The role-playing genre has been quite tried, true and stable over the few decades. Fans generally know what to expect when they put on a suit of digitized armor and start their quest, whether it’s in a turn-based Japanese production or a free-roam Western take on things. Sure, there’s always an improvement, new addition or interesting feature set added into newer releases, but the genre is rarely ever turned on its head with an infusion of creativity. One attempt at doing so was Marvelous Entertainment’s IP, Half-Minute Hero – a PSP game, which is now available for the XBOX Live Arcade as Half-Minute Hero Super Neo Climax. It’s a game that is so insanely fast and strange that you’ll forget it’s a role-playing adventure.
To say that Half-Minute Hero is a unique look at the RPG genre is an understatement. It’s essentially a combination of three somewhat different altered game types, spread over five distinct modes. Instead of taking part in quests of epic length and proportions, players are tasked with trying to finish a task in the shortest amount of time possible, with full leaderboard support to challenge your friends with. This mechanic stays the same for all modes, but your goals, objectives, tasks and main mechanics change a bit in each.
The game’s storyline continues through all five modes and essentially boils down to a battle between good and bad and morality versus prejudice. The development team at Marvelous Entertainment did a good job of crafting a world that feels interesting and holds gamers’ interest by having them save it from its perils, with the overall goal being saving the world from an oppressive overlord who is bound and bent on destruction. Some creative characters with unique personalities can be allied with throughout the journey and, though the writing isn’t much more than classic RPG cliches and basic genre statements, it can still be pretty interesting. Impatient gamers can skip through all of it if they’d like, just by pressing the start button so, if you don’t like reading walls of text and prefer to get right back into the action, that option will suit you.
Right at the beginning of the journey, only one mode is available: Hero 30. It is the most like a traditional RPG, if you stripped away the time factor, that is. This essentially means that you get to be the hero over 30 quests. Players visit towns, take on missions and attempt to save the world from all sorts of different types of creative-looking overlords. Much like the story structure of your traditional Final Fantasy game, but the twist is that the thirty second time limit can not be reduced to zero. If so, the attempt ends and you’re looking at a game over screen in anger at yourself for squandering those precious last few seconds. Avoiding this is done by visiting goddess shrines.
Instead of having players continuously level up their hero over the course of their journey, Half-Minute Hero strips you of your levels and experience after each quest. That means that each new one you take on makes you start from scratch, with a new thirty second time limit. The task is to complete as many side quests as possible, while leveling up your little warrior enough so that he can take on the bad guy who has taken up nest in the town’s castle. This means a lot of random battling, all of which is completed automatically and quickly, meaning most battles only take about three seconds from start to finish. Death is not a finite ending as resets occur, but a loss of the thirty second timer is, which adds a new complexion to the game. Since it costs an increasing amount of money per prayer at the goddess’ shrine, it’s important to not do it too often, in order to keep the time resetting affordable.
The game’s battle system is pretty simplistic. Your hero rushes towards his enemies, hacking and slashing at them as they seemingly fight back, even though it’s not obvious via the animation system, at times. If you’re faltering at all, herbs can be used though only one can be held at a given time, and all must be purchased in towns at certain vendors. Allies will join your quest throughout the journey, based on decisions you make and side quests you finish. They can be quite helpful, especially during tougher battles, but they’re noticeably absent for most of the experience. Usually, it’s just you against the monsters.
Once you complete Hero 30 mode, a new mode is unlocked, with the trend continuing three more times. None of the new modes include the length that is found within the first one, which is around four hours in length or so, but they add somewhat fresh mechanics into the game’s premise. Hero 300 and Hero 3 are the two other main story modes, which task you with completing a quest in the listed amount of time – three hundred seconds or just three seconds. Conversely, the three other modes are more like minigames, tasking you with playing as a bad guy who is trying to do the right thing by saving castles, helping a town through the use of a crossbow as a princess in a shooter-style mode and saving the world as a knight who must choose the right path of enchanted stones. They’re fun diversions, though each is very short in length and only includes one map.
