The Longest Five Minutes Review
Release Date: February 13, 2018
Developer/Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software/NIS America
Platform: PS Vita (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Steam
As a gamer who has appreciated the classic JRPG style for ages, it's easy to see how time has changed, both for games and for gamers. Many lament for the classic tropes of games like the original Final Fantasies, up to six. Overworld map, towns, dungeons, inns, quests, and the like. As time has evolved and game companies have followed suit, we have continued to get quality titles, but nothing that fully embraces that old-school feel unless it's an indie. Top that off with how we have changed: grown up, gotten families. We don't have time to push through a major title simply because the emotional investment may be too much for our current life. Finishing up Final Fantasy XV, I was eager to see the end and enjoyed the ride, but it took me a year and a half to complete. I have kids to take to Boy Scouts, bath and bedtimes that I want to help out on, usual Dad stuff. Then there's my shameful playthrough of the Legend of Zelda: Windwaker, where I got to the final battle and had to research how to climb up a rope to the final boss, because I had used the skill so little and so long ago I forgot how to do a basic maneuver. Sometimes you might leave a save file abandoned, talking about "getting back to it" for years, only to forget what you were doing in the first place. The Longest Five Minutes really feels like it's playing upon that trope for me, as you start at the end, but even your hero doesn't even know why you're there in the first place!
As the main hero, Flash Back (yes, good job, you get the pun) stands in front of the Ultimate Evil with his three friends, he loses his memory. His friends encourage him to get back in the fight, while the final boss laughs at their failure. Key words and supports lead Flash to flashback to earlier in their adventure. Just about every traditional RPG checkbox is hit: the smalltown heroes head forth on a simple quest that turns into more than they bargained for, they head through desolated tunnels, cold mountain regions, spend some time at a casino resort, learn new skills, find new weapons, the works. What differs this game from most RPGs is that you're being told the tale at the end along with the hero. Sometimes this resorts in the tale being told a bit out of order, though by and large the story comes in a logical pattern. When a section of the story ends, you are warped back to the present, where the game's title comes into play. The Longest Five Minutes represents your time in battle with the final boss, as a timer ticks away between your flashbacks. That final battle through the game is played out more like a visual novel, with a few choices on responses to what the boss has to say. It maintains what linearity it needs, though, as the story progresses.
Each flashback is a bite-size, self contained "episodic" piece of the story. It's here where I have both a compliment and a problem with the game. I really feel as if it's a super-simplified RPG, to the point that I was looking to see if this was previously available on an app store for a cell phone. Quite literally every non-boss enemy in the game can be taken down with straightforward attacks. They might have a magic spell they get off or look like they are weak to an elemental attack, but whacking them with a melee weapon can finish the battle in one or two rounds. I would get more creative with the bosses, and this felt like a necessity too, until I defeated a giant dragon that was taking 200 damage from my powerful spells until I ran out of mana, and proceeded to desparation attack him with melee for 480 damage. I then proceeded to whack him out of the sky with fisticuffs.
Each section is a "memory," meaning it already happened. So if there is time between them, something else might have happened. By and large, you start with a clean slate in each memory. New weapons and equipment. A different amount of gold. Unless you went around majorly leveling and getting "re-experience" points, even your in game battles won't really make a difference. You go through the motions of an RPG, but in essence this game really feels more like a visual novel. Taking it as one, it's a fun romp through a lighthearted story. Taking it as an RPG, it's overly simplistic and you don't really get to make the characters your own. I always liked grinding through areas before a big boss so I could take them down easily. With each memory "reset," though, it doesn't feel like I connect.
There are side quests, but since they already "happened," they are handled differently as well. Starting a section, there's usually three or so objectives to complete that may or may not have something to do with the story. Getting those nets you more re-experience points. Is there a section called "return the lost child"? Well, find the parent with a big "!" above their head. They tell you which way they went. Go there. Find the kid with the "!". Take him back. Done. Many go that way, though there are a few minigames that are pointlessly hard, including a slot machine that you have to line up the five Lucky 7's on, and it's just as rare as a real machine. The list makes the sidequests easy to find, but that's all there is. There's times where you might come across a fork in the road during a dungeon. If it looks like you're going down a long road, run back to the other fork, a couple rooms in will be a treasure chest and you can continue on your way. That kind of predictability.
Those complaints being said, though, can be a boon to a busy person who just wants the old RPG experience. Trying to push through a long RPG in a review window is much like when I took a year to play FFXV. Throwing a few minutes in between tasks. The ever-popular bathroom break. A few minutes before bed. It's an RPG without all the "brain work." Some may look at that and shrivel in horror, while others with a desire to relive the nostalgia of their younger years, when they could afford six hours a night plugging away at one game, not worried about bills and children, just school, parents, siblings, and gaming. It scratches an itch. I get where they're going with this title. While I am enjoying it and will likely see it through to the end (hey, still a parent, haven't beat the game yet!), I know it won't fulfill a strategist's heart. I'm over three minutes into the Longest Five, and I'm ready to take down the Demon King and save the world for good.
The Longest Five Minutes isn't as forgettable as it's protagonist makes it out to be, but it does fall into the traditional tropes that blend together and show why RPGs evolved. It's a fun ride for what it is, but it doesn't require the full focus of a traditional RPG, where you can level your characters wrong or miss that one doohickey back in the city that's now in ruins, thereby making the game twice as hard. It's a straightforward RPG without the RPG shackles. That's a double-edged sword that keeps it square in the middle for my reviewing purposes. A strong recommendation for anyone who just wants to "do the thing and destroy the evil" without worrying about Inn XP Bonuses, Sphere Grids, Junctioning, Materia, or any of that. The Vita is a strong RPG system for anyone who's looking for more than that. The Longest Five Minutes completes exactly what it sets out to do.
-Fun, light storyline that you can follow easily
-RPG feel without having to micromanage
-Pick up and play, with bite size chunks
-Crazy simple, could put off traditional RPG fans
-Big progress minimally effects character growth
-"Press X to Win" battles