Monday, April 5

In case you haven't played it: Half-Minute Hero Review (PSP)

Hope you all had a safe and productive Easter weekend. While I was intending to play a little bit more of Half-Minute Hero over the weekend, a recent bout of insomnia (funnily enough, not game related) afforded me enough time to play through the game and it's 6 (very) different modes.

Hero 30 is a piss-take of traditional RPG titles in terms of both narrative and gameplay. In each level, you start off with 30 seconds on the clock and traverse a small map and visit villages, explore caves and ultimately defeat the Evil Lord in their castle and break the spell of destruction cast over the world. You grind and loot with the clock ominously ticking down at the top of the screen. The action may at first appear simplistic, however you soon realise that through time, grind, quest and money management, Hero 30 has sufficient depth to keep you hooked in for hours of continuous play. Further to that, this mode has a lot of reply value as you can better your score and complete various side quests which can lead to better loot. You will find that each scenario takes about 5-8 minutes to complete with a total campaign length of about 5 hours.

While Hero 30 has enough depth and replayability to make HMH a solid purchase, some of the other modes fail to make the grade. Evil Lord 30 which is aptly described in the game's menu as a Real Time Strategy game, lacks a sufficient level of difficulty to warrant repeat play-throughs. The game works on a simple rock-scissors-paper formula and can be bested in just over half an hour. While the Evil Lord and his bat princess have some amusing interactions with the evil denizens of the land, the narrative in Evil Lord 30 is like the gameplay, filler at best. A trough in difficulty and weak story also contribute to the failure of Princess 30, the dual stick shooter (PSP face buttons act as a second stick) mode. You play as a defiant young princess who travels outside her palace walls 30 seconds before curfew to find a cure for the curse which plagues her father, the king. A forgiving time recovery mechanic coupled with a very large shooting window makes  for a very dull adventure outside the castle gates which I completed in less than an hour. Knight 30 requires players to defend the sage in a variety of maze like dungeons while she casts a spell to ward off evil. Funnily enough the spell takes 30 seconds to cast. There are some interesting elements at play as you lay traps and move the sage to avoid or engage with a myriad of evil beasts. You can't kill enemies, but you can stagger and misdirect them and while it initially sounds daunting you will very rarely find yourself needing to repeat a level for any reason other than your own error (for example: throwing a bomb too close to the sage). Knight 30 serves as a competent narrative introduction to the greatest (legitimate) challenge in Half Minute Hero: Hero 300. I won't discuss Hero 300 for fear of spoiling the plot, but know that it is a great test of your time and budget management skills.

The final mode to play through is Hero 3. The margin for error in this mode is slim to nil. It is doable and thanks to YouTube I managed to sneak through. If you're not keen on throwing your PSP across the room though I would recommend that you attempt this only after a good night's sleep and a hearty, quest-friendly meal.

HMH's graphics are for the most part, 8-bit inspired sprites and maps with the occasional still frame anime storyboards. The sprites are cute and intentionally over-pixelated. The art direction is charming and consistent and while the visuals are not technically impressive, Half-Minute Hero is easy on the eyes. The sound effects are also inspired by the 8-bit era which I am more than happy with, but I can understand that for some it may be a bit grating. The score is fantastic however with plenty of keyboards and power chords. Grinding + speed metal = win.

7/10: Half-Minute Hero is a great example of  a portable game. It can be played in short bursts for the quick commute and it features enough charm and depth for sustained play. Hero 30 and 300 are the winners in this package. The time-attack RPG is a challenging new genre which I hope many developers choose to explore in lieu of 100 hour+ grind-fests.  The retro visuals and varied soundtrack work well in concert and I often played with a smile on my face. The real issue with HMH is the other modes really do feel like a chore to play through as they lack the sophistication present in the core experience of Hero 30 and 300 (and even the brutally difficult Hero 3).

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