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Half Minute Hero screenshot 2

From the creators of the 80s-tastic Retro Game Challenge comes XSEED’s latest foray into 8-bit historical homage: Half-Minute Hero, the world’s first thirty-second RPG.

Instead of the meandering pace of most current (and past) RPGs, HMH throws a unique curveball at you: each quest (level) must be completed in thirty seconds or less. It forces the game to be frantic and fast, but is it fun?

Yes. Yes it is. In the words of Half-Minute Hero‘s Time Goddess, “Has any RPG ever let you advance the story by saying no?”

Any preconceptions you have about how RPGs are supposed to be are shattered in an incredibly self-aware moment right in the opening title screen. You hear some twinkly, fantasy fairy music for a few seconds (classic retro-RPG style), then WHAM! Speed metal pumps unrelentingly into your virgin ears. At that second (especially with some decent headphones) you realize you’re in for one unique ride.

Half Minute Hero screenshot 1

Half-Minute Hero is divided into a handful of different gameplay types, each covering a different time period of the overarching (hilarious) storyline:

  1. Hero 30 - a fast-paced RPG that makes up the meat of the game. You start each new mission at level one with only 100 gold pieces, and are forced to fight automatic random battles to earn enough experience and gold to become powerful enough to kill the Evil Lord that has cast the thirty-second-long Spell of Destruction, dooming the world to an apocalyptic fate. (Whew! Reading that sentence takes longer than many of the quests in Hero 30!) Don’t worry if thirty seconds seems too short; pay an ever-increasing amount to the Time Goddess statue in town, and she will restore your clock to thirty.  Better hurry, though – time is money.
  2. Evil Lord 30 – a real-time strategy game utilizing a rock-paper-scissor mechanic. Once you understand that “big guys kill little guys” and “fast guys dodge arrows,” you will do just fine. The relationship between the main character and his sidekick is incredibly vain, self-centered, and charming to behold. Kill all the baddies within thirty seconds to win.
  3. Princess 30 – an old-school shmup. At only about an hour long, Princess 30 feels a little short-staffed. Still, the brevity keeps you from getting too bored with the unchanging, yet still mostly interesting, mechanics from one level to the next.
  4. Knight 30 – as the inexperienced Knight, you carry around the Sage until he can finish casting his own Spell of Destruction – not to end the world, but to end the bad guys. This mode is unique because it is the only one that actually requires you to let the entire thirty seconds expire. There are traps to be set for the enemies, but they seem largely superfluous.
  5. There are also two more unlockable Hero-related modes, but they are for you to discover, if you’re good enough! Good luck with that last one… it’s great practice for teaching yourself “muscle memory” and patience. Make sure you don’t chuck your PSP in disbelief at what the game is asking you to accomplish. By then, you will hopefully understand the Hero mechanics enough to be able to succeed… eventually.

Besides the rockin’ music (which ramps up quite considerably in the epic boss battles, and deserves a better outlet than the underpowered PSP speakers), the game sports a wickedly self-deprecating sense of humor. With a premise built around the RPG cliché of “save the world before the ultimate evil guy annihilates it,” it’s nice to see that they mean it for once. Take every Final Fantasy installment, for example – something is about to end the world, yet your party still has time for mini-games at the fair.

There’s no time for mini-games in Half-Minute Hero. You barely have time to buy new pants. You need pants for justice.

Half Minute Hero screenshot 3

The 8-bit graphics, similarly, are a direct homage/representation/self-pitying satire of classic RPG conventions. In a world where primitive graphics force all girls to wear dresses, so you can tell them from boys, it’s nice to see the game not take itself too seriously.

Although, there are a few problems. There is a bit of repetition as you advance through Hero 30, with many missions beginning to feel similar. The entire game clocks in at only about ten hours – short by RPG standards, but with most missions lasting only 30-90 seconds, there’s plenty to do. It’s also a shame that the non-RPG modes aren’t as fun or as interesting as Hero 30.

Finally, there really isn’t much replay value. There are various achievement-style titles to earn on each Hero 30 level to encourage immediate replays for completionists, online rankings to compare your times against the world, and a limited ad hoc multiplayer mode if you can find three other friends with the game. But there is nothing to encourage replay after replay except for online rank junkies.

Still, Half-Minute Hero is a wonderful example of a game catering to the strengths of its platform. “Pick up and play” is an overused back-of-box quote; few games achieve that title as admirably as Hero. If you’re a retro fan, or an RPG fan, or even just a PSP fan, you should pick up this game. The simple yet unique concept, coupled with a classic aesthetic and a biting sense of humor, makes Half-Minute Hero a winner. Check it out if you have a spare thirty seconds in your busy schedule.

Rating Category
9.5 Presentation
The charming, self-satirizing atmosphere, and technologically advanced effects make you realize this isn't just another 8-bit rehash. This is a product of love and dedication to a bygone era, with one foot firmly set in the present.
How does our scoring system work?
9.0 Gameplay
A classic RPG, RTS, side-scrolling shooter, and defense game combine into one polished - although sometimes unbalanced - package. Responsive controls hearken back to a time when there was no lag between you and your character's actions.
9.0 Sound
While the generic RPG-style fantasy music eventually sounds stale, it adds to the overall retro feel of the game. The raucous metal tunes that blare out unexpectedly, however, pump you up in a way that few other games have ever been able to manage.
7.0 Longevity
At only about ten hours, the game falls perfectly within the "ideal action game length" category, but RPG fanatics will be left wanting more.
9.0 Overall
A charming, self-deprecating, retro-steeped homage to classic gameplay conventions set to a rockin' speed metal soundtrack. At only ten hours, the ride is short, but each second of gameplay is packed with an immediacy unmatched in current games on any console.

  1. I’ve seriously thought about picking this up for my PSPgo, but I haven’t had time to play it. I’m happy to see you gave it such a good review! :-)

  2. “You start each new mission at level one with only 100 gold pieces, and are forced to fight automatic random battles to earn enough experience and gold to become powerful enough to kill the Evil Lord that has cast the thirty-second-long Spell of Destruction, dooming the world to an apocalyptic fate. (Whew! Reading that sentence takes longer than many of the quests in Hero 30!”

    You so clever.

  3. Man, I’m so sour that I couldn’t get the money for a PSP in time to get this game. This was like, my most anticipated title of the year, and I don’t even have a PSP, lol. Good to know that it rules, though.

  4. The whole point of RPG’s is to take your time and explore. I’ll pass :| lol

  5. A great read, Nick! I just love name of this game.

  6. Sickness, I might pick this up someday.

    @Curtis
    He is, isn’t he? :)

  7. I love it. It is a game I find myself playing every night for 10-20 minutes before I go to sleep.

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