Review: Half Minute Hero (Sony PSP)

hmhcoverHalf Minute Hero
Publisher: XSeed
Developer: Marvelous Games
Genre: Compilation/RPG
Release Date: 10/13/2009

A couple of months ago I did a preview of this game when the first demo hit the PSN. You could only play one of the modes, Hero 30, but I had such a blast with it that this game was instantly transported to the top of my list of games to get in the coming months.

Now here we are. I was fortunate enough to get a copy and I’ve played through the thing pretty much in one long marathon session.

Did this quirky, pixelated, Japanese game have enough substance to make it a great game, or is it just another cute concept that didn’t live up to its potential.

Story/Modes

Believe it or not, this game has a plot. There are four main modes and each take place in the same world, though hundreds of years apart. It starts out with Hero 30. A young man lands on the shores of a kingdom looking for work. He finishes up clearing out some monsters for the king when it is revealed that an evil lord has just cast a spell that will end the world in thirty seconds! Try as he might, he just get there fast enough to stop the spell, but thankfully, the Time Goddess is on hand to offer him a second chance. Together, along with friends picked up along the way, they journey across the globe to stop these evil lords from destroying the world while looking for the one who is teaching the spell. The other modes take place in the years after, where other evils try to rise to power and new heroes and even one evil lord try to stop them for whatever reasons they have.

What stands out among all of this is the writing. Despite the fact that each level will last you no longer than two minutes, they pack a lot of humor into this game. The Time Goddess (TG for short) makes all kinds of cracks about she is using these heroes only for the monetary gain, bosses lament about the fact that they are palette swaps of previous bosses, and there’s even an odd Dragonball Z reference that makes you laugh only because you might not have realized it was happening until after the face. There are minor characters that may only appear for a few sentences, but stick with you. Then when they come back later, it is truly nice to see them. It isn’t a perfect plot by any means, but it is surprising how fun and fresh it manages to be throughout.

As for other modes, there aren’t all that many options in the game. You have an ad-hoc multiplayer mode and another mode to look at all the items, enemies, and friends you’ve encountered across the modes. There’s even an option to listen to all of the game’s music if you can best its toughest challenge. Its not much, but it offers more than your typical RPG would.

Overall, the story is good enough to carry the game, though the modes aren’t exactly impressive.

Graphics

This is as hard to judge as any other section for any other review I’ve ever done. Why, might you ask? The game goes for an old school pixelated look. One look at the cover and you wouldn’t think that, but if you look closer, you can see the 8 bit versions of the main characters doing their thing on the bottom of the box. I guess the idea is that since you’re playing old school type games, you might as well have an old school look.

hmhero1For the most part, the game succeeds. The sprites are bright colorful, but still merely a few pixels put together and enlarged. It definitely gives the game a unique look. While the game is in action, it can look downright cute. There are a couple of instances where the game switches to some nicely drawn art pieces with some text for story purposes, but almost all of the game is done with this look.

The biggest problem is that the look isn’t as consistent as it should be. There are several sprites that look much more detailed than others. For example, there are a lot of woolly mammoths running around at one point, and they just look better. I don’t feel as if they keep up with the game’s look. Most of these instances are in the Evil Lord mode, but then again it makes sense thematically. He summons more powerful monsters, those monsters start to look better. Even still, it can be jarring. Also, a lot of the effects, such as the lord’s mana circle, the princesses arrows, and others, look far better than the should.

Still, the game’s aesthetic is nice even if it stays simple for the most part. It may almost seem lazy to go with this kind of look, but it was done for a reason and done well for the most part. Its certainly not going to be turning any heads as far as graphics of the year are concerned. Still, only the most cynical players won’t be able to get some enjoyment out of it.

Audio

This is probably one of my favorite things about the game. The music is flat out awesome. They’ve put in a little bit of everything in this game. You have hard guitar ridden tracks for boss fights, light and happy town themes, dramatic intro music, and of course, a great ending theme for when the credits are rolling. (Which they do a lot of in Hero 30) All told, this is probably my second favorite musical score of the year behind only Henry Hatsworth. It combines some of the best elements from RPGs and action games to give a great experience.

Beyond that, the game keeps a simple sound effect scheme in place. There are typical clinks of mettle, sound of feet running on the ground, tings for when spells are cast, and even the occasional roar of an enemy.

To be honest, I was usually too busy rocking out to the music to notice, however. I’ve found the soundtrack on youtube. Look it up and you’ll see.

Gameplay

There are four gameplay types and I’m going to try and give a good yet brief rundown of each of them. There are thirty levels per mode.

