There’s almost certainly a little “retro fatigue” going on in the gaming space by now. After indie games started to take off, we saw developers realize that nostalgia could sell. This led to an unstoppable torrent of questionable pixel art and flatulent chiptunes saturating Steam. These days, it’s no surprise if someone saw a game hawking itself as a love letter to old-school Japanese RPGs and immediately ran for the hills.
In this case, however, they’d be missing out; The Longest Five Minutes takes this idea and goes in some bizarre, time-twisting directions, which results in a memorable experience that rises above its pedigree.
The Longest Five Minutes is somewhat unusual in that it begins where most games end: you’re at the final boss with your leveled-up party, your legendary sword and your amazing armor! It’s time to get down to business and defeat the Demon King! Except…wait, who were these party members again? What’s the deal with this legendary sword? Why were we fighting the Demon King in the first place?
This is the situation our hero Flash Back finds himself in. Turns out that without memories you’re going to have problems fighting a monstrously powerful demon. Flash is going to have to relive the journey that brought him here…but that fight’s still going on, so all that reminiscing is going to have to take place over the course of five critical minutes. The events play out as something of a combination between a visual novel with branching options and a traditional Japanese RPG.
This is an interesting framing device that takes what would otherwise be a fairly standard adventure and turns it into a unique, nostalgic experience. You do the usual for the genre, including exploring dungeons and battling random monsters, earning gold and “re-experience” points along the way. Combat is typical turn-based fare and doesn’t stand out overmuch from the norm.
Alone, the game wouldn’t be worth talking about, but this is all complicated by the fact that most of what goes on has already happened. The framing device ends up playing a big role in the gameplay. For instance, since Flash is reliving the quest via memories, you aren’t necessarily going to see everything that happens one step after another; the story is told in bits and pieces and often swings back and forth in time.
Further, and perhaps more importantly when it comes to how this one plays, memory is fallible. This means that each memory has its own self-contained gear and currency; there’s no reason not to go hog wild with your money, for instance, and you also don’t need to bother grinding to make sure you have the absolute best gear for your team since you’ll probably have it regardless in the next segment. This lends itself to some unusual strategies that one might not consider in a more traditional RPG, such as relying heavily on expensive attack items that might otherwise have to compete with gear purchases.
Even level grinding is rendered somewhat obsolete as you’ll often find that it was handled for you between memories; levels you gain in memory become what are essentially bonus levels added on top of whatever you’re given during a particular segment.
It’s a cute concept that’s well-served by the cute graphics. As mentioned, I have no particular love for pixel art after having it crammed down my 8-bit gullet for the past decade or so, but The Longest Five Minutes does look and sound pretty good. Some of the sprites are a little awkward – in particular, Clover the healer tends to look somewhat strange from most perspectives – and there’s the odd embarrassing typo here and there, but on the whole it’s an adequate faux-retro RPG. The music fares better and sounds amazing in general, particularly the theme for the battle against the Demon King.
Innovation for innovation’s sake doesn’t guarantee a great game, but nailing the fundamentals and then doing something new on top of that tends to produce worthwhile results. That’s what we’ve got with The Longest Five Minutes. If this were a regular RPG, it would be unremarkable, but by stepping out on a limb we end up with something that’s worth a look.