You know, in the long run, RPGs do waste a lot of time: time spent traveling, grinding, or those brief moments when nothing interesting is happening. Sometimes, one wonders what would happen to an RPG if all the excess fat were trimmed away. Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax is the answer to that question because it's an RPG without all the padding. In many ways, Half-Minute Hero manages to scratch the RPG itch better than many full-length RPGs.
A mysterious evil force is traveling around the world and giving various evil beings a magic spell that can destroy the world but takes 30 seconds to cast. The only force that stands against it is the Time Goddess, but unfortunately for the world, she's rather shiftless and greedy. Rather than devoting her full force to stopping the evil, the goddess sees this as a chance to make some extra cash. She offers her power to a young nameless hero, who stops the bad guys and saves the world. She'll give him the power he needs to do it within 30 seconds as long as he agrees to keep paying her with treasure aplenty. If he can't pay, then the world suffers.
Half-Minute Hero is a puzzle game designed to mimic an RPG. You're put in control of an RPG hero and have 30 seconds to find and defeat an evil lord before his spell destroys the world. You're given a small section of the world map to explore and have to get through it as quickly as possible. Movement is done using the d-pad or analog stick, and there are no menus to fiddle with at all. Combat is completely automated; your characters and the enemy rush at each other on a side-view battle screen and attack at hyper-speed. The only thing you can do is hold the B button to attack faster at a cost to your health or hold the bumpers to run away from battle. Occasionally, you can use a healing item if you purchased one in a store, but you can only hold one at a time, and it is used automatically when you press the X button. Even leveling is automated, and you'll often gain a level every battle or two because of the Goddess of Time's boons, which massively increase the speed at which you level. However, grinding too much is just as pointless as in any other RPG and can be a waste of your time.
The Xbox's controller is just not made for the simple controls. The analog stick is awkward when you're trying to run around at mach speed with a second on the clock, and the d-pad is squishy and uncomfortable. If you have one of the newer-model Xbox controllers with the improved d-pad, this might not be an issue for you, but if you don't, you'll have to take a little while to get used to the controls. It was clearly designed for the PSP's clickier d-pad, and that is very noticeable. It's not the game's fault, but it's something to keep in mind.
The challenge comes not from defeating the evil lords, but in doing so as efficiently as possible. Grinding for a minute or two and then rushing the evil lord is a successful strategy, but you'll receive a poor grade. The key to getting high scores in Half-Minute Hero is finding the most effective way around the level. Sometimes, this is simply knowing when and where to attack enemies and which items to buy. Other times, it involves thinking outside the box and discovering shortcuts. You're graded on how quickly you complete the stage. Your score can range from True Hero to Sucky Hero, and getting True Hero requires some quick button presses and effective uses of time.
On top of that, each map tends to have optional objectives to complete, most of which mimic RPG side-quests in some fashion. Sometimes levels have hidden characters or special items, which you must figure out how to acquire. Other times, the evil lords may threaten a village or hold someone hostage, and you have to figure out how to save the people while also defeating the lord. It's never very complex, but there's always something more to the level than you'd initially suspect. Completing these optional objectives can earn you rewards, such as new items or new equipment for your hero. Sometimes, you'll weaken the boss in some way that makes it easier to defeat him without grinding; in turn, this lets you cut some time off the clock. In rare situations, it even can alter the plot and allow you to go to new levels.
In addition to scores, each level also contains two challenges, which come in the form of special titles that are awarded if you complete certain objectives within the chapter. The only hint you get about the challenge comes from the chapter title. Some are obvious and simply involve defeating the evil lord while completing an optional objective. Others, however, tend to involve some though. Some may require you to finish the map with very little time left or defeat enemies while wearing inferior equipment. Some challenges are exclusive and require you to go through the level more than once.
If it sounds like 30 seconds aren't enough time to do all this, that's because it usually isn't. In Normal mode, time freezes when you visit towns or castles, but otherwise, the clock is always running. Hard mode doesn't even give you that handicap. Despite this, you're not stuck with only 30 seconds on the clock. Aside from one or two levels, most of the stages contain a goddess statue that you can visit. At a statue, you can have the Goddess of Time reverse time back to the start of the 30-second timer. This also reverses some, but not all, of the events in the world. Completed quests and gathered items remain, but certain other world-changing events can be turned back by the clock. However, the Goddess of Time is extremely greedy, so although the world is in danger, turning back time costs 100 gold the first time, and it increases from there: The second time is 200 gold, the third is 400, and this adds up pretty quickly. You can sacrifice all your equipment and money for one final chance if you run dry, but usually, it isn't worth doing so. Manipulating time also solves some of the game's challenges, so you have to be sure you're not wasting cash that you need to solve a puzzle.