Hero 30 is the star of the game. It is, essentially, a bite sized RPG for each level. You move around a classic 8-bit overworld visiting towns, buying new equipment, and battling random encounters with the main objective of taking out the final boss. You’re given a thirty second time limit to do this all in, so you have to be fast. Battles are mostly hands off. Your guy will simply charge forward and deal damage while taking hits. If you manage to knock the opponent back to the far right side of the screen, its a win. hmhero2If they knock you back, its a win for them. Mostly, you’ll win or lose based on the damage though. You can also use a dash attack to get in a quicker initial hit. You’ll level up almost every battle, and the difference in strength is noticeable. Most of the levels you’ll encounter give you multiple paths or quests you can take. These can include whether you take a boat or swim to a location, whether to spend time trying to buy or find a powerful weapon, or even operating a few puzzles such as turning handles to lower water levels. You can set time backwards at most towns buy praying at the TG’s statue. It costs more money each time you go, so you need to plan ahead and use time conservatively. I should mention that levels don’t carry over, but equipment does. Otherwise you’d be in the thousands before you were halfway done. This mode is a ton of fun and will easily take up most of your time spent on the game.

The next mode is Evil Lord 30. This is essentially a streamlined RTS. You have a circle of mana that surrounds you and builds over time. You can press either triangle, square, or circle to summon monsters based on how much mana you have. The more mana you have, the more powerful the monster you can summon. There are caps to you max mana that are increased as you level up. There are three types of monsters. You have nimbles that are fast but weak, brutes that are strong but slow, and shooters that are great at a distance. As you probably tell, this means the monsters you fight will be of the same make up. This is a rock, paper, scissors setup that requires you to mange your troops effectively. They will try to follow you and attack enemies that are nearby, but you can also press x to send them charging in one of four directions. You can also find special monsters that can be used once and monsters on the field that will join you if they end up inside your mana circle. As you take hits, your circle loses power. Once again, TG is on hand to take all of your money in exchange for resetting the clock and giving you your full powers back. Your goal changes on each level, but its usually to defeat a boss, kill all enemies, or save someone. This mode can be fun, but also frustrating as the charge attack is limited and the AI pretty dumb. When a boss slips by and goes after you while your troops stand by doing nothing, you’ll wish you could whip them back into shape.

The third mode is Princess 30. Here, you’ll charge out of the castle on the backs of loyal soldiers in search of various items to help an ailing father. This is a shooter straight up. You’ll move faster if you press to the far edge of the screen, and slower towards the near edge. You can press the fire button to launch volleys of arrows at enemies, move to avoid obstacles, and even find pick ups that increase your damage, speed, or allow you to attack in all directions for short bursts of time. The time element is intriguing here. You need to get the item and make it back in less than thirty seconds. The TG is back yet again to aid you though. There are magic carpets you can run over in order to add time to the clock. You’ll add more time if you go slower, but you’ll spend more money. Still, I never ran out of money once. This is the simplest of modes and takes easily less time than any other. It can be fun at first, but unlike good shooters, this doesn’t have the same kind of difficulty and build up. Its way too fast and way too easy.

The last gameplay type is present in Knight 30. This is an action adventure type game where you’re objective is to protect a sage while he casts a spell that takes thirty seconds to cast. This is the only mode where you want the clock to hit zero. You can grab the sage an guide him or even pick him up and run. In either case, the clock will stop while you do this. Also, if you run, you lose stamina. Running out of stamina will tire you out for a bit. You can pick up objects to use as weapons, or even pick up a dazed smaller enemy and throw him far away. You can’t kill enemies though. Also, between rounds you have the option of making traps instead of sleeping. I found most of the traps to be useless in most scenarios, and the less you make the more stamina and health you have for the next battle, so I started doing that instead. I found this mode to be the least fun of the bunch, though there is some nice variety to it. Sometimes you’ll have to avoid large bosses as they charge toward you. Other times the sage will be stuck on the other side of the level and you’ll need to get to him before he gets killed. There are also special places you can bring him that will speed up time. Still, I was glad when I finished this mode because it meant I wouldn’t have to play it again.

Overall, Hero 30 is fantastic, Knight 30 is pretty boring, and the other two are fairly mediocre. Its disappointing to say the least, but at least the best mode is the one that lasts the longest. Oh yeah, and for those of you wondering whey there are six modes on the select screen and I only named four, the fifth is the mode that ends the story and the sixth is just a single challenge. They are both variations on Hero 30 are are awesome.

Overall, the gameplay in this game is decent. I could play Hero 30 for hours, but wouldn’t mind it so much if the others just disappeared. They are saved by the story and music in this case.

Replayability

When you see the title of Half Minute Hero, no doubt you’d expect this to be a pretty darn short game. Well, that’s only half right. The game takes somewhere between six and seven hours to complete, even with the thirty second time limit for each level. This is mostly do to the fact that you’ll need to either reset or slow down time for most if not all of the levels. Once again, Hero 30 offers the longest and most time consuming experience of the bunch. It clocks in at around three hours to complete. Knight 30 is the quickest to go by thanks to the fact that you want time to go faster in order to win.

hmhero3After you’ve beaten each mode, you have two primary means of continuing the game. You can replay levels to get a better ranking, or in the case of Hero 30 get items or story elements you might have missed the first time through. After that, there’s the ad-hoc mode. The goal here is to KO the evil lord in a multiplayer version of Hero 30. The player with the fastest time wins. You can chose to cooperate with other players or even join monsters in their attempts to kill the hero. There are only three maps to select, so it won’t offer much extra playing time, but if you’ve got friends with a copy of the game, this will no doubt mean some fun. Sadly, there’ s no game sharing.

