Half-Minute Hero is a game for the PlayStation Portable that hopes to serve as a one-stop shop, combining multiple genres into a single package. It's a very unique game and despite bringing all these genres together, it's held together by its key emphasis on time. The game has already seen the light of day in Japan and North America (although it was known as Yusha 30 in Japan) and now the game has made its way to Europe thanks to Rising Star Games.
There is quite a simple under lying story to the game and it follows the initial premise that two gods battled for eons. One was the Time Goddess, and the other was the Ultimate Evil Lord. When the Time Goddess finally won, the Goddess Era began and humans began to flourish in the world. The first chapter of the game takes place in Goddess Era 100 where an Evil Lord has been teaching lots of people, flora, fauna and spirits a spell that would bring around the destruction of the world in 30 seconds, and so our quest begins.
In the first chapter, players take the roll of a Hero, and it follows a very typical RPG layout. Players are greeted with a top down view of a world map littered with villages, caves and a "final dungeon". As they explore the map, random encounters will occur frequently and the Hero will execute the monsters he encounters without any player input. Each battle won results in some gold earned and experience. This gold can then be used in villages to purchase specific equipment dependant on the stage and food to heal or use in battle. At first it feels like the player does nothing but run around and keep the Hero's health at a decent amount. But as previously mentioned, the casting of the spell of destruction that takes 30 seconds begins instantly as soon as a stage begins. After each Evil Lord moans about something or other and why they want to destroy the world, it's up to the Hero to level up high enough, complete a minor quest or two along the way and then beat the Evil Lord all before the 30 seconds pass.
Obviously it would be ludicrous at first to assume players literally have 30 seconds, and in theory players can have much more than that as the townsfolk have erected statues of the Time Goddess in more or less every village, in exchange for a prayer (costing gold which increases each time its used). She will rewind time back to the 30 second marker without affecting the Hero or any actions he has made on the environment in any way. That said practically every single mission can be done in under 30 seconds with the correct planning, and this is where the structure of the game really shines. Players might feel like they are playing an RPG in terms of how it looks and feels, but realistically it's very much a time management puzzler.
Each mission resets the player's level back to level 1 and they are then treated to what appears to be a rather episodic intro to each level, much like a television series. This of course does get a little bit tedious as things go on, but thankfully it's skippable. While a player's level is reduced to 1 prior to every battle, all the equipment they pick up and earn is kept. Individual stories and tasks for each mission are often varied enough, keeping the overall experience fresh. In addition, there are in-between stories played out after missions that reveal more about the Ultimate Evil Lord and his teachings. It might be worth noting that a lot of these minor stories do have multiple ways of dealing with the situation and on a few occasions simply beating the pulp out of the Evil Lord won't result in success.
This is just one aspect of the game, and initially there are two other modes available: The role of the Evil Lord, which is essentially a Real Time Strategy game with RPG elements, and the role of the Princess, which is more of a side scrolling shoot-em up than anything else. The Evil Lord's story basically tells the tale of a character players meet during the Hero quest. Eventually he is reformed and goes on a quest of his own to dispel a curse from his beloved. The gameplay in this scenario involves the player summoning monsters, which can be done by pressing the corresponding button to the type needed. The types are, Nimble, Brute and Shooter, and each has a strength against one type and weakness to another. A circle that represents the Evil Lords mana increases in size around his feet and the bigger the circle, the stronger the monster summoned. The time element comes into play yet again, except it's now based off the premise that night lasts for 30 seconds and staying out longer than that will affect his beloved. This mode can be quite fun, but it has its drawbacks. It's often possible to simply bypass enemies to get to the objective. However, increasing mana later on does make for some interesting monster creations.
Princess Mode, on the other hand, focuses on a rather ditzy princess who has never seen the outside world before, thus she finds everything to be a tiny bit confusing. Armed with her father's crossbow and an army of soldiers to protect her, the princess goes on a quest in search of various items in order to make her father, the king, well again. Players are again given 30 seconds to complete the objectives in this mode. However, time can be added should players decide to use the red carpet laid out by the Goddess in exchange for coins. This mode feels more action-packed, what with the manic pace of shooting in every direction. It does, however, take a lot of control away from the player. It's much more haphazard in the way it works and bumping into enemies, taking damage and not really feeling all that challenged detracts a bit from this scenario.
In the last mode, Knight, players play as a knight revived by a sage for protection. This is by far the hardest of the four modes since players are required to protect the sage for 30 seconds, dragging him around the map to keep him out of harms way. Players can also bump and stun enemies, lay various traps and throw objects to prevent enemies from reaching the sage. It can get quite frustrating, especially in the later levels where enemies can fly and simply whisk the sage away. Levelling up traps does add some depth to the gameplay, but sometimes they just aren't that useful.
Graphically speaking, the game intentionally makes use of visuals akin to the days of 8-bit sprites. That's not to say it's incredibly simple in terms of design, backgrounds can get quite elaborate and it gives off a rather retro feel to the game. What's intriguing is that there is a vast amount of art for just about every place in Evil Lord mode. The level of detail on these images is relatively impressive considering that the sprites have little distinguishable features. The soundtrack is quite fitting for the game. There are plenty of tunes for each mode that will keep players wanting more, especially the climactic boss battle scores that are reminiscent of other class RPGs.
Players are treated to two additional modes should they complete the first four: Hero 300 and Hero 3. These modes involve playing through a campaign with a time limit of 300 or three seconds respectively. Hero 300 can be quite fun while Hero 3 is much more extreme. Aside from this, there are also high scores available in every mode and an optional Hard difficulty setting, adding quite a bit to replayability. Players can also earn two different titles for every mission in Hero mode by fulfilling certain requirements which nets different pieces of equipment. Furthermore, there is an Ad-hoc multiplayer mode for the Hero portion of the game, allowing up to 4 players to link up and play together.
Half-Minute Hero certainly takes a different approach to gaming and is quite fitting for the portable format, enabling players to enjoy the experience in bite size portions. Hardcore players may not find the overall experience challenging, however it is quite the feat to achieve the target times. The game is quite easy to get into, with the exception of the Knight mode. Hero mode is definitely the game's main selling point, it's a bit of a shame that the other modes weren't quite as compelling.