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 Half-Minute Hero 's Kenichiro Takaki On Retro Graphics, XBLA Experiments
Half-Minute Hero's Kenichiro Takaki On Retro Graphics, XBLA Experiments Exclusive
November 23, 2011 | By Brandon Sheffield




When it originally released for PSP in 2009, JRPG fans praised Marvelous AQL's Half-Minute Hero for its retro-themed presentation, and its clever parodying and streamlining of the genre. It challenged players to jump into automatic battles, level up, buy items, build their party, fight the boss, and save the world in 30-second blocks.

Marvelous adapted the game for XBLA as Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax in June with optional cartoonish graphics, revised modes, and new content. It has the same condensed premise, though, having players complete a full RPG experience in less time than it would take them to explore a town in more traditional games.

Marvelous AQL producer Kenichiro Takaki talks with Gamasutra about creating the XBLA remake and PSP sequel for Half-Minute Hero, and about why the original's 8-bit look is motivated by more than nostalgia.

It seems like there's been a trend in Japan to do a reverse RPG -- the Acquire game where you dig down and stuff [What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord?, or Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman!]. RPGs have changed a lot as of late. Why do you think games like that are popular in Japan?

Kenichiro Takaki: Well, a lot more RPGs have started to feature really flashy graphics and cutscenes these days. That's not a bad thing, but they are starting to get more difficult to play as games. A lot of people in their thirties, like me, have started to think that way, and they feel like there's not enough game in them for their tastes.

So now you have games that use older-style graphics partly for nostalgia's sake, but also to make the game more accessible. Mobile platforms and dedicated portable systems like the PSP are very popular in Japan, and I think the two trends naturally matched with each other.

One impression I had is that this old feeling serves to bring people who played games as a kid back into the hobby. I feel like gamers in general are getting older, too.

I think there is that, and to younger gamers, it's a completely new sort of experience. With the first Half-Minute Hero, we made an effort to have an 8-bit sort of graphical feel, and we got some feedback from grade-schoolers saying "Why are the graphics so blocky and messy?" (laughs) It was a novel thing for them.

The second one seems to have graduated to 16-bit a little bit.

Right, the SNES or the early PlayStation. The graphics did get a little upgrade.

Will the third one be like the PlayStation or Saturn, then?

[Half-Minute Hero] 3? If there is a 3, then I'd like to have everything from 8-bit to HD graphics. They could get upgraded as you level up yourself, turning into polygons and stuff. It'd be nice if we could reflect on the history of games with this with a new RPG.

Do you try to stick to the correct color palette when making nostalgic dot graphics?

We do fudge a bit there. If we stuck purely to the 16- or 256-color palette or whatnot, I think it'd just sort of look old instead of being nostalgic. Rearranging things for that effect leads to much better results, I think.

Is it developed internally?

Development is being handled by an outside company called Opus.

I like the tsundere time goddess. How did you come up with her?

Well, in the foundation concept that later became Half-Minute Hero, you had the ability to turn back time a little bit -- buying time at the shop and so forth. That seemed a little boring, though, so we decided to create a character that would do that for you instead.

In terms of gameplay, we wanted to have it so it cost progressively more as you went through the game, so we made her kind of this money-grubbing goddess to make this seem natural to the user. That was the base of the character. This is very fast-paced game so we didn't want to bog things down with a lot of descriptive dialogue.

So that's how she wound up that way; we wanted to keep things fast, and it made her a little crazy in the way she drags you along.

How do you go about expanding this simple concept from 1 to 2 without repeating yourself?

Well, 1 was a very simple finish-the-stages kind of game. With 2, we started with a base that featured a field map and events you trigger, similar to Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, and combined that with the Half-Minute Hero system. The tempo is the same, but there's a new feeling to it as you play, I think.

As for the story, 1 was very standard in that way, with a hero that didn't talk and everything. That game was targeted at people in their thirties, but 2 was more for people in their teens or twenties. We made the story into something a middle-schooler would come up with, featuring a hero with this enormous sword and so on.

In the first one, if I lost, I'd only lose by half a second or so. It seemed very well balanced between the money you have and the time you're allowed, so it never gets too easy. That must have been hard to balance.

The balance in 2 isn't quite as severe as it could be in 1. Like in 1, you're carrying out a series of quests in really quick fashion, and each one is individually tuned.

With 1, we received a lot of comments telling us that it was too hard, so we figured that if you go around the field map and level up a bit, things wouldn't seem so intense. In that way, the balance isn't that much different from before.

How did the XBLA version go for you guys? Is it something you might repeat?

Well, it did alright. We would have liked more sales, but it wasn't bad. I think it taught us a lot about what sorts of things you need in your game in order for it to be successful on XBLA. That's knowledge we'd like to bring to the next game.

I was wondering why you spent time making new graphics when much of the appeal lies in the 8-bit styles. At first I thought it was only the new graphics. It seemed like the whole pace of the game changed.

We did prepare both styles, yeah. The first PSP game was a critical success, but the sales weren't quite what we wanted on that either. We were examining why, and one theory was that the graphic package wasn't the right fit for the game after all. You could say that the XBLA version housed a lot of experiments based on our subsequent ideas.

Maybe that was the thing. It seems like a downloadable title, which it was on XBLA. Maybe it'd be more of a success on the PSP via the PS Store.

Perhaps, yes.

If you did a dual-screen version of some kind, it should totally have the main action on the top screen, and Time Goddess-raising on the bottom screen.

[laughs] That sounds like a lot of fun.


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