Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax
Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax’s willingness to skew conventions extends well beyond its effusive name. What’s most unique about the game is the straightforward premise, as it distills the core mechanics of Japanese role-playing games down into short intervals. All of the key ingredients for a role-playing game are still here, and often overused tropes give way to amusing satire. There may not be much room for substance in the game’s expedited focus, but there’s still a lot to like.
Originally released on the PSP, Half-Minute Hero made a lot of sense in its appeal to on-the-go gamers who were still looking for the depth of an RPG. It makes about as much sense on Xbox Live, fitting within the service’s array of bite-sized experiences. The game ports well and has undergone a number of changes, from the inclusion of an additional visual style to the reigning in of some ancillary game modes. For better or worse, the result is more of a wholesale RPG, as opposed to mostly an RPG with concise samplings of other genres thrown in for good measure.
The central focus remains on the story-based “Hero 30” mode. Each level plays out as a contained scenario requiring swift 30 second resolutions. The main objective’s consistent almost across the board: take down an Evil Lord before the countdown strikes zero, or it’s sayonara for the townsfolk, and not to mention any progress you’ve made. The clock is ticking.
It sounds like a tedious formula – and it would be – if not for the help of the Time Goddess, who acts as a tour guide of sorts through each stage. She also provides the welcome help of stopping time while exploring towns and resetting the countdown, for an incremental fee, when the character prays to her statue. There’s an assortment of other things to do in each map (chiefly grinding), plenty of side-characters to engage in humorous trope-filled conversations with, and a range of items to buy.
Half-Minute Hero’s good about clueing you in to the aspects of a level you’ve missed out on and also offering up reminders of previous time records. Most of the maps are small enough to be finished within a few minutes, at most, and feature many of the thematic trappings, which the writing references in its own enjoyable, overtly self-aware fashion.
Rounding out the single-player are five relatively short scenarios. While a couple variations are character based vignettes (“Evil Lord 30”, “Princess 30”, and “Knight 30”), they’re each characteristically different, filling in the backstories of reoccurring characters. Whereas in the PSP version these modes touched on everything from real-time strategy to shmup gameplay, here they’re all mechanically similar to “Hero 30”. This creates consistency between the episodes, yet removes some of the range.
This isn’t a huge deal breaker, as Half-Minute Hero’s already a wild amalgam of genres as is. This allows a more natural progression, bridging the time periods between the main story and “Hero 300”, a culminating level that ties the reoccurring characters together. Following this steep rise to 300 second missions, the game plummets off with a final 3 second mode which requires more precision than the mechanics ever allow.
There’s also online multiplayer, which feels mostly like a curiosity, but leaves untapped potential. Other elements also leave some room for improvement, such as the addition of the “Neo Cartoon” style, as an alternative to retro graphics. They look great and are not only applied to characters, but the user interface as a whole, and even cut scenes. Everything’s much cleaner, it feels more difficult to be exact when using the new style, as things blend together more and it’s difficult to spot out something like a narrow pathway, whereas the path’s distinctly flattened with the original retro graphics.
There’s a lot to like about Half-Minute Hero. The fact that it’s catering more towards the central focus of console-style RPGs makes it a natural fit on XBLA. Presenting a grab bag of overused Japanese role-playing game tropes, the interesting thing is that when it falls back on them, Half-Minute Hero also uses them well and does so with an amusing sense of self-awareness. During a time when Japan’s hit a creative drought with RPGs, it’s great to see a game that’s adopting this traditional style, and using it in a more imaginative way.