There's another price for turning back time. At the end of each stage, you lose all the levels and cash you gained on that stage. The only things you can retain are any pieces of equipment you've found. You can equip weapon, a shield, armor, boots and a helmet, and you can switch these around between levels. The only limitation is that if you return to a previously finished level, you can't equip an item you gained in a level after that one. That would be a time paradox, after all. Most pieces of equipment are straightforward boosts to your stats, but it can be frustrating because the stats are poorly explained. In most cases, the higher the number, the better, but weight is an odd boost that has both positive and negative effects. The Bug Swatter kills any insect-type enemy in a single blow, but it's weak against everything else. Swimming Trunks let you walk over water tiles but serve as terrible armor. Sometimes, these gimmick items are the key to finishing a tough challenge or getting through a stage faster than normal, and it's important to remember what you have in your inventory.
One dramatic change from the PSP version comes once you've finished the Hero 30 segment. In the PSP version of Half-Minute Hero, you would go on to Evil Lord 30, Princess 30 and Knight 30. Each of these was a different play style from Hero 30, though none where nearly as fun. In the XBLA version, these segments retain roughly the same play style. The non-hero characters can't equip weapons or items, and each only has a single stage, which is a streamlined and simplified version of the PSP game. This is actually a plus because the non-hero segments were the weakest, and being forced to sit through them could get a little tedious. The XBLA version has the best parts of the game instead of the filler.
The downside is that the other 30-second characters don't feel like actual characters like they did in the PSP version. Since you play as them for about two minutes each, they don't feel like they're a big part of the game. It's also noticeable in the final segment of the game, Hero 300, when the entire group teams up. In the PSP version, it was a neat final sequence where all your party members finally joined together. In the XBLA version, it returns to the same hero and a few guys you played as for a few minutes prior. This is mostly due to each of the other hero's segments being so darn short. While a full-length campaign might be a bit much to ask, giving each more than one level would have done wonders for retaining the feel of the PSP version without retaining the lackluster minigames. As it stands, they feel really tacked on, and a few of the game's jokes no longer make sense. This also means that the XBLA version is significantly shorter than its PSP counterpart. After the main hero part of the game, you can blow through the other characters in about 10 minutes.
That may be a sticking point for players who prefer to finish a game and be done with it. As you might gather from the name, Half-Minute Hero isn't the longest game in the world. Each stage is about 60-90 seconds long, and even counting route splits and retries, you can probably burn through the entire thing in two hours. It's a game designed to be replayed for high scores, and it's pretty good at that. Your times are uploaded to leaderboards, and the game even contains ghosts of high scores for you to challenge. If you don't mind simple and short levels, there's a lot to like. If you're looking for something meatier, you might be disappointed.
Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax also features an online multiplayer mode known as Super Hero Wars. In this mode, up to four players take control of a hero and compete against the clock to become the True Hero by competing to defeat the Evil Lord first. There are a variety of maps, and both ranked and regular game modes. There are some cooperative elements, as players can work together to defeat a tough enemy, but the nature of the beast is competitive. There's only a limited amount of treasure and time, and whoever gets the good items first gets a huge head start on victory. It's a fun diversion and adds a fair amount of value, although it's easy to see people quickly getting tired of the maps. It's a nice addition to the game and makes up for the somewhat short length of the single-player campaign.
The game has two different art styles. One is the original PSP version's visuals, which are all 8-bit sprites in the style of old-school RPGs like Dragon Quest. The other is a new "HD" art style, where all the characters resemble paper dolls. While the paper doll art style doesn't look bad, it doesn't really fit the tone of the game. Half-Minute Hero is an homage to the old-school RPGs from an era when grinding and simplicity were the name of the game. Some of the neat artwork from the PSP version is also noticeably missing. While there are some new pieces of art to replace them, others are just gone, and that's a real shame. On the other hand, the soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal. The music is done by a Japanese music group known as The Alfee and features some excellent "rock techno" music, which does wonders to set the tone of the game.
Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax is a solid XBLA port of the PSP title. While it's missing a few things, the new features more than make up for that, especially at the discount price of 800 Microsoft points, or $10. Half-Minute Hero boils all the fun of an RPG down to 30 seconds, and it's one of the more addictive time-waster games I've played. It's easy to get caught up in a mission and try to knock off five more seconds or figure out how to beat the boss at a slightly lower level than before. It's true that it is a short game and, compared to the PSP version, the non-hero characters are lacking. Despite this, you must purchase Half-Minute Hero if you're looking for an addictive and exciting XBLA title. Those who played the PSP version won't find a lot of new material here, but if you never played it before, Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax is a game you won't regret.
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