This JRPG contains scenes of hot springs and an amnesia plot. Viewer discretion is advised.
“Quick fire” RPGs have become a popular sub-genre in recent years, with the most popular example being the Half-Minute Hero games. NIS America’s latest Switch jaunt, The Longest Five Minutes, seems at first to be one of these type of games. However, digging a bit deeper reveals a RPG that isn’t as short as some of its competitors, but serves as a nice break from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and other 200 hour specials.
The framing device is simple; You play as Flash Back, a leader of a typical 16-bit era JRPG party of four, and the game opens in medias res as your party is fighting the evil Demon Lord. During the battle, one of the Demon Lord’s attacks causes Flash to suddenly develop massive amnesia. He figures out his name quickly, but can’t remember why he’s fighting, why he has a holy sword, or any of his (or the party’s) special techniques. With five minutes to defeat the Demon Lord, Flash mentally jumps back in time to rediscover the events that led up to the final fight. The vignettes focus on whatever is relevant to making sure the party stays alive against the Demon Lord, and despite taking up to a half hour to complete, only a few seconds will tick off the clock. Given the rapid-fire nature of some of the flashbacks, with a few being knocked off in a couple of minutes, the “That’s it! I remember now!” screen popped up a bit more than I would like, breaking up the flow of the game.
The game is internally consistent with its logic, which is wonderful. Instead of earning experience, beating enemies and completing quests earns “Re-experience.” At certain points in the plot, party members will learn ultimate techniques that take one turn in regular battle, or 30 seconds of the Demon Lord fight. The time skipping does present a problem though, as I found I was constantly having to check the equipment to make sure the strongest gear at the time was equipped. On a few occasions, I found a piece of equipment in a chest that I was actually using earlier, and aside from a couple of times where I picked up healing items, I never used the item shops at all. It’s nice that everything needed to survive is in the wild, but it’s basically impossible to get enough money to buy new weapons and armor before it’s outclassed.
Battles are sadly invisible random encounters, but they’re easily handled. The battle system itself is reminiscent of Earthbound or Dragon Quest: a few commands, magic divided into attacking/healing/other, static enemy portraits, and the party’s current state on the bottom of the screen. Due to the scattershot nature of the game, the entire party seemingly has new skills at every scene change, which makes for some nice discoveries in battle. (“Ooooh, when did I get that ‘heavy damage all’ Fire spell?”) For the most part though, no grinding is required to survive and simply focusing on physical attacks will get you through 95% of the non-boss fights in the game. The other five percent are the battles in which the party is outnumbered, in which case install previously mentioned multi-target spells. Problem solved.
It isn’t just the battle system that is getting cribbed from Earthbound, however. The character sprites are smaller, squatter sprites similar to the ones used in Earthbound Beginnings, if they had held that game until the Super Famicom. The environments are lush, with some little details that stand out in the 16-bit art style. A few good battle tunes on the musical end keep up the tempo, but the rest of the soundtrack isn’t going to burn up the charts on iTunes. Unlike 16-bit RPGs, modern conveniences (such as one-touch healing outside of battle and save anywhere) are present, and the game runs perfectly well both in dock and out.
The Switch has had a surprisingly large RPG library in its first year; already it feels like there’s more RPGs on Switch than were on its predecessor and they just keep coming. Where The Longest Five Minutes stands out is that despite the name, it is fast. I did a lot of exploring in the environments looking for treasure and still managed to roll credits in under 12 hours. Given the Switch’s propensity for roguelikes and exceedingly long, story-driven games, this is a minor miracle. Not every game has to be a seven-course meal; sometimes you just want a light snack. On that front, Longest Five Minutes delivers.