NIS America’s latest, The Longest 5 Minutes, is a peculiar little game. It certainly looks like a JRPG, with its classic pixel-art trappings and all sorts of turn-based monster battles and shopkeepers. It doesn’t really play like one, though. Yes, you’re walking around and getting into fights and talking to NPCs as you’d usually expect, but the dynamic is much more like a narrative adventure than its supposed peers.
Here’s the premise: you’re a JRPG hero in a final battle with the boss, but amnesia is striking you way later than we’re used to with games like these. You have to remember all the things you did by playing through them and gaining “re-experience” to beat the Demon King. Meanwhile, your friends and party-mates are doing their best to cover for your sudden ineptitude, and you’ve got — you guessed it, five minutes — before it’s all over.
It’s supposed to be a novel structure for otherwise-pedestrian gameplay. And it is, if you use the other meaning of novel. See, The Longest 5 Minutes is all about listening to your friends, performing simple fetch quests for NPCs and quickly breezing through episodes of an epic quest. Battles are rarely too hard for the simple auto-battle function, and the worlds aren’t exactly full of life and wonder. You’re there to hear a few one-liners, keep walking around until you see someone with an exclamation point above their head and then do what they ask.
There are a few side distractions and references to works in NIS’ past, but generally The Longest 5 Minutes is a barebones tale. And technically, it’s a bit of a mess. The resolution feels off, the game crashes regularly and the interfaces make you hit buttons too many times to accomplish basic tasks. But its approach to rapid character development through its choices in the “final battle” portions is an interesting one. It’s more of a test of your reading comprehension, a setup to make sure you’ve learned what’s important and what your friends can and can’t do.
Don’t expect a serious narrative, certainly. Your character’s name is, um, Flash Back, and your adventures include all the anime tropes SYUPRO-DX and NIS could fit without any sort of new take or subversion of expectations. So its appeal lies in its comfortable setting and commitment to tradition.
The Longest 5 Minutes releases February 13 on Switch, Vita and PC.