When there are upwards of 10 to 15 games released each week on the Nintendo Switch, it can be difficult to stand out and be noticed. After all, there’s no shortage of retro-looking pixel art games on the eShop and on its surface that’s exactly what The Longest Five Minutes looks like. However it has two very important things going for it. The first is that it’s a turn-based JRPG, something that’s a bit underserved on the Switch thus far. Second, the game begins at the end.
Yes, that’s right, you begin the game fighting the last boss! But, something has happened and your memories have been wiped, leaving you helpless to defend yourself. Only by talking with your party members and remembering what led up to this epic duel will you be victorious, and thus the game unravels through flashbacks and the title “The Longest Five Minutes” begins to make sense. You only have five minutes to kill the boss, but the game will take most over ten hours to plow through the story leading up to the showdown. It’s an original take on a familiar plot, but thanks to some charming characters, entertaining writing, and a fast-paced story it’s one worth playing.
From the get-go I need to make one thing clear: this game feels like a beginner’s role-playing game. Similar to how Square tried to ease gamers into the genre with Final Fantasy Mystic Quest on the Super Nintendo, NIS America has released a game that’s easy to pick up and play without any previous experience with RPGs. You won’t find any complicated systems or combat like Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Instead, you’re presented with a straightforward battle system that seems ripped right out of Dragon Warrior. You have your standard attacks as well as access to magic and items. Most of the time you can wipe the enemies out by just selecting attack with every party member and within one or two rounds they’ll be defeated. The game does pick up in difficulty a little toward the end, but it’s nothing worth worrying about. Understandably this could be off-putting for veteran gamers who will no doubt find the game way too easy. For those players I recommend going into the game for the exploration and story elements instead, but keep in mind this isn’t some 30 hour excursion – you’ll probably get through it in 10 hours or so.
The crazy part is that you’ll be tackling the game out of order, so sometimes you’ll be higher levels than you’ll be later in the game. For that reason it’s really not necessary to buy new equipment since the next chapter you probably won’t have access to it anyway. Of course this does beg the question why there are shops to begin with. I must admit I was a little ticked off after I grinded a bit to buy a weapon for the main protagonist (whose name is…wait for it…Flash Back…ugh) only to find out that he didn’t have it after I completed the chapter. After that I didn’t bother buying too many things since the game was easy enough without having to worry about equipping new items all the time. Plus, new items and weapons can be found in caves and also in pots littered about. I do appreciate the ability to equip the best stuff with one button press – the same is true of healing the entire party. After spending hours and hours in menus in other RPGs, the respect this one has for my time is refreshing.
Graphically the game reminds me a lot of Earthbound. The developers call it an 8-bit RPG, but it definitely has more details and colors and looks closer to a SNES game. The sprites are pretty detailed, but the game has a habit of blowing them up to quadruple the size where they become quite ugly. I’m not sure why this decision was made, but for most of the game it looks like an early ‘90s affair. The battles take place with your characters’ backs to the screen and the enemies facing them down. It’s very reminiscent of the older Dragon Warrior or Phantasy Star games, but again, the zany enemy designs remind me of Earthbound. The overworld can be explored, although the game is fairly linear in this regard and you really can’t go far off the beaten path – there’s simply nothing there.
While the graphics are decidedly old school, the music is quite the opposite. From the title screen I was struck by how great the soundtrack is in this game. Throughout the game the music is fantastic and there are some truly great tracks where I just stopped what I was doing to listen to the tunes. In some ways this game reminds me of the early days of the Sega CD and TurboDuo where the games looked decidedly 16-bit, but the music was glorious. My only gripe here is that the music starts over from the beginning after every random battle – something I’d expect from red book audio on a CD, not a cartridge. Not surprisingly there’s no voice in this game, but honestly the writing is so good that it’s not missed.
At its heart, The Longest Five Minutes is just like any other JRPG with a group of kids getting together to go on a quest to save the world from demons. Many parts of this game will feel familiar to those who have been enjoying RPGs since the ‘80s. I give it major props for unique story delivery and entertaining NPC dialog. There are some odd things said from time to time, some of which could be considered sexist (hot springs will make your breasts grow bigger!), but overall I thought the story was well told and the game doesn’t overstay its welcome. Some people may balk at the $40 price tag, and I agree it is probably a bit overpriced for the length of the game. However, I can’t deny I had a great time playing it despite its overly easy difficulty. I recommend it to newcomers to the genre and those itching to play a JRPG that feels like it was meant to come out in the early ‘90s.
The Longest Five Minutes was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.