Half Minute Hero was developed by Marvelous Entertainment and published by XSeed Entertainment, whose Little King's Story on the Wii was a similarly experimental game. Hero was released for the PSP on October 13, 2009. The game plays like a hybrid of many video game fantasy genres, be it old school RPG's in Hero's Story, RTS's in Evil Lord's Story or shump games (Gradius) in Princess' Story.
Each story has an overarching plot that eventually connects with the others via the in-game years system. Each character undertakes quests that often begin in typical RPG fashion; save the world from an evil wizard out to destroy the world. The craziness of the title quickly sets in as it soon becomes clear that the world will actually END (read: GAME OVER) if you can't defeat the evil forces in 30 seconds. Unfortunately for the hero but great for us the gamers, the evil spells are suddenly spread throughout other regions of the world and being a stalwart hero, you naturally set off to stop them.
The graphics in Half Minute Hero are an insane mix of gorgeous 3D art in cutscenes and old as old can be 2D sprites during combat and the rest of the game (64 colors in the hizhouse!!). This was intentional as a throwback to the venerable series Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. It couldn't be more charming to see little sprites who lack such fine detail that 64 colors at once is something to brag about. I especially like the look of the terrain and monsters, while not quite 8-bit, contrast brilliantly with our heroes. It's completely awesome, and wait until we get to the sound and music!
Here we are at the sound and music, and it is awesome, being composed by Toshihiko Takamizawa, with additional tracks from Yuzo Koshiro, Yoshino Aoki, Vistlip, Toru Nakagawa and a group called the Engines. I'm definitely intrigued to look into the other works of the composers, but I can see the high quality compositions as typical of Mr. Koshiro, a man who could always do amazing things musically through his knowledge of soundchip technology.
My absolute favorite piece is the Princess' Cloud Stage. I don't know the specific composer, but I'm hoping that it is Mr. Koshiro, as it has that classic epic vibe that is definitely characteristic of him. In fact, it might be one of the best pieces I've heard in video games in quite a while.
My next favorite piece is the Battle against the Evil Lord, with its pulsing metal grinding and sharp guitars. An epic sounding piece, that seems all the more effective because of how commanding it needs to be for the all too brief windows in which you hear it. The Hero world map theme is suitably low key and pleasant by comparison, showing that the game's several composers have a skilled command of many genres of music.
When it comes to gameplay, Half Minute Hero is actually 3 games in one, at least until you unlock the bonus modes. Hero mode plays like a hyper fast standard RPG with leveling up by defeating enemies, solving puzzles, and equipping weapons and armor. As the title suggests (and with what is to become a model for the rest of the modes), the Hero only has 30 seconds to stop the Evil Lord from casting the spell of destruction. Luckily, the Time Goddess loves money enough to put aside virtue. If you have enough (the amount increases each time time is rewound) you are granted another 30 seconds. A careful mix between leveling and watching the clock is necessary for success.
Evil Lord story plays like a real-time strategy game with the ability to summon monsters of different kinds. Nimbles are good against archers, shooters are good for projectiles, and Brutes are great against agile enemies. You use the face buttons to summon each of these, and have them charge into the enemy ranks with the X button. The Evil Lord can also command monsters present on the battlefield (everything from birds to giant squid) for an extra hand. This is my favorite mode of them all.
Much like Hero Mode, you can pay the Goddess to rewind time, albeit for all the money you currently have in your possession. This is often necessary to complete a level, especially when you are still getting used to the nuances of the Evil Lord's gameplay. Be advised though, money is needed for the Evil Lord to become "sexier" at the Goddess Spa, i.e level up, while allows him to summon stronger monsters and his magic field to be larger for defense and have a greater field of effect.
Princess mode plays like an old school shooter like Galaga or Space Invaders, but at a much more rapid pace to accommodate the 30-second nature of the game. The princess' knights carry her about her chariot of sorts and march toward a goal in the distance while the princess uses her crossbow to collect money and kill enemies. The Goddess of Time enters the picture once again via her red carpets. As you run across these, time is restored and money is taken as payment.
Challenge is adjustable before each scenario in this game, with a normal or hard difficulty available. Aside from this, each scenario has a bit of a learning curve to it, but they aren't really a challenge once you learn how to play the game. When I first saw Half Minute Hero as a demo, I was really intimidated by the time limit; how could saving the world be done in 30 seconds?! That is part of the charm of the game.
One of the unlockable modes is definitely more challenging that Hero, Evil Lord, or Princess. I don't want to spoil the gameplay and story mechanics, but success requires making few to no mistakes. Make too many and time will run out, forcing you to start all over! This secret mode is definitely for those looking for a challenge in Half Minute Hero.
Each stage and level in Hero Mode has many NPC's and hints to help the player out. Of course, any difficulties can be allayed simply by leveling up your character. The game will tell you when you stand a chance against the evil lord of the stage with a You>Evil declaration. All hilarity aside, it is a helpful hint!
Replay value is very high in Hero Mode, with multiple paths leading to new stages. These paths are unlocked by completing different goals on the way to defeating the Evil Lords in each stage. For example, in one stage you can stop a burning forest or just go straight to fight the Evil Lord. Both result in branching paths, leading to new challenges, new equipment, and new laughs!
Evil Lord Mode also has branching paths, but not as many. Princess Mode has sidequests that you can do to earn weapon upgrades, but all the stages go by so quickly that it doesn't add much to her game. The hidden modes have no sidequests or branching paths, so my desire to replay them isn't as high.
Unlike most RPG's, there really isn't an option to do handicap runs (low level, basic equipment etc) due to the ultra quick leveling and similar gameplay systems in Half Minute Hero. Some of the maps do have different goals than lead to the player earning different titles upon completion, so there is always that.
In summation, Half Minute Hero is a great game and a wonderful experience, the kind that makes gamers feel fulfilled beyond just entertainment. Maybe this is just the old school fan in me talking, but Hero is one of the most original ideas in video games ever. It is clever, fun to play, and its learning curve is brief, making it the rare game that even non-gamers could pick up and play (though the humor may not be quite as amusing to them...) I've seen many a thread on message boards asking about games that have a similar style to Half Minute Hero, so it is definitely safe to say that this game is turning heads among not only PSP owners, but gamers in general.
- Ugly Bob
Best stage in the game!