2D: Let’s use retro correctly!

It hasn’t taken much time at all for retro-flavored graphics to go from a refreshing relief to a source of deep cynicism. That very cynicism is precisely why I’ve more or less ignored Half-Minute Hero since about 30 seconds after it was first announced in Japan as Yuusha 30. A gimmicky pile of tripe begging for attention by pretending to be 8-bit — how completely lame.

This was a mistake, and I apologize. I finally tried out Half-Minute Hero tonight, and while I’ve only scraped at the tip of the pixellated iceberg, I’m really impressed with the game. Where an increasing number of games use pixel-heavy visuals out of laziness or bandwagon-hopping, it serves a different purpose here.

In Half-Minute Hero, those lumpy, bumpy pixels symbolize the game’s core concept: Condensing the gameplay and mechanics of an 8-bit RPG into a fast-paced action game. The entire concept of “RPG” is reduced to a series of streamlined battles, simple dialogue, and minimalist gear and leveling systems. Players have no control over how battles play out; they’re kinda like automated Hydlide in a side-on view, and victory comes strictly through brute force via rapid leveling.

It’s not entirely unlike Progress Quest on some level, though it’s less of a joke and more of a… well, it’s not quite a puzzle game, and it’s not fully a strategy game. But it makes use of the parts of your brain that you need to negotiate those genres, stripping the role-playing concept down to a series of brisk actions. Towns consist of a single-screen strip of land with a couple of villagers waiting to deliver a line of dialogue, and a single more powerful weapon or piece of armor than was available in the previous chapter. Basically, a typical console RPG, minus all the boring crap that stretches RPGs to 40-60 lengths.

This reductive approach to game design makes its retro-inspired pixel art a perfect fit. It’s not about bandwagon-hopping or trend-riding; it’s about communicating the feel and premise of the game in an intuitive and effective way. It’s RPG by way of arcade sensibilities, and it looks like an old arcade game. Visuals any more complex than these would seem terribly out of place, and would probably actually get in the way.

I’ve only played a handful of missions, so maybe it’ll ultimately prove to be a stupid, shallow mess in the long term! But at the very least, Half-Minute Hero demonstrates an unexpectedly effective synthesis of visuals and concept. It’s always a pleasant surprise to see someone biting the old-school style for a reason.

7 thoughts on “2D: Let’s use retro correctly!

  1. I’ve been interested but wary of Yuusha 30 since it was announced, since it sounds like an anxiety attack in UMD form. I already get a little panicky around games with strict time limits, and the idea of having to manage my time down to the second sounds daunting. Is it as unforgiving as I’m imagining?

  2. There’s demos of it on the PSN, but I really don’t think time management will be a big problem. When you really need more time there will be the option to buy an extension, so that turns into more like 2 minutes of gameplay. Though, I do have to admit I lost several times on the Dark Lord one before I found the barrel to buy more time at, but once I found that it wasn’t a problem anymore.

  3. You wrote it off based on initial appearances? You surprise me, Jeremy. I thought the bite-sized RPG premise would have been right up your alley from the moment it was announced.

    Holding out for the PSN download, since it’s sure to be small.

  4. I bought this game shortly after it came out in Japan because I enjoyed the demo and the premise was a good laugh. Oddly enough it was the first thing to spurn me to being interested in console RPGs again, after about eight years of utter neglect for the genre. (Getting Dragon Quest 9 shortly thereafter probably helped, too.)

    I think it’s largely due to how well it really hits on all the tropes and strikes a nice balance between parody, homage and playable game in its own right. The alternate modes (Princess 30, etc) are fun, too, but the main quest is definitely the real draw. I hear the localization is quite good so I’ll probably end up buying it again if and when it hits PSN.

  5. It’s a pretty darn fun game! I’m having a blast finding secrets and alternate ways to beat the levels.

  6. Don’t worry about the time management. It’s actually a pretty easy game, at least on Normal. I haven’t done a Hard run yet.

  7. I’m surprised at how well this actually works. It’s definitely a different experience, and while it relies on the same ideas we’ve been playing for years, having to make those decisions rapid-fire makes for something that almost seems between a traditional RPG and some sort of RTS, which by all rights I shouldn’t enjoy, but the inclusion of such RPG elements makes it palatable.

    Plus, the humor helps a lot. :)

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