The Longest Five Minutes review: World enough and time

Credit: NIS America
Credit: NIS America /

The Longest Five Minutes uses its unique structure to emphasize particular emotional beats in a familiar story while encouraging the player to experiment with choice.

Developer: Nippon Ichi Software, SYUPRO-DX
Publisher: NIS America
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Version reviewed), PC, PS Vita
Release Date: February 13, 2018

Novelists love frame stories, but we see them only rarely in video games. Very few play with chronology at all, probably since messing around with the order of events affects things like levels and systems and inventories, things that are especially pertinent in RPGs. But now that nostalgia trips alone aren’t enough to get players hooked on such adventures, small-scale games like The Longest Five Minutes are freer to experiment with its structure to catch our interest. That’s why I’ve been eyeing this game for months, and I’m thankful it turned out to be a clever narrative playground rather than a gimmick.

The Longest Five Minutes takes place over five (thankfully not real-time) minutes as the aptly named hero, Flash Back, and his three allies face down the Demon King. The Demon King is the “final boss” of a fantasy RPG adventure that the four have presumably reached the end of, but right as they begin the fight, Flash suddenly and inexplicably loses all his memories. Unable to recall who he is, who his friends are, or any of his abilities, his friends must buy enough time for Flash to recover his memories and rejoin the fight.

longest five minutes
Credit: NIS America /

The gameplay swaps back and forth between the present, where Flash and his friends fight the Demon King, and Flash’s memories as he regains them. These memories are not always regained in chronological order and are triggered by things happening in the fight in present time. By making certain dialogue choices during the Demon King fight, Flash may unlock one memory over another. Likewise, certain actions in his memories will trigger different options in the fight itself.

If you just play straight through the game, you won’t see all of Flash’s memories. However, a convenient and quick menu option allows you to jump into any of Flash’s memories you’ve already finished and revisit different segments of the Demon King’s fight based on timestamps. You can remake choices you’re not happy with, and unlock everything you missed. Just in case, you know, having all of Flash’s memories turns out to be important or something.

This menu (accessible in either memories or in the Demon King fight, any time you have control of your character) is one of the best things about the game. Whether you want to use it to rewrite history on the fly, redo memories for better outcomes, or unlock everything you missed at the end, there’s just nothing quite like the convenience of jumping directly to a choice, making it, and then watching the result without having to sit through minutes or hours of unrelated anything.

longest five minutes
Credit: NIS America /

For the most part, the game lands its jokes and even gets in a few at the expense of the classic RPGs its plot tries to simultaneously mimic and up-end.

The ability to quickly revisit essentially any major point of the game felt great, especially in a game that begs you to complete it fully. In the RPG memory segments, you’ll often be given extra sidequest objectives, so it’s convenient to return quickly and complete ones I had missed. These objectives, along with battles and finishing major objectives offer Flash and his team “re-experience points” and level them up. In a strange, yet impactful twist on the system, you don’t get to experience the benefit of these levels until the very end. Your strength for the Demon King fight is determined by how much of a completionist you want to be in the rest of the game.

For the memories themselves, your party will be placed at a set level, skillset, and equipment load-out. Though you can purchase items and equipment and find things in chests to use during the segment you’re in, they often don’t carry over into later sections. While it’s a clever idea to dismiss missing treasure with, “you probably just sold it and forgot,” in practice, this whole system makes the combat suck. The encounter rate is high, and (with the final fight as the one exception) you’re always overpowered.

longest five minutes
Credit: NIS America /

Like the sprites and sparse environments, perhaps this simplistic turn-based system is meant to evoke nostalgia. But this is one dated system I’m willing to leave in the past. And since The Longest Five Minutes is reminiscent of old-school RPGs with twisting, mostly puzzle-less maze dungeons, you’ll spend way too much time wandering around lost and mashing “A” to attack your way through fights. That’s a dang shame since there are enough cool skills and a diverse enough set of playable characters to show potential for challenging, enjoyable battles. But even the boss fights were lousy, and after a certain point, I lost any motivation to go out of my way to get extra treasure chests. Mash A, Mash A, and try not to get lost in the sand maze.

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But as much as I hated the dungeon sections, The Longest Five Minutes kept me on the hook. The spirited writing and unusual structure, kept things short but sweet while still offering a sizable handful of twists and plot branches to revisit along the way. And it’s all heavily peppered with themes of friendship, love, and plenty of good humor. There were a few cringe-worthy moments surrounding the party’s women (including a trope-ish bathhouse scene). But for the most part, the game lands its jokes and even gets in a few at the expense of the classic RPGs its plot tries to simultaneously mimic and up-end. There are a few surprises, if nothing too daring, and the general light-hearted mood throughout nicely compliments the game’s darling sprite animations.

longest five minutes
Credit: NIS America /

The Longest Five Minutes is also carried by its gorgeous soundtrack full of fabulous piano lines and gentler, subtler dungeon themes that help perk up the old-school-plain environments. There are several critical plot moments that are punctuated perfectly by a well-timed music change. Even some of the more stereotypical RPG beats that The Longest Five Minutes treads gain a new energy from the game’s tunes. I’ll definitely be looking for the soundtrack once the game launches.

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When I first encountered this game at E3 2017, I was only able to listen to NIS America tell me about the premise and see a bit of Japanese gameplay. That premise was what kept my eyes on this game until now, and Nippon Ichi delivers in the execution of that aspect. I wish they had rethought the way combat, equipment, and skill level worked together to keep some of the memories from dragging the game’s pacing into the mud for ten maps. But I don’t mind letting my own memories of that exasperation fade while my enjoyment of the adventure lingers. And I think anyone looking for an uplifting, easygoing, portable, and brief RPG will find that holds true.

8. <em>The Longest Five Minutes</em> embraces bits of the best and worst of old-school RPG nostalgia at times, then kicks them all to the curb with its own twist. RPG fans will find it worth playing for the superb music, adorable sprites, and the enjoyably unusual structure of the tale as a whole.. Nippon Ichi. . The Longest Five Minutes

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.