Still Playing: Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy
The only long-winded thing about Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy is its name. It might look like an RPG, it might affectionately mock RPGs, but what we really have here is a bright, brisk puzzler dressed up in a delightfully cheap and tacky fancy dress RPG costume. It’s glib, achingly net-savvy in its humour and entirely irreverent in its tone. I think it’s one of the most sophisticated parodies that games have seen.
You’ve played a few parody games, no doubt. Brian Provinciano’s Retro City Rampage is a recent example of a game that relentlessly mocks the genre it inhabits, at one point allowing its protagonist to lament the boring nature of tailing missions in open-world games before sending him on a tailing mission in an open-world game. Then there’s the mischievous, self-referential streak running through Lionhead’s Fable series, perhaps best exemplified by the sequence in the third title when the protagonist is dropped into a tabletop RPG to embark upon a quest that wouldn’t be out of place in Fable itself, were it not for the self-deprecating commentary provided by the developer stand-ins running the game. And of course there’s The Bard’s Tale, an RPG that ran the gamut of RPG clichés, all the while mocking their contrived infeasibility.
From a design standpoint, this isn’t true parody: it’s something different. It’s what the forensically minded dissectors of genre over at TV Tropes have categorised as lampshade hanging: calling attention to something’s inherent implausibility as a roundabout way of excusing it (or in the above cases, mocking it) while relying on it all the same. Most parody games, in other words, are actually fairly conventional in structure – they’re just wittily self-aware about being so.
Half-Minute Hero, however, is something more sophisticated, an affectionate yet unforgiving mockery of conventional JRPG quest structure that satirises Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest et al via a reductio ad absurdum of their premise. You grind, quest, and defeat a dark lord in Marvelous Entertainment’s game, just as you do in Square Enix’s. You just do it in 30 seconds. Over, over and over again.
It’s the frightfully accurate nature of Marvelous’ spoofing that makes the joke work. Each level gives you a world map dotted with villages, forests, plains and castles, tasking you with journeying to the Dark Lord’s stronghold and defeating him within half a minute. The 30 second limit’s a ruse, really: you can pay to reset the clock in villages, and time stops while you’re in them anyway. The breakneck neck pace that Half-Minute Hero demands, however, is very real. A typical mission will see you rattling through character levels in moments, courtesy of the random battles that kick in when outside towns. Meanwhile, villagers hand out quests, and special monsters lurk in secret corners of the map. It’s a perfect distillation of a JRPG set-up, really, with one exception: the battle system.