Saturday, September 10, 2011

Half Minute Hero Review

* The previous owner of this blog wrote up this review and wanted it posted up.  I've also played the game and think it's great.
Half Minute Hero is an awesome game and you should buy it. At the very least, you should watch some video gameplay or try the demo. This game is an innovative mashup of different genres (primarily JRPG and puzzle) and I think it's very, very entertaining. If you enjoyed the PSP original, ever enjoyed JRPGs in your life, like to play puzzle games, or like quirky/innovative games... you should just stop reading and buy the game. If you're on the fence, I'll do my best to describe to you what this game is and what this game is not. I'm going to write a lot, but it's necessary to give a good picture of this game.

(If you've played the PSP version before, skip to the end of the review for a list of changes made.)

As you can tell, I'm a huge fan of this game. I enjoyed it a lot on the PSP and I enjoy it even more on the xbox. I'm going to be very enthusiastic in this review since I don't think many people even know the game exists and it can use all the hype it can get. But I seriously encourage you to at least try the demo, it's such a interesting concept that I think most gamers should at least experience it.

I can't guarantee you'll like it. But who definitely won't like Half Minute Hero? People who loathe solving puzzles, the JRPG concept, quirky games, or non turnbased games. People who like the genres they're already playing and don't want to try something new. People who buy it expecting it to be a traditional JRPG. People who hate quirky games or who need top of the line graphics and voice acting to enjoy a game. People who need to spend more than 60 hours on a 10 dollar game just to get all the achievements.

By the way, this game does not take 30 seconds to beat. It's not a 60 hour game either, but there isn't any fat... no grinding hours for items or toiling on mindless tasks.

- Gameplay -

The gameplay is a JRPG stripped down to its barest elements. It is not a traditional JRPG, although it uses the JRPG elements. The game is composed of several stages that could be mini-JRPGs in their own right (complete with title screen and credits.) You start off each stage at Level 1, although you can use any of the equipment you've found in previous stages. You get into random battles to kill monsters to get money and level up, buy equipment at villages, read through walls of dialogue, complete quests to progress the story, complete optional side quests to gain allies or special items, then ultimately defeat the Evil Lord threatening to destroy the world. The twist is that you have a 30 second timer to do all this and once that timer hits 0, it's game over. But you can pay an ever increasing sum to reset the timer to 30 seconds at any village. You can also dash around to move faster and avoid random battles, but while dashing, your HP is consumed.

Battles are also stripped down to their barest elements and made to go as fast as possible. Battles are viewed from the side where you and your opponents simply run at each other. You clash, damage is dealt based on your respective stats, and you repeat until one of you is dead. You can choose to dash, which eats more of your life but makes the battle go faster, or use a healing item, which can be expensive and you need money to reset the timer, or run away if you don't think you'll win. Battles are still strategic... you have to decide when you can take an enemy and you can equip items that can cause the battle to be a lot easier (such as equipping a Silver weapon that can One Hit Kill demon enemies.) They're still exciting, especially late in the game when you might finish battles with milliseconds to spare, then need to rush to the nearest village to reset your time.

The game parodies the JRPG genre and the different stages address the many tropes of JRPGs. Some stages focus around you needing to collect special equipment to defeat the big baddie, others have you do fetch quests, another has you chase your rival around, while others send you hunting for special monsters. There are 72 different stages and they're all really creative. As the game goes on, some new gimmicks are introduced. Most of the stages have different paths you can take to complete them. Sometimes you'll unlock hidden stages by finishing levels in unconventional ways. Some of the secret stages are really challenging.

In my opinion, the best part of this game is the level design... there is so much packed into each level. In order to beat the stage at all, you'll probably play the stage one to three times. To unlock the titles (you gain titles by performing certain tasks in levels), collect all the equipment, or get the top times you'll need to play the stages a lot. It's a joy to go through them. Playing through a stage is like solving a small puzzle. And you can get that satisfied feeling of leveling up in a game and overpowering your enemies.

Let me explain how a stage might work. I don't want to spoil anything, so I'm just making up an example, but the stages play out a lot like this. Here's what you can expect:

In your first run through a stage, you might grind for a few minutes, pay 300G to recruit a mercenary ally from a bar, complete a sidequest for him by finding a memento left for him by his deceased wife in a cave that boosts his power, grind some more, reach level 60, then finally be strong enough to take out the mini-boss and the boss. You unlock a title and completed the stage in maybe five minutes (throughout the stage you'll be stopping at villages to chat, learn some backstory, heal, and reset the timer.)

But then you play again. You grind for a bit and recruit the mercenary, but don't do his quest. You remember a townsperson in the first village mentioned something about a hidden village you ignored the first time, so you go searching for it this time. You go through a cave of monsters and find the village on a peninsula in a hidden patch of a forest. The shop there sells a demon slaying sword for 200G. You may need to grind for a minute to afford the sword, but now you can rush through the rest stage and One Hit KO the miniboss and boss. This will get you a new sword to use in future stages, unlock a title, and it took you only three minutes instead of five.

