The premise of Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy is simultaneously high concept and simple. An evil warlock has discovered a spell that can destroy the entire world. This incantation takes exactly thirty seconds to cast, and you must slay the villain before he finishes it.
Superficially the game’s core mechanics ape those of a classic JRPG. Of course, defeating the dark lord in thirty seconds would be patently impossible in a classic JRPG – thirty hours would be a more likely time frame. To make your task less harrowing, the enigmatic Goddess of Time blesses you with the ability to reset the timer at her shrines for a small sum of gold. Repeatedly using the shrine increases the cost exponentially, so the player has to budget their time and gold accordingly.
Additionally, every element of the game has been pared down to facilitate gatling paced play. Fighting more or less consists of charging directly at an opponent until their hit points are depleted, the player can only carry a single item at a time, and NPCs offer one line of dialogue at most. Any action takes a second or two at most.
These spins on the JRPG formula ensure that vanquishing the warlock will barely take two minutes. Here’s where things get interesting. Apparently a shadowy figure is whispering the secrets of the incantation to dark lords across the realm, and each of them is keen on eschewing better reason and trying it out. The young hero is tasked with defeating these antagonists one by one, each within the span of thirty seconds.
The result is Warioware meets Final Fantasy II. Although I admire both these titles, I have mixed feelings about their union.
On one hand, Half-Minute Hero is probably the best JRPG I’ve played in years. By parodying the tropes of the genre, it eschews much of the bloat that has made these games unplayable to me. Random encounters take no more than a second or two and are completely avoidable. Objectives aren’t bogged down by arduous footwork or novels worth of melodrama. Best of all, the game embraces the silliness of the “save the world” plot by repeating it in gratuity; the confrontations with dark lord after dark lord are hilariously anticlimactic. It’s obvious that Half-Minute Hero was crafted with a loving affection for the JRPG genre, and the game is sure to bring a smile to the face of any console gamer who grew up in the 1990s.
On the other hand, Half-Minute Hero is very much a one trick pony. I’ll give Opus credit, they’ve done an admirable job of introducing a fresh set piece in each level. In one level, a raging forest fire blankets the map as the timer ticks down, and in another a desert maze threatens to devour the player’s remaining time. But beneath these gimmicks lies an extremely formulaic experience. Depart town, grind a few levels, reset the timer, defeat the boss, rinse and repeat. It’s not the kind of game you can play for more than ten or twenty minutes at a time, and the novelty of its premise wears off fairly quickly.
For this reason, I think Half-Minute Hero is overpriced at $9.99. Admittedly the developers have thrown in a lot of added value for the PC release. There are a number of bonus quests, and the retro graphics mode is a nice touch. But the formula offers little mileage for the cost. With titles like Terraria and Faster Than Light retailing for $9.99, it’s amazing how competitive this price bracket has become.
Half-Minute Hero would shine as a three or four dollar smart phone game, but unfortunately an Android or iPhone release doesn’t appear to be in the cards. In you’re eager to try it out, wait until the next big Steam sale to pick it up at a far more equitable price.