By Anthony L. Cuaycong
FROM THE OUTSET, The Longest Five Minutes presents anything and everything unlike most other Japanese role-playing games (JRPG) on the Nintendo Switch. It makes no pretensions about what makes it tick. Boasting of pixel-art visuals and matching retro-feel audio that will have you recalling the glory days of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, it aims to provide the genre with an alternative to the graphically intensive titles that have thus far populated the hybrid system. It also highlights a unique narrative style; you are Flash Back, head of a party of four, and you start at the end, ready to take on the final boss, only to suffer from amnesia resulting from a hit during battle. You are then compelled to piece together your memory through — what else? — flashbacks, with what you get to remember incrementally allowing you and your band to stay alive and thereby defeat the Demon Lord.
And that’s not all. To truly separate The Longest Five Minutes from other similarly themed releases on the Switch, Nippon Ichi Software and SYUPRO-DX have tweaked the gameplay itself. You partake of JRPG elements as you go about reliving the events leading up to the final battle, but you find yourself relieved of the usual requirements to move the story forward. Because your recollections — and, therefore, in-game experiences — aren’t linear, you don’t have to grind or level up and strengthen yourself and your mates for the ultimate task. You don’t even need to collect items or equipment you feel may help you in your journey. Rather, each flashback represents a chapter in the story where you need to meet objectives and, along the way, earn “Re-experience” points which, in turn, arm your party with new skills and advanced spells.
In this regard, success in The Longest Five Minutes lies in the journey, not the destination. Random battles abound, but they present little to no challenge and seemingly occur just to inform you of the tools you have for that particular chapter en route to the dungeon boss fight. True, the division of labor within the party is not uncommon; one is charged with healing, another with physical attacks, another with magic, and so on. Still, most encounters are bereft of tension; unless the enemies outnumber you and until you’re in front of the bosses, you won’t need to go beyond the standard stuff. Heck, you could even go into auto-battle mode and not worry about the possibility of defeat. Add to this such modern-day conveniences as instant saves and inexpensive out-of-battle healing, and your journey to the Demon King is all but assured. Then again, you did begin from the end, so survival shouldn’t really be a point to ponder at all.
Nonetheless, The Longest Five Minutes earns every penny of its $40 price tag with its engrossing story line, surprising capacity for humor, fleshed-out characters, and polished execution. From the art to the music to the dialogue to the gameplay, long-time gamers are treated to a product that is singularly driven by a desire to recall a time when simplicity ruled, when eye candy didn’t necessarily mean cutting-edge resolutions, when worth wasn’t equated with man-hours spent buffing up characters and scavenging for every last item available. It’s perfect for the mobile you, nowhere near so rote as to lull you into ennui, nowhere near so complicated as to make you forget you’re whiling the time away between meetings or waiting for the doctor outside his office, and nowhere near so flippant as to make it inconsequential.
Admittedly, The Longest Five Minutes isn’t for everybody. Those who pine for something akin to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 would do well to look elsewhere and pick up, well, Xenoblade Chronicles 2. NIS America’s latest release isn’t designed to keep you involved for 200 or so hours; in fact, 20 hours may well be deemed on the long side. That said, the relative brevity isn’t a mistake; rather, it’s an offshoot of the developers’ vision and the tightness with which they bring it to fruition. No second is wasted, and every minute brings about an aspect to be savored. In a library full of Samuel Richardsons, it’s a Robert Frost that reminds you of the finest of what was — and the best of what is — just as well.