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Half-Minute Hero
Score: 92%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Marvelous Entertainment Inc.
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: RPG/ Action/ Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:
Screw the two hour-long grinding sessions. Forget the amnesiac hero's quest to find his true identity. Just go save the world as fast as you can. Such is the perspective of Marvelous Entertainment's Half-Minute Hero, a wildly unique and disarmingly funny role-playing game that every PSP owner should play. It will drive younger heroes to fits of laughter, and it will bash more experienced gamers over the head with the nostalgia stick. Half-Minute Hero is a tremendously charming game that achieves its goal with so much flair that it's hard not to recommend a purchase.

Half-Minute Hero's graphics are perfect. I know you're scratching your head looking at the screenshots, but believe me. The retro aesthetic is like a breath of fresh air, even for a genre that few people would call visually stagnant. It's true: what you're looking at are sprites that have been blown up to sizes that are far beyond comfortable measurements. All of it is clearly a throwback to the glory days of 8-bit sprites and Mode 7. Had the gameplay embraced the conventions of the genre, the visuals might not have served Half-Minute Hero well. However, the outlandish premise wears its ridiculous coat of paint with gusto.

Half-Minute Hero features a grab bag soundtrack, and it's all the better for it. One minute, it's a sweeping overture; the next, someone's shredding a face-melting riff on the guitar; the next, it's an industrial mix with a background sample that sounds like a guy screaming "Oh! CHEAH! Oh! CHEAH!" Lots of this stuff is recycled; the music in Hero 30, pretty as it often is, becomes a bit annoying after a while.

The large pixelated letters and numbers on the back of Half-Minute Hero's box art proclaim in all-caps (and with intentionally poor grammar): "YOU HAVE 00:30 SECONDS TO SAVE THE WORLD!" Pardon the wordplay, but this "half-minute rule" is a half-truth -- I'll explain later. Still, that very premise is the driving force behind the gameplay. Half-Minute Hero's six campaigns are a mishmash of four disparate types of gameplay. There's one thing in common among the four campaigns: you set out to fulfill a number of goals in under half a minute. You can complete any of the first three at your own rate, but I recommend progressing through Half-Minute Hero in the default chronological order (Hero 30, Evil Lord 30, Princess 30, Knight 30, and so forth). Furthermore, I recommend you play each campaign to completion before starting on the next. The tale may be told from different perspectives, but it follows a linear path.

The Hero campaigns are the meat of the experience, but only Hero 30 requires an explanation. The titular Hero finds himself in a very odd predicament. Turns out, a shady villain (who remains a presence throughout each of the campaigns) has taught several evil lords a spell of ultimate destruction that destroys the world in thirty seconds. Everywhere the Hero goes, an Evil Lord immediately descends on the area and casts the spell. It's up to the Hero to defeat each Evil Lord and bring peace to each area. More often than not, you'll have to solve problems for the local townsfolk before the way forward becomes completely clear. Several of these little plotlines are great, and one in particular is actually quite emotional. Many of these quests can be solved using different approaches; these little detours often result in different outcomes. Sometimes the Hero will discover a fork in the road ( la StarFox), which will unlock a new questline.

Evil Lord 30 casts you as the most narcissistic character in all of gaming. As the Evil Lord, you must lift a curse that has transformed Millenia (your human love interest) into a bat. This campaign plays out as sort of a real-time strategy game, although it's got more in common with Pikmin than it does with StarCraft. The Evil Lord can summon three different kinds of creatures. Each kind of summon monster is strong against a certain enemy type -- the Evil Lord compares it to Rochambeau... no, not Eric Cartman's Rochambeau. The thirty-second rule here applies to the fact that Millenia is pretty much allergic to the sun, and night only lasts for about half a minute... don't ask questions, you'll just get a headache.

Princess 30 follows a hopelessly daft and nave highborn girl on her quest to save her deathly ill father, the King. Each mission plays like a shooter: think Gradius with the controls of a multi-directional space shooter, only lightning fast and with a crossbow that fires like a gatling gun. Oh, and did I mention that the princess is literally being carted about on a giant litter while she's on these expeditions? The thirty-second catch? It's her curfew. Her freaking curfew! Gotta love it.

Knight 30 is a series of protection missions. You take control of the Knight, and it's your job to protect the Sage who resurrects you in the beginning of the campaign. This campaign puts a clever spin on the thirty-second rule. Here, you're not trying to beat the clock; instead, you're trying to run it down. You see, the Sage knows a spell of destruction. After thirty seconds of concentration, the Sage unleashes the spell, knocking all the enemies off the board.

