This was the most pleasant surprise of my week.
Half-Minute Hero is a PSP game that rested unattended at a New York City event for XSeed games that I attended last night. It was an assuming oddity in the corner, running on the console that doesn't have many games that people are talking about these days. In other words, it would have been easy to miss.
It's a game that just may be the most marvelous answer to the criticism that Japanese role-playing games are tediously-paced.
This game, at least its hero mode, plays a full RPG quest in 30 seconds, at a pace that makes WarioWare seem relaxed. And would you believe it's the first RPG I've played that had me hoping for more random encounters?
What Is It?
Half-Minute Hero is a PSP game developed by Marvelous Entertainment and Opus Studio with eight-bit graphics but a thoroughly modern send-up to top-down Japanese role-playing games.
What We Saw
The game is said to have four modes of play, including a magician mode and princess mode that play like riffs off of genres other than the JRPGs lampooned in the hero mode I tired. I got to play two missions. Each set my hero down on an old Final Fantasy SNES-era world map with a timer counting down 30 seconds until game-ending catastrophe. I had just a half-minute to save the world from some comically evil dark lords.
How Far Along Is It?
The game is slated for a Fall 2009 release. The two missions I played were fully localized and feature-complete. I don't know how far along the rest of the game is.
What Needs Improvement?
Not Much: The game hyper-accelerates the pace of the traditional role-playing game flawlessly. The demo missions were a little hard, but I didn't mind. It was confusing to figure out which health items on sale in the shops did what, but that wasn't a big problem either.
What Should Stay The Same?
Most of It: You control the hero with the d-pad and walk (or run) him around the map. You have just 30 seconds — sort of. Entering castles, towns or other locations represented by buildings pauses the game's countdown. In those locations, the game switches to 2D-side-scrolling and lets you talk or buy items such as better swords, shields or even a potion that refills the countdown clock. None of the talking was serious. And the spirit of the game compels the player to get on with it. Out in the overworld wilderness, I discovered that random encounters transition the game into battle mode. These battles are also rendered in 2D and are run automatically. Your hero dashes to the right, sword pointed at enemy. All I could do was wait for his repeated attacks to succeed. Or I could make him flee. All of this happens in Charlie-Chaplin-style high speed. A battle is over in two seconds. Experience points are tallied, gold is earned. Leveling up commences (I went up six levels in half a minute). Leveling is fun, but the goal is to rush to the boss — hoping that by the time you get near his lair you've been prompted with the "You > Evil." That alert indicates that victory is attainable. So you crush the boss. With hundredths of seconds to spare. Very vague echoes of Majora's Mask.
Respects For The Gamer: I am weary of JRPGs that waste players' time with cumbersome menus as well as inane and unessential dialogue. Half-Minute Hero seems to be designed by people who agree and have sped things along. Gameplay and fun appear to have been prioritized over tedious item management and maudlin narrative.
XSeed was showing only a tiny portion of the game. The official fact sheet for the title promises 15 hours of gameplay, spread across four modes of play that have 30 missions each. While missions can last more than 30-seconds if you make the necessary time-extension purchases in some missions, that still doesn't add up. But who's counting?
It may well be that the other modes of the game — conspicuously absent from the demo I was able to play — don't share the hero mode's ingenuity. That's a key thing to look for as the game's fall 2009 release approaches. Nevertheless, the game made the best first-impression of any new title I sampled this week.