"...the game would have been much better served if it was a visual novel."
"Oh yeah! I remember!" - Flash Back
Facing a giant demon would probably be scary enough. Imagine waking up in front of one with no recollection of who you are, the friends around you, or how you got there. That is the premise of The Longest Five Minutes. I remember seeing the trailer last year and being excited to see how this game turned out. After spending my time with it, I have come to the conclusion that given more time, this game could have been great. Unfortunately, this title suffers from gameplay that feels like it was shoehorned in.
Flash Back (yes, that's his full name) and his party of friends — Yuzu, Clover, and Regent — have finally made it to the Demon King's castle after a long adventure. The problem is that Flash can't remember anything, and more importantly, he can't fight anymore! Flash's friends desperately try to jog his memory on the fly while holding off the Demon King. Over the course of the game, Flash slowly begins to remember what happened to him up to that point, and he begins to help his friends fend off the Demon King. This story is told in five minutes, from when Flash loses his memory to the final showdown with his memories intact.
The story is typical RPG fare, but, of course, you have the interactions with the final boss as you progress. Learning about Flash's past and seeing how he interacts with the Demon King is certainly the highlight of the game. You truly feel like Flash; you have no idea what choices Flash has made in the past or his relationships and surroundings when you start. However, as I mentioned, the story revealed in these memories isn't anything too special. It's the typical "four heroes go off on an adventure and fight the evil bad guy at the end." Once you get to the final minute out of the five, though, the story takes an unexpected twist that had me on the edge of my seat. At the same time, the story would have had way more impact if they had started telling that arc a bit earlier.
Underneath the grim prospect of fighting the Demon King and saving the world, there are plenty of humourous moments. In the first few memory fragments, NPCs tell you about memories and how to access them from your menu, then say how its knowledge their grandparents told them or something they heard from a friend. While the Demon King gloats about his power over your party, he asks you questions about who you love just for his own amusement. Walking into some houses elicits responses from NPCs who are clearly mad you barged straight into their house. In one fragment, Yuzu beats up Regent for peeping on the women's bath. Little moments like that made me smile and chuckle.
Unfortunately, this game seems to be more focused on telling the story than providing good gameplay. Only about an hour in, it becomes clear that combat feels really simple, and that's because it is. There are your typical melee and magic attacks, healing spells, buffs/debuffs, and status conditions, and that's about it. A little while later, it's obvious that the game is easy. Whenever you enter a new memory fragment, the game levels you up according to the enemies present and also provides you a new set of items, equipment, and money to spend on that fragment. Leveling up in this game adds stats, but since your level is always adjusted according to the fragment, you will rarely find the need to do any grinding, if at all. I found myself mashing the A button, since combat against regular enemies was a breeze. Near the end of the game, I found myself spamming the ability to repel enemies just because encounters were starting to get annoying and were simply not fun to play. The gameplay seems to be there to give the player some way to interact with the game as an RPG. I personally think the game would have been much better served if it was a visual novel.
The game challenges you by providing objectives that give you experience points to gain more stats. While most are pretty easy, especially since they blatantly tell you which NPCs can help you with the objective, there are some that are different. Some may require you to play the fragment again but pick a different choice in the story. You can play any part of the story again whenever you want to make different choices. Some challenges, however, require you to play obnoxious minigames like a shoot em' up, a slot machine, and a runner. You could argue that they're a nice distraction, or that you still get EXP from playing, but it's still a pain to have to do it for a challenge. These games also don't have the best mechanics, and I feel like I got through those challenges out of sheer luck.
The spritework for the game was quite good. They used a lot of facial expressions that gave the characters life and got me to like the characters more than I should have. The graphics in general are a throwback to RPGs of old, and I got a Dragon Quest vibe just from looking at how they did the overworld. Some of the enemy designs are also pretty cool, so in general, the art just speaks to me.
While most of the sound effects in the game are generic, the soundtrack is the highlight. With no voice acting to speak of, the game relies on its soundtrack to help carry the mood, and it does a good job at that. The boss theme is what has been stuck in my head ever since I started playing it. It's got this epic, triumphant, and determined tone that pumps you up for the fight.
The Longest Five Minutes does well with its unique premise, but falls short in providing a fun gameplay experience. Most of the gameplay is a waste of time and only serves as an obstacle to experiencing the story. Flash Back's adventure is only worth it for the good art and final revelation.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.