In the beginning, there was only time. And in that early stage, two gods collided. The Time Goddess, mistress of time, and the Ultmate Evil Lord, destroyer of worlds.
"Half-Minute Hero" is your everyday, bog-standard Japanese RPG. It features gigantic swords, silent protagonists with canary hair, effeminate wizards, boisterous princesses, a massive overworld where you can grind to your heart's content, and a series of bosses ensconced in castles who cast world-ending spells with a flick of the hand. The only thing it's missing is a gen-u-wine airship.
However, there's a catch.
You only get 30 seconds. Total. As in, a half minute. You must start from level 1, find equipment, gain levels, and then beat the boss with the time you're allotted.
Yes, it's ridiculous. Yes, it's difficult sometimes. It's also one of the best games to have been put out for the PSP since it launched.
There are four major game modes, plus two unlockable ones that are a twist on the main mode. These are:
Sand Tribe Villager: "I don't hate snakes. I hate people who do bad stuff using snakes."
Hero 30 is where you'll spend the bulk of your time. (Around eight full hours of it, if my playthrough was any indicator.) Hero 30 tells the story of Hero, the quintessential RPG hero: blond, in his mid-teens, never says a word, and carries a huge sword. Hero arrives in the tiny island of Strehl, with nothing but the bindle over his shoulder. Mere seconds after his arrival, the King commissions him to slay some of the local monstrous fauna. Just as he is about to bestow his royal rewards, the nefarious Hackein casts a spell that will end the entire world - in thirty seconds. The King, not one to let free labor slip through his pixelly hands, commissions you to go forth and slay Hackein, to keep him from finishing the spell.
The timer starts immediately.
The game proceeds rather straightforwardly from there: sally forth, beat up as many monsters as you can, return to town to heal, buy equipment, and repeat until you're strong enough to defeat the evil spellcaster in that area. As mentioned, you have a mere 30 seconds to do all that. However! Hero's plight has not gone unnoticed by the Powers Above, and the Time Goddess takes "pity" on him. If Hero asks, she will roll back time to the full 30 seconds before the spell would be cast successfully, restoring your time limit and allowing you to keep on going. The catch? She's a gold digger of the highest order. In fact, each time you ask her to roll back time, it costs more money. And each time you defeat one of the evil lords, you give up all of the money you had left over. It's not unreasonable to give up tens of thousands of gold pieces over the course of a single map.
Now, while the basic formula might be straight out of the JRPG handbooks, the issue of time management (a common theme in all of the game modes) puts an entirely different spin on it. Battles take mere seconds, and don't actually require any button presses. Hero and his sometime compatriots comically smash into whatever monsters appear until they are defeated and fly off the screen into the distance. Imagine when you were a kid, crashing your action figures into each other in epic fights, and you're just about spot on. Side quests, another staple of the genre, are similarly simple before you take the time limit into account; an early example has you retrieving a hammer for a local stonemason so he'll fix the bridge leading to the evil lord's castle.
Evil Lord 30
EvilLord: "I've been meaning to ask you. Does 'pervert' mean unrivaled beauty?"
Evil Lord 30 tells the story of EvilLord, the most fabulous Evil Lord to walk the land. He and his consort Millenia, a young girl turned into a bright purple bat by a curse, are attacked on the front lawns of their very home by sword-swinging bandits while sipping violet tea. EvilLord, not one to forgive a slight against His Most Beautiful Person, immediately schools the bandits in the art of monster summoning, only to find that an old enemy has arisen and renewed the curse on His Dear Violet Sweetheart. However, as the sun rises and Millenia is rendered faint by its light, EvilLord retreats back to his castle. There, he swears to lift her curse in only 30 seconds of night. With Millenia in tow (as his beauty is only truly magnificent with her at his side), he sets off to find his old enemies and restore her to her former beauty.
The game plays like an ultralight RTS: EvilLord can summon three flavors of monster, who defeat enemies in a sort of rock-paper-scissors dynamic. As he travels and earns money, he can spend it at the Time Goddess Spa, thus increasing the abilities of the monsters he summons and the range of his command. In addition to his summons, he can command wild monsters that roam the field, as well as direct the powers of the Fabulous Four, elemental spirits who can freeze enemies in their tracks or set them aflame. In addition to the main story, there are a few side stories to check out, even after the main quest is completed.
Minister: "I'm sorry, the Princess has rarely been outside the castle. She's clueless sometimes."
Princess: "My name is Clueless Sometimes?!"
Princess 30 is open from the start; set 200 years after the events of Hero 30, it tells the story of Princess, a kindhearted young girl who loves her father very much and possesses demonic skills with a crossbow. When her father falls ill, she swears to make him better by her own hand and sets out to retrieve various medicinal herbs with the help of her two stalwart knights Johnny & Maxwell and a massive retinue of armored bodyguards who would love nothing more than to give their lives to protect her. As she learns what it means to be a royal Princess, she helps her loyal subjects and eventually learns the secrets of the secretive shinobi. Not many other people could boast the same thing if they had to follow a 30 second curfew!
