If Half-Minute Hero taught me anything, it’s that a gimmick can make a game. Similarly, it can also break it. Jikandia: The Timeless Land’s gimmick is similar to the former in that you are timed to make it through each area. What’s more, you can name the amount of time you think it’s going to take you to clear a level. If you think it’s going to take you a mere minute to complete one stage, it’s your call. Time marches on whether you crash and burn or excel at felling each beast and bringing down the final boss. The longer you stay in the world, the better your rewards, and it’s all up to you. If you choose an insufficient amount of time, you’ll pay dearly and find yourself failing all too often. It sounds like a perfectly workable, modern concept, and a spiritual successor to the raucous and enjoyable Half-Minute Hero, right? So why did I find myself constantly itching to power the PSP off?
The premise as stated above is simple enough, the anime-styled portraits are cheery and resemble series I’ve enjoyed before, and the game itself is presented with such bright, striking colors and retro sprites that bring to mind classic hack-and-slash adventures. It’s all thrust at you in a way that says “hey, I should be enjoyable – why are you not having any fun?” And in writing this I had to ask myself that question. Why wasn’t I having any fun?
Let’s start with the completely vapid story – a group of students are whisked away to a strange dimension where time didn’t exist before their arrival. It isn’t the most engaging reason to keep playing, though it is riddled with some occasionally hilarious dialogue sprinkled with typical pop culture references. As you venture throughout this topsy-turvy world you will encounter other students who have lost their way just like you, but there just isn’t really any compelling reason to save this strange little world or rid it of its problems. Perhaps I wasn’t mean to care, but I never did, not once.
Especially not when I was fooled into thinking by the aesthetics and tone that Jikandia would be a retro revival; a celebration of all things classic gaming. The script, characters, and tone were perfect, though the gameplay seemed to get it all wrong. Choosing a time limit to complete areas rife with monsters, boss battles, and treasure is anything but enjoyable. Most of the time if you err on the side of caution and choose a longer amount of time to complete the rooms, you’re stuck replaying the same places over and over – jumping here and there, defeating the same enemies, and the cramped screens ensure that first-timers and newbies die more often than should be necessary. With different rules governing each section of the game, you need to be extra vigilant about each move you make, which just isn’t that exciting given the bland nature of the environments and even the treasures to be found within.
Jikandia: The Timeless Land is an interesting experiment in judging a book by its cover, only one that leads would-be fans to be terribly disappointed. Had the game took a turn for the less “exciting” in terms of video game gimmickry, it could well have been an acceptable hack-and-slash or decent RPG with a throwaway story, but with the strange “timeless” world and the ability to choose your own limits, it loses what little reason players have to keep forging on. It longs to be something it’s not, and well, I just didn’t have too much fun with it. But what can you do? I suppose you can’t hit all the high notes at once. While certainly a gorgeous-looking title, and one that seemed to have all the makings for something great, its a shame the results are so…bland. It’s back to Half-Minute Hero for me.
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