The Longest Five Minutes has one of the most interesting concepts we’ve seen from an RPG in some time. Starting immediately at the final boss battle, the game’s almost cringefully named protagonist ‘Flash Back’ has no memory of why he is suddenly fighting the Demon King, or even who any of his friends and allies are. During this battle Flash Back has lots of - well, flash backs - which play out as small chapters leading you up to this final moment.
Essentially, this boss battle is made up entirely of dialogue; there's a timer in the corner indicating how long the fight has been going on in the present, and you’ll occasionally make key decisions that affect how your memories will play back to you. Certain moments in the battle or specific words that are said will trigger one of these memories, sending you back in time to play through a chapter of RPG action. You’ll be going back and forth from the present to past, learning all about how and why your heroes are in this fight to the death.
The RPG side of the game is actually very light. Each chapter has you playing through random parts of the story, not necessarily in the order in which they happened, and this creates a strange situation where you don’t really need to focus on the usual aspects of games of the genre. There is very little need to spend too much attention on levelling up your party or collecting every last item as you’ll soon be playing an entirely new chapter where your characters might be much more advanced, or weaker, than they are currently.
Instead, each chapter is all about ticking off objectives – usually one that is essential, and two that are optional, to progress the story. Objectives usually task you with the sort of things you might expect such as fulfilling side quests for NPCs, travelling to new destinations via the world map, and combat. Most chapters will lead up to a dungeon that plays out over several floors; you’ll need to make your way to the end, taking on enemies that spawn and fight in a very similar way to games in the Pokémon series, until you reach, and essentially defeat, the dungeon’s boss.
Just like before, the combat within these dungeons (which can also sometimes take place when travelling between key locations) is a very watered down affair when compared to your usual RPG. You play with a typical party of four that each have their own specialist areas such as physical combat, magical combat, and healing, but for the first half of the game you’ll get by without using the majority of these skills at all. You’ll likely be able to clear most battles by simply using each member’s most standard attack, and there is a mechanic available that lets you heal your entire party whenever you like outside of battle for a very small mana cost.
Things do start to get a little tougher towards the end, but if you experiment with your party’s different abilities, you’ll likely be absolutely fine. This easier approach might sound slightly disappointing on paper but it actually suits the style of the game really well; this isn’t your typical, hardcore, life-consuming RPG, but instead is perhaps best appreciated when played in short bursts and looked at as a story-telling adventure with some easily accessible RPG-style gameplay at its centre.
There are actually only a couple of places in which the game falls a little short. Firstly, the narrative can sometimes take strange and unnecessary directions; the more you engage in conversation with the locals, the more you’ll get from the game (and add on to the already 10+ hour campaign), but having an entire chapter that revolves around men ‘peeping’ on women in baths seems completely out of place.
Secondly, the lack of challenge from the game’s combat system effectively makes your in-game currency, and the weapon shops, resting inns, and supply stores, almost entirely useless. We never once bought any additional equipment for battle during our entire run-through – you’d only end up losing your items when you get sent off to the next chapter anyway.
Back to more positive aspects of the game, though, it is also worth mentioning the inclusion of the three optional mini-games. Often used to fill an objective task in various chapters, these mini-games offer a very welcome break from the dramatic storyline and are actually great fun in their own right. A particular highlight was Haunted Run, a simple auto-runner that has you jumping over ghosts and collecting coins. These games offer more of a challenge than the main quest and you are free to play them for as long as you like while in a relevant chapter.
All in all, this is a game that puts a heavy focus on its storytelling and, if you allow yourself to completely dive in to this and fully explore the world around you, you’ll likely enjoy the adventure. There are plot twists with multiple potential story arcs, a lovable cast of characters (apart from possibly Regent who we could happily fire from a cannon), and the whole aesthetic of the game is to die for. The visuals suit the vibe perfectly with artwork that will drench you in nostalgic wonder, and there are two or three musical themes playing throughout that are so beautiful we almost ended up sharing poetic love songs around the office.
The Longest Five Minutes uses a truly gripping concept, throwing the classic RPG formula on its head by having you put the pieces of an already existing story together as you go. While the combat and general gameplay are almost too easy-going, the story, characters, and overall aesthetic had us always wanting more, never wanting to put the game down. The asking price is perhaps a little steep for the amount of content available, and the strange take on a usually well-understood genre may throw some players off, but there is an indescribable charm that is worth exploring here.