Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy review
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Half Minute Hero is unique take on the RPG formula which includes all the usual mechanics like level grinding and exploration but then tasks the player with saving the world in a mere 30 seconds, helping by a variety of factors designed to deliver that experience in a much tighter space of time. I imagine explaining my thoughts on it all will take a smidge longer than that though. Not to worry, I'm sure the Time Goddess will lend a hand.
The game offers two distinct visual styles consisting of a cartoony drawn look and an 8 bit retro style. I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of the retro style myself, as while it may be pulling at the strings of nostalgia I just feel like the style is too basic to use as the long term option. This is especially prevalent when talking to plot critical NPCs as the game up-scales the 8 bit sprites and in some cases can make it a little tricky in differentiating between walk-able terrain and something you're meant to be able to interact with. This seems more of an issue in Hero 30 as opposed to the other modes.
At least the more modern graphics are very appealing. There's something of a child-like drawing aesthetic to them that looks really good to me. The portraits used up-close look really nice and show off some interesting designs. It's especially cool that the hero's appearance changes based on what items the player has equipped at the time, which is something many RPGs fail to do. Animation is a bit mixed, as you do get some pretty smooth animation in the battles as your hero charges across the screen wildly flailing with his weapon and sending enemies hilariously flying away. On the other hand, this is more limited in cutscenes as characters tend to slide about and the few characters with multiple expressions simply switch instantly between them.
The maps are zoomed out but still showcase some excellent detail with the same kind of style, clearly being much superior to the 8 bit versions. There is an odd quirk in some of the levels near the end of the campaign where the view shifts slightly, which seems entirely unnecessary and only serves to highlight the flat nature of the graphics that you wouldn't otherwise notice with the top-down view. That aside, I like the modern visuals and definitely preferred to spend my game time with them on where possible.
One of the more disappointing elements in this game is the story, which may simply be a result of the gameplay style. There's a plot about a world ended spell being obtained by various evil bad guys who just happen to have obtained it just as you arrive in each region, leaving you with a mere 30 seconds to defeat them. There are minor side stories too like an early area has a bandit set a forest ablaze, but in general everything lacks any real depth to be of real interest and ends up feeling like an excuse plot just to give you a reason to go around smacking enemies over the head. The characters also felt rather flat in character. Plot important NPCs pop up in a level, have little in the way of backstory and then vanish. Even the most important characters don't really get fleshed out all that much. Noire, who is an important enemy you spend most of the story chasing around, really doesn't seem to progress beyond someone doing it for the heck of it.
I didn't really come away from the experience all that impressed with the music either. Oh sure, the music itself is rather nice, but the game seems to have very few tracks in its selection so I ended up listening to the exact same things over and over. Unfortunately, the OST isn't quite that catchy to get away with that.
Half Minute Hero is designed to be a RPG on speed. The game is broken up into a number of small stages where you always start at Lv1 with 100 gold but get to carry over any equipment you've obtained from earlier levels. Every level has the same goal of defeating the local evil lord before their world ending spell is complete, with the catch that the spell is complete 30 seconds after starting the level. Given the usual mechanics involved in a RPG that seems downright impossible, except for the fact that things are handled much differently here.
For one thing, you can reset time by paying gold to a goddess statue. You get to keep the rest of your gold, items, level and any miniquests will remain complete, but the cost to reset time will increase every time you use it in each level to avoid players completely abusing it. What this comes down to then is managing the time so you don't accidentally run out while in the middle of something or end up with a time reset cost so high and be too far off the goal that you can't possibly grind enough gold in the 30 seconds needed for another reset.
Another major factor is that everything is sped up to make completing levels faster more feasible. Battles run on auto-pilot as your hero just dives into the enemies by himself, wildly flailing with whatever weapon he has equipped until one side is no longer among the living. The only actual control afforded to players is the option to run away should things look like they're not going too well or to consume a herb to restore health. This comes hand in hand with much faster levelling that sees you gain levels in mere seconds as opposed to the much longer times often seen in RPGs. The game even helpfully points out when your level is high enough to be able to safely take on the evil lord in the level. While this does facilitate the whole beat the level quickly element, it also ends up making battles feel fairly superficial. You're not required to pick out special strategies or really consider enemy strengths or weaknesses as you would in a turn based battle system. Likewise there's no requirement to rely on reflexes or react to techniques as you would in a real time setup. Your only real challenge with battles is to not overshoot things by either running out of health or time while fighting. While this was fine at first, I soon became rather bored of battles all playing out in exactly the same way.