Half-Minute Hero contains some of the most wicked sharp writing I've seen all year. Remember, this is the year of Brtal Legend and Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. Have you ever played an RPG in which characters discuss grinding and MP in casual conversation? I hadn't until I played Half-Minute Hero. They even go so far as to mention the title of the game itself! Hero 30 in particular is full of fantastically funny boss characters. These doofuses have their own ridiculous reasons for casting the spell of destruction. One of them is a snake charmer who believes that everyone's attitude towards snakes is reason enough to blow up the world. Most bosses go out on a positively hysterical note. "It sure does suck to be an evil lord and a rock at the same time," laments an evil lord that looks like a stack of boulders. The fantastic sense of humor and flagrant disregard for convention are Half-Minute Hero's greatest strengths.

At the default setting, Half-Minute Hero isn't a difficult game at all. Since each mission only takes upwards of a few minutes, it's not at all punishing when you lose. On top of that, you can learn from your mistakes quickly. If you fail a mission once, the chances are very high that it will be the only time you'll fail it.

The quests in the Hero campaigns lengthen quite a bit as you get closer to the end. However, you're never going to spend more than five minutes in each level... that is, unless you are what the game refers to as a "Sucky Hero." Additionally, the Hero campaigns contain no actual battle strategies, and I'll explain why in just a bit.

Hero 30 takes around six hours to complete; Evil Lord 30, Princess 30, and Knight 30 don't take nearly as long. Sure, the quests number in the hundreds, but at a few minutes a piece, it doesn't feel like a whole lot. Of course, you could always try the harder difficulty setting, but part of the joy of Half-Minute Hero is in learning how to approach each situation; the quests are not as satisfying the second time around.

Half-Minute Hero's final three campaigns (including Knight 30) must be unlocked before you can play them. Good luck with the final two... I won't spoil the specifics; rather, I'll let you figure them out by their names alone: Hero 300 and Hero 3. That's right: 3.

Half-Minute Hero does lose some of its steam after a while, but the writing will keep you playing. Furthermore, the game ends before it completely wears out its welcome. As far as complaints go, I think I'm done explaining mine.

Game Mechanics:
Earlier, I mentioned that the phrase "YOU HAVE 00:30 SECONDS TO SAVE THE WORLD!" was a half-truth. Here's why: over the course of most of the campaigns, you've got the Time Goddess on your side. This remarkably funny companion can turn back time for you... but you'll have to pay her money for it. Her abilities also change as the game progresses.

The Hero 30 campaign plays like a role-playing game, but with a few variations from the norm. All of the combat is automatic; you'll simply watch the Hero run into one or more enemy sprites until the weakest party is literally blown off the screen. All the numbers are on full display, through the mission log and in the middle of the action. You can sprint in the overworld and during combat, but doing so will often drain his health. When you're in a town, time freezes; allowing you to shop, talk, and chow down in peace. Praying to a Goddess Statue (and paying tithes) will turn back time without stripping you of any equipment or experience that you gained during the last thirty seconds. If you die in combat, you are thrown back to the beginning of the level with no major penalties other than lost time and almost no health.

The strategy involved in Evil Lord 30's gameplay is a bit rudimentary, but there are some interesting ideas that keep it fresh. For starters, a large occult-looking ring surrounds the Evil Lord at all times. A smaller ring expands inside of the larger ring. The size of the larger ring indicates his strength (i.e., the power level of a freshly summoned monster). Each time the Evil Lord summons a monster, the smaller ring shrinks; if you want to summon a more powerful creature, you'll have to wait for it to expand to full size again. Furthermore, getting hit by an enemy will decrease the size of the larger ring. Of course, the Time Goddess is on the Evil Lord's side; she can turn back time in return for all of his gold, and as a side bonus, she reverts a shrunken power ring to a full-sized one.

Princess 30 puts you in control of the entourage carrying the Princess' litter, but the face buttons will fire the crossbow in the corresponding direction. Killing stuff fills a meter which, when filled, causes the Princess to fire arrows at an extremely high speed -- and in every direction. Fairies can lend the Princess temporary power-ups, from extra speed to flaming arrows. Each time you are hit, a soldier will get injured, weakening the overall strength of the group. Furthermore, any gold you obtain will be used to cover their medical expenses. The Time Goddess has conveniently placed magic carpets around each level. Running over one will restore your time... of course, at the cost of your gold.

As I explained earlier, the objective in Knight 30 is to allow the clock to run out. However, there are several monsters about who don't want that to happen. As the monsters converge on the Sage, it is the Knight's job to either fight them off or carry the Sage to a safer place. There's a catch or two, though. If you pick the Sage up, the clock will stop, because he can't concentrate while being carried. Fighting off monsters will eventually kill the Knight. If you die, you will have to navigate your ghost back to the Sage so he can revive you. In between quests, there's an experience management system. You'll have to choose between growing your character and having the ability to set traps while in combat. It offers a nice risk/reward system that alters the way you play.

At this point, I usually try to think up some snappy ending for a review (such as "YOU HAVE 00:30 SECONDS TO BUY THIS GAME!"), but I won't bother with one right now. Bottom line: Half-Minute Hero deserves to succeed. It's a great game with great ideas at a great value. Buy it.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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