All told, you’re not going to get more than ten hours out of this game before all is said and done. And while it may be fun to occasionally pick it up and play a level or two, its not going to be something you feel like playing through over after the first time.

Balance

If you manage the clock properly, this game is pretty easy. You can grind for levels effortlessly and exploit holes in the enemies actions in oder to guarantee victory. For instance, there were several instances in Knight 30 where I could just drop the sage off in a corner and the monsters wouldn’t be able to get to him fast enough. In Hero 30, you start back at the beginning when you die and keep all of your equipment and levels. If you don’t have enough money to reverse time, you can offer up equipment. If you get to a high enough level, it won’t matter anyway.

That’s not to say the game has no challenge at all. I found the final mission to be fairly tough to complete and there were a couple of missions I won by the skin of my teeth. Still, its not going to take more than a couple of tries for even the toughest of levels. There’s usually just some trick or item you didn’t catch onto right away.

Originality

This is kind of like someone decided to make full games out of a couple of Warioware minigames. On one hand, there is a precedent for this kind of thing, but on the other, there’s nothing quite like it. If nothing else, the combination of the games is something new.

The best thing I can say about the game is that it is perfect for portable play. The longest it took me to beat a specific level was about three minutes the firs time. Once again, that was on Hero 30. I’d probably play a whole game of nothing but Hero 30 missions. I also really like how this game used the story in all of this. Each mode is a different time, and the fact that they each have their own gameplay style just a nice touch.

That being said, there’s nothing about the modes that hasn’t been seen in other game. Princess 30 is a run of the mill shooter if not for the time limit. Knight 30 would be like any other action adventure game, etc. This is hard section of the game to review if nothing else.

Addictiveness

If there’s one thing I thought this game would be, it would be addicting. Instead, the levels are mostly just short enough that you feel bad when you stop playing because you realize that only a few minutes have gone by.

Even Hero 30 fails here. This is because of the epic nature the game goes for. At the beginning of each level, you get a dramatic opening where it acts like each level is the next installment in a movie series. This is nifty at first, but when you get to Hero 30 XXIX, it gets old. Also, after each boss fight, you the same credits roll with the same music. Then you get a brief section that gives a brief recap of what you just did and says “next time on Hero 30…”. Again, it was nifty the first few time but it god old really fast.

I mentioned that I finished this game if roughly one sitting. This is true, but not because I was addicted at all. It was because the game was so short that I had the time in order to get far really fast. I figured I might as well finish the game only because I could.

Appeal Factor

The fact that XSeed is publishing this should tell you right away that it is probably a niche game and not for everyone. Also not helping its appeal is that this is a very Japanese game that probably barely made it overseas.

hmhero4Personally, I think that anyone who tries the game will get some enjoyment out of it. If nothing else, Hero 30 is just too much fun to deny. Even still, the game isn’t long and the thirty dollar price point, though lower than most PSP games, is hard to justify.

This just isn’t a game that is going to grab the attention of anyone but those who look out for the Atlus or XSeed logo on the box. I will say that this is a shame, but I don’t expect to be wrong about this at all.

Miscellaneous

Overall, I’d call this game a disappointment.

What I mean by that is that it didn’t offer up enough to make this experience something special. I’m like a broken record in my praise for Hero 30, but it was the only mode that really did something with the concept. Or, at the very least, did something particularly good with it. Simply adding a time limit to most games doesn’t make them more fun. Shooter are more fun because of the skill needed simply in order to survive. RTS games are better served with resource management strategy rather than a quickie with a rock, paper, scissors type mechanic.

I also would have liked to see some more modes. Four just wasn’t enough. One or two more modes would have made this game far more justifiable and even enjoyable. For instance, the level that serves as the game’s ending would have been great to play if there were more of them. I’d be all over a sequel that offered me that.

So what we have here is a game that can be fast and fun at times, but more often ends up being so fast its finished before we even know it.

The Scores

Story/Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Decent
Audio: Great
Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Below Average
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
Final Score: Mediocre Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjackOne good mode out of four does not a good game game. Sadly for Half Minute Hero, one good mode is all it has. It feels like all of the creativity and fun went into Hero 30 while the rest merely had the game’s presentation and story to lean on. Don’t get me wrong. I truly enjoyed my time with the game, but a lot of my time with it was spent feeling like it just didn’t live up to its potential. If the dev team is willing to try again, I’d definitely give it a look. As for this, search your bargain bins and give it a try.

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