Half Minute Hero
Developer: Marvelous Entertainment
Publisher: XSEED Games
RPG / Variety - Playstation Portable
First thing you need to know is that PSN hosts a decent number of PSP demos, and for the most part, made me NOT want to purchase the full game. Half Minute Hero was the exception. It was quirky, brilliant, and most of all entertaining. I was sold after, well... 30 seconds.
Half Minute Hero isn't really -a- game, and more of a collection of games tied together with an overall storyline. The games themselves are all quite different, but they all have the recurring motif of a 30 second time limit.
This fast-paced RPG is the principle mode. The premise is that an evil lord is casting an apocalyptic spell which requires 30 seconds to complete. So your job as the Hero of the story is to race to defeat the lord.
Just like a "real" RPG, you can purchase items, talk to townsfolk for advice, recruit party members, grind for levels, solve puzzles, and explore dungeons. Of course, these activities are much more basic and streamlined than the typical RPG (battles are largely automatic and average 1.5 seconds, purchasing EQ automatically equips, etc), but the content is there.
That begs the question... how can you do all of that in 30 seconds? For the first few scenarios, it's all a matter of speed and efficiency. You have to figure out how much to fight / level up and balance that with the ticking clock. Luckily time stops when you're in towns, so you can take a breather, talk to citizens, heal and improve your equipment. On the world map, you can make mad-dashes which eliminates random battles for the duration, but costs you HP. So there's a time management aspect to making a beeline to your intended destinations, stopping only to fight when it's necessary, and balancing that with how much HP your hero has.
Later scenarios have the same balancing act, but gives you ways to extend your 30 second time limit. There's a time goddess that will reset the clock to 30:00 at the cost of gold. The catch is that the cost of gold increases everytime you use it, so it becomes economically unfeasible past a certain point. But what it does is present you with larger and more complex game scenarios. In fact, this little game has "achievements" that trigger when you meet certain criteria (2 per scenario) and even multi-branching paths that introduce new scenarios. An amusing touch is that each scenario is considered a game in of itself and has its own set of credits once cleared.
Evil Lord 30
From what I gathered, this "real time strategy" game isn't a particular favorite among players. Although it's billed as a RTS, I actually feel it's more accurately described as a summon action game. Basically it's like an ARPG where your character, the Evil Lord, cannot attack directly, but needs to summon monsters to fight for you. You can summon 3 types of monsters, with rock-paper-scissors affinities. That's where the strategy component comes in.
You can summon as many monsters you want and as often as you want, but the faster you summon them, the weaker they are. The monster strength is determined by the size of your summon circle. Once you summon one monster, it shrinks and then grows over time. As you defeat enemies, you do gain experience points. Once you level, your max summon circle expands, allowing you to make bigger monsters. Get hit by an enemy, and your circle shrinks.
The premise of this game is that the Evil Lord is trying to save his beloved Millenia, who has been turned into a bat. But after 30 seconds, daylight breaks and they are doomed. Just like Hero 30, you can find the Time Goddess and turn back the clock. This is a necessity since later stages are all about throwing you in mazes full of enemies, so you'll need every second you can get.
Princess 30 is absolute silliness. The story is that the King has fallen ill, and the naive Princess ventures outside of the castle in attempts to get help. Naturally, this worries her parents, so they give her a strict 30 second curfew.
The actual gameplay is closest to a shoot-em-up. The screen will autoscroll in a predetermined direction, but you can influence its speed based on the path your princess takes. Surrounding the princess is 30 bodyguards which has a dual purpose: more bodyguards = more offensive strength, but more bodyguards = larger hitbox. Enemies will come from all four directions, so you have directional fire mapped to the buttons. But the essential goal of each stage is to collect a person / item, and then race back to the castle before the 30 second limit runs out. The time-extenders here are red-carpets, which turn the clock back a little for as long as the princess is on it.
As you may have guessed, Guard 30 is a protection game. This time, it's your group that is casting the spell of destruction. A Sage is being targeted by all sorts of monsters, and has asked you to provide protection until the spell of destruction has been cast. So within those 30 seconds, a flood of monsters, demons, and bosses will try to thwart the Sage's plans.
You have a few resources at your disposal that can help. You can choose some one-time use tools before a stage begins. These items range from bombs to barriers. You can also pick up weapons on the field. And foregoing that, you can ram your body into monsters to push them away. Unfortunately, monsters don't "die". They only get knocked out for a few seconds, before they start coming for the Sage again. So you'll have your hands full here.
Unlike the other games, there's no time-extender because you actually want the clock to run out. But since the Sage just stands there chanting the spell, it will often put your group in peril. So another valuable tool is being able to pick up the Sage and relocate. The cost of doing this is that the Sage cannot chant while you're in motion, and so the clock is not progressing. But considering the layout of the stages, you pretty much have to move around to avoid the masses of enemies. Luckily, there's another benefit to moving the Sage around. There are hotspots on most stages which double the speed at which the spell can be cast. So there's another positive incentive to move around.
The games in Half Minute Hero are all quite distinct. I don't think any of them are bad. Hero 30 has the most meat and is the most fun by far. But there were really good moments in each of the games, where the gameplay elements came together in a entertaining, this-is-awesome way. I know that the gamer community was not as enthusiastic about Dark Lord 30, Princess 30 and Guard 30 and to be fair, they are uneven experiences. There generally isn't a progression of difficulty or complexity, so the challenge and design feels unbalanced. They're also really quick to blast through, compared to Hero 30. But as a whole package, it offers variety, a lot of content, brilliant fun and never takes itself too seriously. It resembles nothing else on the market. This is my favorite PSP game thus far.