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Half-Minute Hero (PSP) artwork

Half-Minute Hero (PSP) review

"Told in a generational sort of manner that's reminiscent of a more expanded Dragon Quest V, the plot in Half-Minute Hero won't win any awards for narrative originality. It obviously isn't trying to, either. Instead, it has fun rushing players through a laundry list of RPG cliches. The rapid-fire nature of plot twists prevents every 'surprise' from growing tiresome, even when you saw it coming whole seconds ahead of time, because you're constantly moving to a new location or task."

From the instant that I heard about the North American localization of Half-Minute Hero, I knew that I would play the game and I knew that I would have fun doing so. Its hook was too great not to love: RPG quests condensed from the fifty-hour affairs of my youth so that they now last a paltry 30 seconds. I seldom find myself with dozens of hours to spare these days, but I do have the odd minute here and there and I do love me some quality role-playing. When I finally got a chance to play the game, though, I found that not all is what it seems.

For starters, there's a "Story" mode. That was my first clue that I was in for a bit of a surprise. It felt more like something that I would expect from a Street Fighter game than a Final Fantasy clone. The mystery deepened as I selected that mode and found myself greeted by several rows of '?' symbols. Half-Minute Hero is divided into eras, with nearly every one of those offering a unique gameplay experience and its own credits roll. To enjoy the whole game, you'll have to play through the early modes to unlock the later ones.

Told in a generational sort of manner that's reminiscent of a more expanded Dragon Quest V, the plot in Half-Minute Hero won't win any awards for narrative originality. It obviously isn't trying to, either. Instead, it has fun rushing players through a laundry list of RPG cliches. The rapid-fire nature of plot twists prevents every 'surprise' from growing tiresome, even when you saw it coming whole seconds ahead of time, because you're constantly moving to a new location or task. The cheesy dialog also helps, as does the fact that it's delivered by tacky sprites that come across as 8-bit rejects. Thanks to the condensed narration and forced humor, nearly every line is absurd, yet few would bat an eye if the delivery were steeped in melodrama. Long-time RPG gamers will likely find no end of amusement from that fact alone.

Each mode reveals a separate plot strand that is woven haphazardly into a larger tapestry. You'll spend most of your time with the RPG section, which is called the 'Hero 30' era. Here, you're first introduced to the hero who has been entrusted with the world's ultimate fate. Faced with a sprawling map, you'll work your way through a series of 30 stages, starting fresh each time with fresh character stats but retaining previously acquired gear. As you race across the area map, you can duck into the occasional town to pause a 30-second timer or even to reset it for a fee. If that timer reaches 0, you'll have to reattempt the stage, so it's important to make use of each precious millisecond.

Although you can add seconds to the timer, the cost for doing so increases each time and your rating for finishing the stage will reflect your lack of proper hustle or strategy. The real challenge comes not from the enemies you face, but from the varying routes available through each map and the time management skills required. If you haven't developed a good strategy, if you're not level grinding in the right places and moving constantly forward with the correct gear and allies, you'll either completely fail a mission or the rank you get at the end will chide you into trying again to improve your performance. All of the trappings of a standard RPG are present, yet somehow even level grinding and random battles are a tense experience.

As for those battles, you'll find that they're welcome more than they are an inconvenience: when you encounter a random enemy, the perspective switches from an overhead map to a view from the side. Along with your available crew, you'll rush forward to meet your enemies. Pressing and holding the 'O' button will allow you to let loose with everything you have--at the cost of precious HP--or you can take a more leisurely approach or even flee from the fight if you find yourself overpowered. There has perhaps never been a more streamlined combat system in the genre's history.

Of course, the RPG mode isn't the only one that Half-Minute Hero has to offer. You'll also encounter a real-time strategy era that finds you leading a heroic 'Evil Lord' across the land to battle monsters more devious than himself. Here, you again find yourself crippled by a stingy timer, except now you march quickly across a battlefield and summon beasts to your aid. As you do, the game forces you to consider resource management on the fly. Summon too many monsters and none of them will be powerful enough to stand up to your enemies. Wait too long and the powerful critter that finally shows up won't be enough to turn the tide of battle back in your favor. Finally, three unit types and a handful of different enemy types might not seem like a lot, but that diminutive roster is more than enough to ensure that you run into all sorts of trouble if you don't take each enemy formation seriously and counter with the proper strategies.

The third era places you in control of a spunky princess and her powerful crossbow. It plays roughly like a shooter, with action viewed from overhead and scrolling along a straight course. In most instances, your goal is to reach an item at the end of the course, then retrieve it as you rush back to the castle. You'll start with a whole crew of archers at your side and it's important that you make proper use of them so that you're not too weakened by the enemy hordes that you encounter. Maintaining a full army can be difficult if you get careless, plus you have to worry about the oppressive timer (which in this mode is slowed only when you rush along magical red carpet that is strewn throughout each given course). Things can get quite hectic, but there's nothing here that twitch gamers can't handle.

Finally, a fourth play style can roughly be described as a series of escort missions. A soldier must protect a sage character as the two venture through dangerous wastelands in an attempt to awaken the slumbering hero from the first era. The soldier can pick up and carry his friend, or leave him to the wolves (literally, in some cases) while dealing with hazards spread across the extended maps. Traps can be placed to eliminate adversaries, and those can be powered up between stages, but the whole business doesn't last long enough to amount to anything more than another intriguing diversion.

Not everything that Half-Minute Hero does is a home run, however. Each of the modes are fun and the developers deserve credit for making sure that the player has plenty of reason to play through again, but the whole adventure still comes in a bit on the short side (you can probably clear it in 8 or 9 hours quite easily) and there are minor annoyances that mar each available game mode. Perhaps most distressingly, there's no real auto-save function, a fact that could leave some players forced to replay stages they've already cleared if they forget to save before powering down their system. Hiccups like that are disappointing, even though they don't drag things down as much as they would have in other games.

With a host of gameplay styles, Half-Minute Hero could easily have wound up serving as another example of misdirected ambition. Fortunately, the developers proved capable of rising to the strengths of their own concept and avoided all but a few minor missteps. Half-Minute Hero mimics many games that have come before without adding anything of note, yet the elimination of so much fluff and the variety of compelling modes leads to an experience unlike any other available on the PSP (or indeed, any other platform). Innovation by subtraction is still innovation. Oh, and it's also quite fun.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 29, 2010)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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zippdementia posted February 11, 2010:

I was in the process of writing a half minute hero review when I came across this review, which I think must've been posted while I was trapped in a limbo. I'm not sure I need to write one now, because this one is really really good.
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honestgamer posted February 11, 2010:

Thanks for the kind words. You must like the review more than I did. :)

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