I’ve been playing on the PSP quite a bit lately. There’s been Vagrant Story, which is still very atmospheric and awesome, even though changing weapons every few seconds with a trip to the menu gets a bit old at some point. Very much worth the 5â‚¬. Then there’s Pom Pom’s Alien Zombie Death, a PSP Mini retro-shooter costing all of 3â‚¬. These are both downloadable titles, as is my current darling, Half-Minute Hero. I picked it up on UMD, though, because I came across a cheap copy on my recent trip to San Francisco.
The game’s premise is that the world is going to end in thirty seconds unless you stop the evil wizard’s spell. You explore the world, fight random battles, buy better items, level up, and take on the big boss, all within thirty seconds. There are some mechanics to help you – time is stopped in towns so you can shop in peace, and you can bribe the goddess of time (who’s partial to cash) to turn back the clock a time or two. Still, all told, you’re looking at around 45-55 seconds per quest. Obviously you save the world over and over again.
There are additional game modes, very different to the JRPG core. There’s a shooter where you’re a princess, riding on the shoulders of her loyal soldiers, wielding a giant crossbow, rapid-firing into the masses of weird foes you encounter while looking for a way to save your father, the king, from a curse. You have a thirty second curfew – if you’re not back in time, your mother locks you out of the castle for good. I find it very hard to put down this mode. The action is relentless, if shallow, and the writing is so good that it’s just from grin to laugh out loud to smirk, all the time.
There’s an RTS mode where you’re playing one of the dark lords you’re fihgting in the JRPG mode. I haven’t touched that yet, or the unlockable escort mission mode.
Initially the idea of achieving a complete JRPG arch in half a minute sounds like a joke. When you first do it, you’ll feel amused and also very good about yourself. The game then proceeds to make the now easy-seeming, straightforward task more complicated. It’s a delirious, refreshing game. The mechanics-based, ludicrous basic idea is supported very well by the glorious art style and witty writing. I challenge you to not feel good while playing it.
Speaking of the PSP, I find it hard to get excited about NGP. Sony is saying it will not replace the PSP, which is understandable as it’s going to be rather precious and PSP has managed to find a younger audience with less disposable income. It is quite exciting to think that as the current console generation is over five years old by now, you can actually pack the equivalent of that power into a handheld. And yeah, having to analogue sticks on a handheld sounds pretty awesome, supposing it’s ergonomical. But my problem is that I want to play games like Half-Minute Hero on my handheld. Looking at something super detailed like Uncharted on a small screen, requiring two analogue sticks and two touch screens to play… it just doesn’t sound like a natural thing to do.