Arguably, the best part of the game is its competitive hero vs. hero multiplayer mode. It takes around ten different maps not imagined from existing Hero 30 locations and lets up to four heroes rush to become the first one to slay the fiend. Instead of working together on the quest, you must try to level up the fastest in order to be the first with the amount of power and skill required to defeat the main bad guy. Completing side quests, exploring caves for treasure and exploring new paths will benefit you in this attempt to become the true hero. Not only is it fun to compete against other people, but it’s so fast paced and frenetic that it’s unlike any other multiplayer mode I’ve ever played. The funny thing is that players can piggyback another hero’s attempt at defeating a boss, meaning that his damage inflicted will count when you go up and start hacking away. That aspect alone is hilarious and adds a whole new level of competition quality to the experience.
The new take on old retro tropes is refreshing fun, especially with the speed included in as a factor. It’s very enjoyable rushing through a quest like that, having to always keep the time limit in check. Very simple mechanics run through the game, but the new spin given to them makes it feel like a fresh experience. Half-Minute Hero Super Neo Climax really isn’t like anything you’ve ever played before (unless you played it on the PSP of course) and it’ll impress fans of role-playing games who would like to try something new.
There’s the odd hiccup and some inherent and expected repetition, but there aren’t any major issues. Replay value within the single player portion is found within trying to get all of the expensive equipment and rankings in Hero 30 mode, but that will only appeal to the more hardcore group of fanatics. Being an easy game to jump into will add some incentive for quick jump in/out sessions, while multiplayer will keep players coming back as long as the online community stays populated.
Since it uses familiar role-playing mechanics, objectives and designs, it makes sense for the game to look as it does. Aspiring heroes can choose to tackle their quests in a modern take on retro 8-bit visuals or a neo imagery mode that is more colourful and resembles something drawn in a program like Paint or Flash. Each of the two styles is quite different from the other, with a nice amount of visual polish and some unique qualities, mainly relating to the retro look. The neo version resembles a mid to late nineties role-playing game as opposed to something from the eighties.
Your hero begins his journey wearing next to nothing, using his fists for combat. As you complete your journey one step at a time, this changes with the acquisition of new items in the form of armor, weapons, helmets and shoes. Whenever you find something new, it’s added to your equipment and makes a visceral change to the look of your warrior. His character model looks quite good and features a decent amount of detail, though the animations used are simplistic to (understandably) go along with the game’s style and old-school subject matter. Enemies you come across reflect their environments, with both looking pretty nice. There are a ton of different foes, both simplistic and creative, with which you’ll have to battle at high speeds. Luckily, the game’s frame rate is stable and allows all of this frenetic action to take place without slowdown issues.
Like its inspiration, Half-Minute Hero Super Neo Climax uses text for its dialogue sections, instead of any sort of voice over work. There’s a ton to read, but that decision makes it keep in with the old-school charm the development team were going for. To make up for it, they created a high-tempo electronic soundtrack, which sounds a bit like chiptunes and does a good job of setting the tone for each battle and quest, despite being forgettable in the end. There is the odd sound effect expelled when defeating an enemy or when an environmental issue occurs (such as an avalanche, earthquake or volcanic eruption). They’re pretty simple and old hat, but they get the job done. After all, old hat is the style and effect they were going for. Generally speaking, the game sounds pretty good, with booming audio quality.
If you’re looking for a game that sets itself apart from the rest of the role-playing crowd, Half-Minute Hero Super Neo Climax is a great choice. The development team at Marvelous Entertainment did a commendable job of infusing old-school RPG mechanics with some new life, using the relatively simple addition of a short timer. Not only is it fun to play alone throughout its relatively lengthy single player quest but it’s also a complete blast to play with friends or new acquaintances online. Do yourself a favour and give this title a shot because it’s sure to impress.
Half-Minute Hero Super Neo Climax is a creative take on role-playing tropes that is refreshing, fun, addictive and wholly enjoyable.