I want to imagine Half-Minute Hero's design process as a happy accident. One day in Japan, somebody was playing Dragon Warrior via emulator and accidentally turned on that feature that almost nobody uses that speeds it up to five times its standard framerate ... and that gave him an idea.
Half-Minute Hero is four games in one, each with 30 separate stages. In each stage, you must finish within 30 seconds, or it's game over. The four games consist of the Hero 30 mode, an 8-bit-style RPG, and the only mode shown at E3 this year; Princess 30, a shooter; Evil Lord 30, a real-time strategy game; and Knight 30, which is only being referred to at this point with the ominous title, "escort mission."
When you've cleared all four game modes, you'll understand the game's full story. When it begins, you're the last man standing in a kingdom under siege, which has been fighting a constant battle of attrition against the powers of darkness. Almost everyone else who could help you is dead. You're the archetypical 8-bit protagonist, alone against overwhelming odds and funded by a king who has no other option but to rely upon you.
The Hero 30 mode plays like one of those Flash movies people sometimes make, where they cram an entire movie, book or television show into an arbitrary short span of time. You still do everything you'd do in an 8-bit RPG, like grinding for levels or cash, but you do it very quickly.
Random encounters in the overworld consist of you and your opponents running at each other and bouncing off one another until somebody dies. Towns are shown as a single street, with merchants standing by the side of the road like people holding out water to marathon runners.
The general process of progress in an 8-bit RPG is simultaneously lampooned and distilled as part of the process. Once you meet the king, the clock starts; next up, you need to get to a point where you can defeat the evil wizard who's menacing the kingdom. That means you have 30 seconds to walk around the wilderness, grinding on random encounters, until you're level 5. If that doesn't happen, you're out of luck.
By clearing the first few missions, you rescue the Goddess of Time, who manages to make a few things much easier for you. In exchange for cash, she'll give you a few extra seconds now and again, and she's also willing to stop time for you while you're in a town. The rest of the game continues at its previous breakneck pace.
Half-Minute Hero has a driving guitar-rock soundtrack to enhance its speed and stand in sharp contrast to the simple graphics. Playing it feels like a mad scramble, even when you know it really isn't, and it comes in such bite-size chunks that it works well on a portable system like the PSP.
My only worry comes from the fact that the Hero mode, the only part I've seen, more or less plays itself; you wander around in circles until you achieve your goal, and then go bounce off a boss until you win. I only saw four or five stages out of 30, though, so there's certainly room (if not time) for the gameplay to become more complex, and it's only one game out of four.
Half-Minute Hero comes out for the PSP late this year.
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