Half-Minute Hero is one of those rare gaming experiences that just works – it’s fun to play, it’s easy to learn, and it’s surprisingly long for a PSP title. The game plays homage to the classic 8-bit RPGs but with a modern take that utilizes the portability of Sony’s handheld device. If you are looking for a throw-back to the old top-down RPGs (simplistic, yet adorable graphics included), then Half-Minute Hero is a must buy.
The game centers around four main game modes, all sharing the premise of compact action. The four game modes star four different characters, the Hero, the Princess, the Evil Lord, and the Knight. All of the different modes and associated main characters offer a varied gameplay experience, ranging from familiar RPG elements to an obscure take on modern shooters. Each mode shares one fundamental element in common: you have approximately 30 seconds to complete each level. However, while there are ways to extend your time limit, you shouldn’t expect to spend more than a couple of minutes on each level, and in some circumstances, a stage may take no more than a few seconds to complete.
The first game mode is Hero 30, our personal favorite. Here, you take the role of a blonde-haired hero who is tasked with saving the kingdom from the evil lord, and is accompanied on his journey by a small crew of travelers who offer advice on each level (in reality, they don’t offer all that much help, but they are typically good for a few laughs). Your most important companion is the Time Goddess, who is your guide through the kingdom and has the ability to reset your 30 seconds. Resetting your 30 seconds comes at a price, and, through a series of humorous explanations, you learn that the Time Goddess will reset your time at a price. However, the cost to reset your time increases each time you pray at the Time Goddess statue.
The hero in this mode will wander around a 2D level and face random enemy encounters. You’ll acquire experience and cash quickly by fighting beasts, and you can return to towns scattered throughout each level to regain health and reset your time. These towns and villages also have some colorful characters that will sell you weapons and healing items, in addition to offering advice on how to beat each boss. Amusingly, chatting to any character – whether it be the Time Goddess or lumberjack – triggers a pixellated close-up of that particular character, offering a visual nod back to the classic 8-bit era.
Combat in Hero 30 is extremely simplistic like the rest of the game. This is the first part of the game that we feel some of our readers will not enjoy. It takes a few battles to learn that you don’t really have to do anything during encounters. You simply run into the enemy and hit points fly off your body and your enemy’s body. You don’t have an attack button, or a defend button. All you can do in battle is run at the enemy, heal yourself, or flee. This particular gameplay element may turn some people off, but we can’t deny that it works like a charm all the same. Since you only get 30 seconds on each level, the action comes fast and it allows you to quickly jump in and play a few levels in the matter of minutes. Once you’ve leveled your character high enough to defeat the boss on each level, the game will let you know that “You>Evil” and at this point you can head over to the boss and dispatch it with relative ease. So far we imagine this sounds a bit too simplistic, but that’s what Half-Minute Hero is all about, and we feel Xseed Games and Opus were successful in their attempt to make a compelling game with an original premise for the PSP.
There are a few other game modes we should mention. The first is Princess 30, which centers on a young girl who needs to help her ailing father. As with the previous mode, Princess 30 uses the same 30-second foundation, though instead of facing random battles in RPG style, you’re surrounded by a fleet of knights and instead must utilize your trusty cross bow to eliminate your foes. If you run into an enemy, that knight/guard eventually dies and you are left all alone. The Time Goddess once again helps you out by laying a red carpet to refill your time at a fair price. Overall, Princess 30 is pretty fun, though ultimately feels a little lacking compared to Hero 30.
Elsewhere, Half-Minute Hero’s other distractions – namely, Evil Lord 30 and Knight 30 - are also sadly not quite as compelling as Hero 30; though remain entertaining enough for a few levels. Evil Lord 30 tasks you with eliminating legions of bad guys in a real-time strategy game, though despite its inherent simplicity didn’t hold our attention for long. Meanwhile, Knight mode does a complete 180 and requires players to sit tight and allow for the time to run out as opposed to extending it in order to achieve their objective. As the knight, you must escort a Sage to safer grounds and protect him from adversaries while he attempts to cook up a spell to exterminate all the creatures in the area.
Despite our disappointments outside of the Hero 30 mode, there’s still a fair amount of replay value to squeeze out of the game’s multiplayer component. Here, you and friends play through Hero 30, but with a few notable differences. For one, the clock doesn’t stop in towns and you are essentially competing with the other players to determine who is the True Hero. Still, it’s a shame the developers didn’t see fit to throw in a few extra maps, as the multiplayer is decidedly lacking in this particular area.
Overall, while this quirky collection won’t be suited to everyone’s tastes, if you're looking for a unique RPG romp offering a diverse set of game modes, then Half-Minute Hero gets the job done. The music is great, the gameplay is simple and fast-paced, and packs in quite a few laughs to boot. While we were most impressed with Hero 30, some gamers will inevitably prefer the RTS and shooter mechanics found elsewhere. Looking back, we feel Opus certainly took a risk with their approach to the classic 8-bit RPG, and they succeeded admirably. However, if we are to see a sequel, we hope Hero 30 is expanded upon, and the multiplayer offering is a little more substantial.
-The Final Word-
Half-Minute Hero is a throwback to the 8-bit RPG genre coupled with a unique take that only feels possible on the PSP. Some of the game modes on offer leave a lot to be desired, however.