As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to the realization that by and large, the JRPG is a genre that has passed me by. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy them — on the contrary, some of my favorite and lasting memories are of spending dozens of hours playing through epic storylines and world-spanning adventures with a ragtag group of spiky-haired heroes and heroines. It’s not them, it’s me.
Thankfully, developer Opus has carved out a niche for people just like me. In 2009, they created Half-Minute Hero, a deconstruction of JRPG tropes which told an epic story but cut away all the time-consuming and repetitive gameplay that punctuates so many titles in the genre. Thanks to its success we now have a sequel, Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming, which takes the original’s cleverness and uniqueness and attempts to push it into new directions.
The basic premise of Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming is not far out of the standard JRPG wheelhouse. There is an Evil Being who must be destroyed, and you, as the hero, set off on a journey to destroy it with a group of companions. There’s a catch however; you only have 30 seconds to do so. Thankfully, The Time Goddess is there to reset the timer whenever you pray to her shrine… for a price. What this means is that level grinding must be done very quickly so you can level up, make money, and beat the area’s boss in less than 30 seconds. If you’re the kind of person who hates timers in games, then boy is this series not for you. You have some reprieve between quests and in towns (provided you have enough money to pay off the Time Goddess), but for the most part you are racing against the clock. Thankfully, it’s as exhilarating as it is stressful.
Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming is a challenging game, but not because of its gameplay. In most areas, I ran out of time on my first try because being able to quickly kill enemies and raise enough money is essentially a puzzle; figuring out the best order to kill enemies, when to take on tougher ones, and how to maximize your scarce time. It’s a lot to take on at first, but as you progress you do acquire a strategic sense for how to tackle a new area. While this mechanic is fast-paced and constantly tense, it never really changed during the course of the game.
While there is a lot of narrative going on throughout this game, at no point did I ever really feel any kind of connection to anybody’s quest. I think a big reason for this is that the large amount of time spent with characters in JRPGs is what endears you to them. In this genre more than any other, the journey, the slow and steady march towards a goal, is what really pulls you into the experience. I certainly understand the reasoning for Opus to effectively take combat out, but there is that unfortunate consequence which remains.
Part of this game’s intended charm is in replicating a 16-bit RPG landscape, with pixelated environments and characters. This is not an uncommon occurrence these days, as it allows for developers to not only produce innovative games cheaply but it also gives them the chance to be subversive with older technology and the expectations we have when faced with it. In a macro sense, Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming is colorful and quite striking. It’s more in battle menus and close-up where the pixelated graphics actually look quite ugly. It is no doubt a byproduct of being on PC, where people can see every detail of a character on a 26″ screen. This is an issue that would never show up on, say, a handheld system.
In addition to the core game, there are a number of extra features included. There’s an Endless Battle Mode, as well as multiplayer and Time Attack Mode. Most impressive, Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming has a Map Editor that, using Steamworks, allows players to create their own worlds and post them up for others to play. This game has only been out for a short time, but already there are a number of cool maps to check out. Using the Editor is pretty simple as well, and it helps to keep this game fresh long after you’ve beaten the campaign. The bottom line is this: For $20, Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming is a great value as it will provide you with a good campaign, tons of modes, and the ability to create your own adventures.
[+Funny take on JRPG tropes] [+Map editor/multiplayer] [+Perfect for players on the go] [-Repetitive] [-Pixelated graphics look bad up close]