Amnesia-induced protagonists and main characters alike are nothing new in the world of entertainment, be it video games or otherwise. Some will argue the trope has been done to death, some less so, but needless to say it’s a readily-available plot device should the need for slowly building up a plot be required. But losing one’s memory at the cusp of some grand adventure, just as you’re face-to-face with the would-be final boss? While the idea of starting players literally at the climax and working the way backwards is nothing new, a lot of the promise and potential in The Longest Five Minutes lies in how well it may have worked with the concept of memories. Forgetting particular skills; losing important thoughts on certain characters; remembering crucial details to a specific location.
No doubt this premise is somewhat intriguing and one that players will be continually pondering over again and again as they make their way across the NES-inspired (NES-restricted) overworld and its rigidly-minimal locales. Still hoping above all other hope that even after [figuratively] crawling through another painstakingly-simplistic dungeon, things will improve or simply offer up something that can’t be shooed away in a matter of minutes. Because for all the potential at play and all the ways developer SYUPRO-DX could have worked around the consequential nature of memories — be it in gameplay or narrative alike — The Longest Five Minutes‘ appeal quickly runs out of steam. Turning disappointingly thereafter into nothing more than yet another conveyor belt, run-of-the-mill JRPG that even its blatant appeasing to nostalgia can’t salvage.
One of the biggest problems that punctuates The Longest Five Minutes is how little it appreciates the events that unfold across the six-to-seven hour play-through. And for a scenario such as four friends heading off on a island-trotting quest to defeat the Demon King and rid the world of an usurping anomaly referred to simply as “the Fog,” The Longest Five Minutes makes proceedings feel both light-weight and unimportant. There’s little sense of weight on the events that main protagonist Flash — or Flash Back to give him his full name (and of course you see what they did there) — and his crew go through, be it directly or indirectly and where the belief that a sudden twist — if not in anyway surprising to the player — will be expanded upon or lead down more interesting avenues, is quickly wrapped up and/or disposed of like some orderly row of ducks the developer is making sure to line up.
There’s a peculiar kind of safety and “doing things by the numbers” mentality to a lot of The Longest Five Minutes‘ gameplay, but even the standard structure of random encounters in the overworld, the obligatory dungeons to complete amidst or the black-and-white dialogue boxes — you’ll no doubt be hammering buttons at just to get through — that hearken back to JRPG’s of old, do little to mitigate moments that feel tacked on for the pure sake of padding time. Case in point: the combat itself which nine times out of ten can be accomplished to simply spamming the attack button until victory is accomplished. Sure, as you would expect, there are other abilities aside from attacking: there’s magic, there’s the option of using an item, guarding, assisting, even running away should the [easy] encounters be too much for you. But while the options are plentiful, it all feels pointless when the majority of enemies — and even some end-of-dungeon bosses — can be beaten by a rampant mashing of one solitary button. Encounters over in a matter of literal seconds — the random nature coming off less like a testing of one’s abilities and more just simple wasting of one’s time.
Of course some battles late on in the game, thankfully, require a strategic use of physical and magical abilities — as well as using your trustee healer at the right moments — but these genuine moments of role-playing tactics are few and far between. Battles will of course net you XP and on occasion an item or two, but again, even the most standard of RPG systems is mitigated by The Longest Five Minutes‘ attempt at shaking up the formula. Unfortunately, this is limited via the way it tells its story; where the game will hop back-and-forth between the present — wherein a clock indicates how many seconds have passed during the crucial final battle, playing out almost like a visual novel with little player-engagement outside of a few dialogue choices — and Flash’s memories whereupon character levels are automatically assigned. Not only that, but the amount of money you carry is reset and while it’s understandable this might have been an incentive to convince players to use it all in the next locale that memory’s chapter contains, players rarely have enough to upgrade their weapons and clothing outside of maybe one or two garments.
Locales themselves, much like the interface, are standard with the odd building or two dotted almost at random amid spacious surroundings that scream in desperation for more to be happening. Said locales too being the source of the more minor frustrations such as the restrictive, two-axis controls (with no means of moving diagonally or freely outside of a helpful sprint button) and slightly-delayed input, meaning you’ll more than likely clamber needlessly for position just to do something as basic as opening a door or newly-discovered treasure chest.
The Longest Five Minutes isn’t without its momentary charm or the genuine desire to complete as many of the optional objectives so as to have a better chance at fighting the final boss once all memories of the main character have been restored. Where each chapter/memory is set with a particular number of small quests to complete, fulfilling these will net you with additional “reexperience” points and at the very least encourages players to do a bit of secondary exploring rather than heading directly to the clearly-marked dungeon or story-dictated location. And at the very least, for all its mediocre showings in the gameplay — and how ridiculously easy it is to mow down enemies in seconds — The Longest Five Minutes‘ soundtrack is perhaps its strongest point, featuring an endearing score of mostly piano melodies that play well into the scenarios that unfold and the emotions underpinning them. Particularly during a quest in a casino-themed town whereupon the usual piano is replaced with near-bombastic brass instrumentation and admittedly, moments like this do bring a considerable and much-needed sense of personality to a game sorely lacking in it.
Unfortunately for all the minor smiles and well-orchestrated music that accompanies one’s travels, The Longest Five Minutes feels mostly like a sterile assembly of classic JRPG’s least-appealing necessities. Its premise of losing one’s memory and the relation that has between past and present occurrences could have been an interesting twist on RPG mechanics to uncover, but it ends up being little more than a stale alternative to what is a rather unaltered series of common JRPG affairs. The Longest Five Minutes heralds some pleasantries and quirky moments of respite at points, but with a near-offensively easy combat system, brief dungeons and a lacking overworld to trudge through, competently made it may be, The Longest Five Minutes sadly ends taking up a much shorter breadth of your attention.