cliché, exposing the ridiculousness of it by condensing the required time to such a drastic degree.
However, “grinding” isn’t so much defined by a specific amount of time, but rather by the repetitiveness of your actions. Any action performed repeatedly over even a short amount of time can be a grind. In this way, the game itself grinds; there are so many levels that the frantic pace begins to drag after a few hours. The formula for each level becomes predictable and wears thin quickly, like one random battle too many. Half-Minute Hero becomes a grind even while it parodies the grind.
The clichés that it makes fun of start to help it when you get into the story. The characters are archetypal: the naive and virginal girl who specializes in healing magic, the plucky lad who just wants to get stronger, the cute tomboy-ish rogue, the grizzled veteran, the flirty older woman, the wise old man (certain Final Fantasy characters immediately spring to mind already). Such lazy characterization is done on purpose to show just how poorly written many genre characters really are, but at the same time, these clichés work. At the mid-game climax, there’s a battle where all your companions join in the fight, and it’s fun to see all the old faces again because you do get attached to at least a few of these characters. These types of characters are repeated for a reason -- they’re likable. So the game benefits from its blatantly manipulative archetypal characters, even though they only exist as a joke.
Half-Minute Hero is at its best when it breaks its own mold, when it doesn’t constrain itself to the JRPG genre, and its story elements grow beyond the 30-second-level limit. The overworld is a giant map and each level appears as a dot; you can only move from dot to dot. Occasionally, depending on your actions in certain levels, the path will split, and a new string of dots will appear for you to follow. But this split isn’t just a way to add more levels, it’s a new branch of the story as well and a jab at western RPGs and their obsession with branching narratives.
For example: in one level you can ask a devil or a nun for help, and the path splits depending on who you side with. If you make a deal with the devil, he’ll only let you use his great power four times, after which he’ll take your soul. So on this particular branch, every time that you defeat a Dark Lord with the devil’s power, you’re reminded of this time limit. But if you jump to the other branch, the one in which you sided with the nun, there is no time limit. Each branch of the path is like an alternate universe, and you can jump between them at will. When running around the overworld map, you can literally see the branches in the story, how some are minor and some are major. However, eventually all of them recombine at some point.
Half-Minute Hero exposes the pointlessness of such branching stories since they all end the same way. And yet, the game again benefits from the very thing that it parodies since the branching paths give it a greater sense of scale. The adventure feels bigger simply because there are more dots on the map; it doesn’t matter that each path is its own timeline because I can still play any level on any path at any time.
It’s not a bad thing that Half-Minute Hero contains all the clichés that it makes fun of. This is partly necessary since it can’t parody something if it doesn’t first bring it up, but by embracing all of these clichés, it’s also clear that the humor in Half-Minute Hero comes from a place of love. It’s not a game out to insult fans of JRPGs, just tease. In fact, this is a game that will be most loved by fans of JRPGs, not just because they’ll get all the jokes, but because this is an unabashed JRPG as well. Just condensed.
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