Bright lights. Memories flash. Who is this? When is this? Who am I? Nothing is certain. As the daze clears, ahead of you stands the Demon King. People are screaming something… “Flash”? Is that my name? “Use your special ability! Why are you just standing there?! Is it the Fog?” What is happening?
Sounds confusing, and it is meant to be! Nippon Ichi Software’s The Longest Five Minutes brings you in quick to a story that has already happened. Building off the back of the “amnesia” plot device so heavily inserted into JRPG’s and other Easter titles, The Longest Five Minutes explores a new way of story-telling: the game plays out almost entirely through flashbacks. The result is a satisfying entry-level RPG that adds enough nuance for dedicated fans of the genre to dive into.
The memories themselves tell the tale of Flash, the royal-designated Hero of Souvenir, who embarks on a journey to deliver a message with the help of his three childhood friends. Along the way, demons start wreaking havoc on the world as an evil fog rolls in. With rumors swirling that the Demon King is the cause, you and your companions travel the three continents searching for answers, helping out villagers, and clearing out the evil in the world.
But before I get ahead of myself, let’s sort out the basics. The Longest Five Minutes is a top-down, turn-based RPG with clear inspiration from games like Earthbound or Pokemon. The name of the game itself is the key to the story — the entire game’s timeline takes place within five minutes of the game’s opening scene, a feature you track with a clock that counts up from 0:00.
However, The Longest Five Minutes is least of all about the current five minute time — instead, it is a story of friendship, memory, and discovery. As dialogue clues and hints pop up in the present, the protagonist Flash Back (yes, that is really his name) explores his memories to discover the journey that brought him to his faceoff with the Demon King and the struggles along the way.
Now this amnesia plot device may sound like a gimmick, but it is probably the best feature of The Longest Five Minutes. Video game storytelling as a medium typically sticks with more conventional storytelling devices — players will see the beginning, middle, and end in sequence. Or, perhaps, players will start in the middle of a storyline and will find out about their past as they progress towards the end. There just isn’t too much experimentation, so it is deeply satisfying when a game (for instance, Braid) comes in and shakes up that formula.
In a way, The Longest Five Minutes feels like the Memento of indie games. While most of the past is linear and the story is very fluid in execution, the memories do jump through the timeline offering new questions and clarifications along the journey. My only real criticism of how the story is told is the storytelling technique isn’t leaned into enough. It would be more fun (and perhaps chaotic) if the plots of timeline were more scattered, lending the player to make guesses about the timeline throughout the story instead of seeing a natural progression.
The game itself is a run-of-the-mill RPG, checking most of the boxes across the way. Honest and charismatic protagonist? Check. Slightly-pervy comedic relief best friend? Check. Hot spring, peeping tom scene? Check. Even the combat options are limited to the standard “Attack, Magic, Item, Run, Guard” options without any sophisticated or nuanced mechanics. And that last statement isn’t a blow against The Longest Five Minutes, but instead an easy recommendation for people those looking to test the waters of the genre.
Visuals are very Game Boy Advance Pokémon-esque, which is to say simple, colorful, repetitive, and somewhat chibi. The music is nice and basic — nothing extravagant, especially compared with some of the musical masterpieces to come out in the past year, but fitting background music. In fact, players who didn’t know better may confuse it with a classic title.
Each memory plays out like a chapter, with some ranging from a few minutes to others taking a few hours. Overall there are 39 different memories. However, a fair amount of the chapters are entirely missable offering some bonus replay value. Within the memories, you may either be just passively experiencing a bit of dialogue or (more commonly) exploring the world, raiding dungeons, and leveling up your character.
Throughout the game, I was never really sure if the leveling progress I made during each chapter of The Longest Five Minutes carried over from memory to memory. Throughout each memory you are always leveling up by acquiring “re-experience points” (heh) from battles and the odd fetch quest. However, with each new memory, I often found myself carrying different items and holding much less gold than I had in my last memory. While I never found it to be a problem — difficulty ramped up nicely, if not a bit too easy — I couldn’t tell if my occasional grinding was for naught.
Speaking to those fetch quests, most memories will have additional tasks that Flash and company can take part in. This may be as simple as talking to people in town, tracking down runaway prisoners, and turning hay into gold. One thing that is pretty consistent about all of these: they are all uninteresting. Of course, not all of them are as rage-inducing as hitting five “7s” in a row on a slot machine — a task that took me about 30 minutes with a metronome to beat.
While the ending did come up with a satisfying conclusion, the characters and the story do ride the cusp of overstaying their welcome. While I loved my time in the world, I had wrapped up my time with everything by the end of it and didn’t feel a need to go back.
While I haven’t tried the game on PC, I can without any hesitation say that the Nintendo Switch is the best place to play this game. The Longest Five Minutes unequivocally feels like a title made for a handheld console, and when played on larger screens feels odd — likely due to the simplistic art assets.
There are other features that I felt like should have found their way to the title. For instance, a New Game+ mode that would let you skip whole memories to track down the ones you haven’t experience yet. Or, perhaps, a mode that would allow you to play the game in timeline order once completed so you can see the whole game in a more traditional light. While not including these things isn’t a significant problem, doing so may have elevated the experience. And at $39.99, I fear the 10-12 hours spent playing it may be worth the price tag for most.
The Longest Five Minutes is almost the standard definition of an RPG, brought to life with one of the most exciting storytelling techniques for any Switch game. It’s a good entry point for those looking to try out NIS America games or RPGs, and interesting enough to keep the attention of more hardcore fans. But without leaning too heavily into the novel flashback dynamic, The Longest Five Minutes doesn’t bring much more to the RPG table.