So the main focus instead goes to the exploration side. The primary aspect of this is often figuring out the best way to get to the castle, which may be across a body of water or finding an item that can make the battle considerably easier. Each level typically has a village or two you can visit to chat to NPCs or purchase goods. Thankfully time also stops while in places like this to give you a chance to plan your next move. Most NPCs will throw out simplistic meaningless banter but the more important ones will be a bit more involved where they can either offer clues or assistance in the tasks before you. This can even lead to recruitment in some levels, although your new found buddy will leave by the time the level is complete. When the game gets clever with this aspect it can be really interesting. In one level there is a cave where the enemies change depending on the current time, which I thought was a neat touch. In another level you can completely negate the looming boss battle by finding a certain NPC. Even though you're still under pressure by the clock, it's these kinds of moments that feel like it's actually trying to involve the player instead of just setting it all on autopilot. Similarly this can lead to some choice, like whether to do anything about the raging forest fire or hiring an ally to assist in the upcoming battles. The simplistic nature caused by the mad rush can lead to some of these levels feeling too repetitive though where the developers ended up with more levels than they had unique challenges to put in them. Since you don't have the time to relax and take in the environment or quirks of any given location due to the quickly decreasing timer this can make things a bit dull in places.
To promote more playthroughs the game does also offer up optional objectives to complete in each level. Here you can be tasked with such things like helping a NPC or avoiding food items. These have no real effect on your progression in the game but instead give you something more to shoot for aside from just defeating the evil lord in each stage. Some of them do seem a bit too vague though as you only really have the name of the objective to go off in order to figure out what exactly the game is expecting you to do.
Controlling the hero is OK but does have some drawbacks. Once you have the buttons memorised it's a simple thing to move around, interact with stuff and consume items. However, there are two elements that bother me. Many of the maps look set up to benefit from diagonal movement but the hero is locked to the four compass directions instead. This gets especially annoying on a few of the later levels where you're forced to do something like left, down, left, down, left, down etc to reach a village at the end of a diagonal path. Dashing is also a bit tricky to control, which is an issue since the skill lets you avoid random battles and already comes with the drawback of reducing your health.
An announcement video that lasts roughly the same amount as most levels ingame.
Like other RPGs you also get equipment to play around with, where you obtain weapons, helms, armour and shields. These can be earned by completing levels, grinding enough gold in certain levels to buy or obtaining as special rewards. There's a variety of stats they affect like attack damage and speed which plays to the RPG side quite well. The only gripe I have with it is that it doesn't seem possible to alter equipment during a level, aside from the hero automatically equipping anything new he obtains. Instead you're limited to changing items around between levels.
Aside from the main Hero 30 mode there are some other modes in play. Bizarrely when playing with the modern graphics the other modes basically play the same as Hero 30 only with different playable characters in singular levels as they essentially just continue the story, so calling them game modes feels very misleading. Most of them were pretty fun though, with the exception of Evil Lord 30 which was made a painful experience by presenting a large level and a playable character who moved agonisingly slowly. Until you manage to recruit a couple of allies you tend to make very slow progress despite still having the same kind of time limit.
Switching to the 8 bit graphics though completely transforms these modes. First there is Evil Lord 30 that becomes a RTS where you can summon monsters in a form of rock paper scissors, with the goal often to use these summons to fight through the hordes of enemies and destroy the statues in each area. Progression is fairly standard in this mode where the statue location is more straightforward than Hero 30's goals so the focus is more on the RTS fighting. The enemies are of the "not too bright" category and will tend to just rush you or your monsters if any get near. The challenge comes with using the system to your advantage by sending out monsters the enemies are weak to, like using red brutes to crush the nimble blue enemies but ensuring you don't try the same against ranged green baddies unless you want to see your brutes fall quickly. All within 30 seconds or however much time you can acquire from the Time Goddess of course.
Princess 30 decides to go with the scrolling shooter approach, as the princess embarks on numerous quests carried by her faithful knights and shooting crossbow bolts at anything else. The knights carry the princess automatically through each level, with the player left to move them around on the screen to position for shots, dodge attacks and affect the speed. Shooting is as simple as pressing one of four buttons to fire in a given direction, although like Hero 30 this is limited to the four compass directions and lacks the ability to fire diagonally like I would have expected and wanted. There are a few powerup fairies that do stuff like increase your attack, but often the action is moving too fast to really appreciate them. Once you reach whatever quest objective you need the knights will rush the princess back to the castle. Once again you have that 30 second timer that can be boosted by running over carpets laid down by the Time Goddess, which eats away at the gold you collect.
These game modes serve as little more than distractions though. As difficult as it is to imagine, they have less depth than the main game. Sure, I had fun in both, but the later levels felt no different from the earlier ones aside from the expected increases in difficulty and each level is over so quickly that you simply don't get the time to extract the level of enjoyment you normally would from a more full size level.
Options relating to the PC are oddly lacking in this game. There's no options for things like changing resolution or other performance factors. In fact, the only graphic tweak is the ability to switch between the modern drawing or 8 bit retro visual styles, although you can switch between full screen and windowed using the standard alt + enter button combination. The game supports both controller and keyboard, although if you want the onscreen prompts to actually reflect the Xbox 360 controller then you have to manually change this in the settings and the setting itself isn't very clear.
My general impression of the game is that I liked it with its twist on the typical RPG formula, but the overall experience is held back by a lack of depth. For the uniqueness is presenting obstacles to tackle with a strict time limit and the varied game modes under the retro graphics setting, we also have to contend with a feeling of repetition dulling the experience and some odd interaction choices that should rightly have been left in the distant past of gaming. Still, it is still an interesting experience and the price point is low too so it may be worth trying inbetween the larger games in your collection.
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