Maybe you're satisfied with what you've done so far. Or maybe you want to get a lower score. Speedrunning may not be your thing, but it doesn't mean you won't enjoy the game. Even without the speed running, the stages are still really fun to go through and you can beat them no matter how good or bad you are at games. But if you want more of a challenge and want more gameplay, it's definitely an option.

Let's say you looked at the leaderboard and saw people were beating the stage within 30 seconds and you want to figure out how. So you play the stage a ton of times, finding several new paths through the stage and some time shaving shortcuts. You finally get the 'Aha!' moment. You equip some armor that lets you swim, shoes that make you dash faster, and a sword that increases your base HP by 30. You don't equip a shield so you can move faster. You start the stage and dash off to a forest in the east, where there's a really weak monster that drops 230G, but no experience. Once you got the gold, you dash off to the village on the peninsula, taking a shortcut through the water this time. Because you're using the sword that boosts your base HP, you don't need to stop by any towns on the way to refill your HP. You use up all your money to buy the demon slaying sword and heal, but it doesn't matter because you're aiming to beat the stage within 30 seconds, so you don't need money to reset the timer. Now you rush through the rest of the stage, again through the water, and beat the mini-boss and the boss with a second to spare. You get nothing new, this playthrough was entirely optional, but you have the satisfaction of beating the stage in 29 seconds rather than three or five minutes. You can play again to lower your score even more. Maybe you took some wasted steps or maybe you finished the boss with a lot of life remaining and you realize you should have dashed more. There is a lot of replay, complexity, and skill to this game if you want it.

- Story -

This game does have a coherent story that justifies all the gameplay mechanics. The main premise is simple though: You're on a quest to save the world from destruction. In many ways, this game is a parody and homage to all the JRPGs that came before it. Just like how the gameplay parodied a lot of JRPG gameplay tropes, the story parodies JRPG story tropes. You have allies bent on revenge, an elf archer, greedy mayors, and so on.

The dialogue and humor are what really makes the story special. There's a lot of self-aware humor... like there's a comment about how the bridgemaker that can repair a bridge with only a hammer you found is more amazing than the Evil Lord with the power to destroy the world. Your constant companion (a greedy Time Goddess who resets time for you) has lots of funny lines too.

Some of the stages are really gems and don't rely on humor at all. There are a couple stages in there that will probably amaze you with how much content was squeezed into a few minutes of gameplay.

Also, all the story sequences and dialogue are skippable, which is great for when you're replaying stages.

- Replayability -

I believe the replayability is very high. Although you can go through the game just once and call it quits in maybe 4-8 hours of pure active fun, this game has tons of secrets asking to be discovered through playthroughs. Getting all the achievements will probably take around 10-30 hours without constantly using a guide. If you try to get the top times on stages, you're looking at a lot more replayability... it's really up to you.

There is also a multiplayer mode where you compete with up to four other players to defeat the Evil Lord first. It's like a normal stage (with less story), but now there are four of you running around competing for resources, racing to kill the Evil Lord. This mode is fun, but could be done better. The match-making isn't very good, players are allowed to set up their own handicaps, and restarting a game is a pain

- Graphics and Sound -

The graphics are nice. There are two types you can choose between. The first is an 8-bit Sprite mode that parodies older generation RPGS. The second is a cartoony HD mode. Text is easy to read and HUDs are clear. They're not cutting edge, but the graphics are perfect for the kind of game this is. The music is good and appropriate too.

- But I already played the PSP version! -

This game is a remake of the PSP version. It's not a strict port, it's a remake with added features. If you enjoyed it on the PSP, I strongly suggest you pick this game up. Not only are there several new lengthy levels to play, but it'll encourage more of this kind of localization. Plus, it's pretty cheap.

Here are the changes from the PSP version:

1. An OPTIONAL new HD cartoony graphic mode. You can revert to 8-bit if you don't like it, but the new mode grows on you and the 8-bit sprites don't scale very well on large TVs.
2. 8 new quests were added to Hero 30. These quests weigh on the long side. Several feature creative new gimmicks. It's at least an hour or two to get the titles/equipment... way more if you try to get the lowest score on the boards.
3. Some quests were rebalanced and some new equipment was added.
4. The multiplayer mode was expanded and now comes with 10 maps. The maps are all pretty interesting.
5. There are proper leaderboards, as well as an option that lets you see a "ghost" of you or your friend's best performance of a particular stage as you're playing.
6. Evil Lord 30, Princess 30, and Knight 30 modes were all replaced by a new single Hero 30 style quest each. They're pretty long quests, but much shorter than the PSP modes.
7. The 'Another Goddess' quest was removed from Hero 30 mode.
8. There's a downloadable content section, so more maps/modes may be released later.

- Closing -

So, that's what I have to say about this game. I strongly encourage you to buy it. It may not end up being your cup of tea, but it's worth trying out. The game is deceptively simple. Although it may look and sound like it would be better as a flash game or something... the stages and mechanics are very well done (I really admire the game design) and there are a lot of creative, well-executed ideas that I believe push it from the realm of novelty into the realm of a great game that deserves to be successful.

Of course, no game is perfect and this game has things that could be done better. But it's been the game I've had the most fun with in years. Hope I helped you make a decision!

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