If you're not familiar with the "shmup" genre of games, the basic idea is that you pilot a small craft, usually of spacefaring origin, while enemies fire brightly colored bullets or make kamikaze runs at your ship as you dodge and fire back. Here, the craft is a litter on the backs of the ever-loyal Johnny and Maxwell, hits are absorbed by a huge pack of armored knights swarming around the litter, and the pilot is the Princess herself, who is able to fire hundreds of bolts a second from a crossbow that's larger than she is. The game itself is rather straightforward; most of the difficulty lies in trying to keep your tragic knights from taking hits. Every knight you lose during your trip costs money on your return in first aid bills.
Sage: "Are you listening? Knight?! What are you doing with that duck?!"
300 years after Hero 30, the world has fallen into ruins, and the faith of the Sages is the only thing that keeps humanity alive. One special Sage is journeying to try and find the Hero of Legend and awaken him. However, Sage is squishy and made of meat, and needs a loyal bodyguard. He arrives at the site of a massive battle and resurrects Knight, entrusting Knight with his life. Knight, though not the brightest candle in the room, has a stalwart heart and knows how to build traps to keep the monsters at bay, buying time for the Sage to cast his spell of purification. Together, they travel to the final resting place of the Hero and try to save the world from falling any further into ruins.
Knight 30, like the others, is a lite version of a common game type. In this case, it's the "tower defense" genre. Sage is extremely fragile and can only take a few hits, and needs at least 30 seconds to cast his spell. Knight, on the other hand, is loyal to the bone and happily throws himself at the enemies to hold them back even without any weapons. By making use of holy sanctuaries that reduce casting time, the traps that Knight makes each night, and the branches, broken swords, and rocks scattered across the landscape, Knight protects Sage from the relentless monster attacks until the Sage finishes casting his spell.
In addition to the four modes above, which form the majority of the overarching story, there are two more modes to be unlocked on completion of the other ones: Hero 300 and Hero 3. Keeping with tradition, Hero 300 gives you 300 seconds to complete the map, though the circumstances are a lot more different that time around.
Hero 3, on the other hand, gives you only three seconds to complete a map.
It is wholly unforgiving, like your mother when you came home at dawn after hanging out with your shiftless friends. It is so difficult that I have completed around 95% of the other game modes and have yet to actually finish a single Hero 3 map. If you are the sort of person who cannot keep away from absurdly masochistic games like Ghosts 'n' Goblins, Spelunky, I Wanna Be The Guy, or Desert Bus, Hero 3 could easily be your sole reason for purchasing the game in the first place.
The game's translation was done by the same group who handled Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do To Deserve This? It's a very tongue-in-cheek script. The Time Goddess sprinkles her sentences with lots of ♥s and ★s even while her massive hunger for delicious gold pieces impels her to drag off your hard-won treasures. The villagers are equally hilarious: one specific sidequest shows up when you visit a small, out-of-the-way hut, and goes something like this:
Kind Woman: "Hero! Can you help me find my glasses? I don't remember where I left them!"
***GLASSES LOCATION: ON HEAD***
Kind Woman: "Hey, you found them! Here, you can have this spare set I was just wearing."
The sounds and music are cheery and evocative without getting in the way. The battles are sufficiently noisy but not annoying, and the music rips into some sweet-ass guitar riffs at just the right times. While it's not quite powerful enough to warrant tracking down the OST on its own, it's definitely better than the average game.
The art, on the other hand, is spectacular, though you wouldn't think it at first. The character sprites are all done up as if they were for old 8-bit games with a much larger color palette. This isn't a cost-reduction maneuver, though; while I had to squint at one or two of the monsters to figure them out, all of the actual characters are downright expressive, especially the Time Goddess herself. As you progress through the game, you can also unlock the actual character designs for all of the main characters and almost all of the evil lords. The maps are wide and expansive, and once you possess a mode of air travel, the world shifts perspective to a view that's remarkably similar to the SNES's Mode 7 display (used in games like Super Mario Kart, F-Zero, and the overworld sections of Terranigma and Final Fantasy IV-VI). Considering that the game's on the PSP (as opposed to Nintendo hardware), this a rather neat trick.
This is one of the most solid games on the PSP, and really embodies what handheld game developers should be striving for: addictive gameplay designed with an eye for short sessions of play. When a single map only takes a couple minutes to complete, it's really hard to resist turning the game on whenever you need to wait for something. The game mechanics have a fairly slight learning curve; most of the real challenge comes in trying to bend the mechanics far enough to complete the optional map conditions and par times. If it's your cup of tea, there's also a set of online rankings for completion times and ratings; each time you complete a level or game mode, you're given a small text string to submit to the website.
There really isn't a lot of nasty things to say about this game, to be quite honest. The Princess 30 and Knight 30 game modes are only about fifteen levels long while Hero 30 and Evil Lord 30 both have thirty levels to complete. In addition, both of those modes were a bit simpler compared to the first two, and didn't seem to have as much extra optional content to play with. If you didn't grow up playing Square RPGs until your eyes bled, some of the parody elements might be a bit lost on you as well, but a good majority of the humor is non-referential and entirely funny on its own.
If anyone asks me what they should get for their new PSP, Half-Minute Hero is going to be at the top of my list. It's a solid game, shows a lot of polish, and lends itself very well to the average handheld gamer's habits. The retro-stylized graphics and sound work evoke those fuzzy-warm feelings of late-night SNES nostalgia, and even if you didn't get the chance to grow up with a pile of cartridges under the TV, there's more than enough here to amuse and occupy you.
EvilLord: "It's time to show them the true power of a pervert!"