The Longest Five Minutes (Switch) Review –
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS Vita
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software, Inc. , SYUPRO-DX
Publisher: NIS America
Release: 13th February 2018
Retro RPGs are released almost every day, so why should one bother with NIS America´s The Longest Five Minutes. Looking like almost any other RPG of this genre, there´s not much unique, at first glance. Yet by focusing on telling a story backwards, their latest game, which also has a pretty steep price tag, it tries to differentiate itself through one interesting twist.
Rather than telling yet another hero story from beginning to end, The Longest Five Minutes does the complete opposite. Standing right in front of the demon king, Flash seemingly lost all his memories and now he has to recall what led him and his friends to this fateful encounter, in only five minutes.
However, except its unique premise, the told plot is rather predictable. The game is separated in short “present” sections, where they fight against the demon king and longer “past” sections, where Flash remembers their journey. Sadly, especially early on, the game mainly follows the group through uninteresting filler segments. Even though it understood both the story and setting are overused, there´s nothing new. From having to right through monster-infested caves or find a way to cross the sea, the real mystery around the demon king takes quite a few hours to pick up. By cutting the journey into pieces, The Longest Five Minutes also has some problems to keep a consistent line, as certain uninteresting memories will be shoved in between here and there without context.
Nonetheless, it´s still an incredibly charming game, particularly because of the four main characters. The four main characters may initially behave like walking clichés but their writing can infuse every one of them with so much life, that it´s hard not to like them. Their fluid transitions between seriousness and jokes, while maintaining a certain writing pattern makes it very entertaining to just listen. Sometimes a simple game doesn´t need to have more than a likeable cast, in order to work. At the end of The Longest Five Minutes, I actually didn´t want to stop following their adventures, a great sign.
Otherwise, there really is nothing too special about the whole thing. Orienting heavily on previous retro RPGs, the combat is turn-based and presented in a rudimentary way. Each one of the four heroes and heroines has their own role, Flash, for example, is low on Mana but has high damage output and life to compensate. From the melee damage dealer to magician and healer, The Longest Five Minutes keeps it pretty simple.
Although the challenge to actually find out who serves which role can be quite a problem. Since the structure is dominated by time jumps, things like tutorials often get lost on the way. So when I was first confronted with the battle system I had nearly no idea what to do, resulting in a rather lengthy tour through the black and white menus. Especially concerning magic, healing or other more complex things beyond attacking are explained very poorly and have to be figured out mostly by yourself, sometimes tasking if you never played other retro RPGs.
Another huge problem of The Longest Five Minutes is its almost non-existent difficulty curve. During the first third, almost nothing will even be remotely able to beat the party if you occasionally heal them. Hell, I smashed the attack button as soon as a fight started, just to get it over with, they´re that easy. Really, even bosses never require you to use magic or other more complex tactics … on normal. Only towards the last third did it become somewhat challenging but by making use of the really advanced spells at that time crushed nearly everything regardless.
Luckily, the exploration, on the other hand, works pretty well. Traversing through a 2D world map, discovering caves, cities and all kinds of neat places. Every memory fragment mainly circles around one of those key locations, offering two side missions besides the main quest every time. While the main quest design never really changes, always leading the party of heroes into a dungeon, the optional quests provide a nice change of pace. Despite the fact, all of them a mere fetch quests, the characters and simple, everyday tasks, underline the simplicity and actual realism of the game.
Artistically, The Longest Five Minutes keeps it simple, sprites are little and rough in a lovely way, the world map doesn´t try anything new either, everything is simple, clean and exactly what they should be. It really catches the spirit of old RPGs in a wonderful, extracted style. The characters, in particular, can actually transmit a feeling of personality way better than certain photorealistic ones. I like the concentrated but effective style, I really do. Naturally, the Switch performance is nothing to complain about, featuring fast loading times, acceptable file size and great performance.
Even though The Longest Five Minutes’ premise could´ve been so much more, the game built around it, as confusing or simple it may be, can deliver a surprisingly charming experience. There´s nothing out of the ordinary here, once you look past its interesting story flow but maybe that was all it took, to keep an already oversaturated genre fresh. It´s a wonderful ride, full of joy, charm and simplicity, with the biggest problem being the price tag.
[A Review Code was provided by NIS America]