I’ve been looking forward to Final Fantasy Type-0 for many years now. In fact, I even named the HD release as my most anticipated game of 2015 – which I know is an unusual choice given the exciting line-up for this year. You see, I admittedly have an almost unconditional love for Final Fantasy. It’s not that I can’t recognise the instalments which fall short, but, because I always endure, I find myself appreciating the many unique, albeit flawed, ideas within each. As a reviewer who plays a lot of different games, I notice myself struggling to be excited about those which are considered “most anticipated.” In many cases, I find these titles just repackage the same ideas with only minor variations to a set of established mechanics. I absolutely love it when developers dare to be different; so if I can say just one thing about Type-0 prior, it’s that its very different (even for Final Fantasy), and that’s something I immediately appreciated about it.
Final Fantasy Type-0 takes place in a world called Orience, which is divided among four nations: also referred to as “Crystal States.” Essentially, each nation has their own crystal, which is also the source of their power and cultural identity. Basically, the overarching narrative opens with Millites, a nation granted with the power of science and weapons, launching an all-out invasion against Rubrum, a people renowned for their magical prowess. While at first both sides appear equally matched, the Militesi Army quickly turns the tide using a jammer which negates all magic. It is at this point you learn that this is not your typical Final Fantasy: it’s an immediate blood bath, with even the mighty Eidolon, Bahamut being shot dead in the opening minutes. It’s a very powerful scene, and where our protagonists step into the fray: an elite group of cadets called “Class Zero” who are mysteriously unaffected by the anti-magic tech.
Before going any further, it’s important to know that, while not directly related, Type-0 does share the same mythology as the XIII trilogy. And like that series, you should also come prepared with an encyclopaedia to fully comprehend all of the fictional pronouns used throughout the dialogue. Unlike XIII, however, the narrative is not entirely convoluted nonsense. It’s true that the “fantasy” components will often leave you scratching your head as the game consistently assumes you understand things which are not clearly explained – though, it’s really of no consequence. You see, at its heart, Type-0 is actually one of the most grounded titles in the series, as well as being the most genuine “Final Fantasy” in years. Simple ideas such as fire actually burning is a great example of the dark twists put on existing conventions. But what really provoked me was the haunting revelation that once someone dies in Orience, all memory of that person is erased from the living. To me, this one theme single-handedly justified enduring every shortcoming.
In saying that, you can really tell that this was originally meant to be a portable game because almost every scene is choppy and flows poorly. What’s incredible, though, is that this broken exposition actually works. While some JRGs can come across as unintentionally melodramatic, Type-0 intentionally embraces anime stereotypes with Class Zero, and it works surprisingly well. Not only is it very easy to learn who is who, but their exuberant personalities seem to really suit the frequent, seemingly disjointed narrative scenarios that you’ll experience during the game. I have to admit I had higher hopes for the plot of the war itself; though, the battles within deliver epic spectacles that fans are sure to appreciate. Where the story shines best is with the people who inhabit the world: a reality where your life is determined by the will of a crystal and dying means being forgotten. If you can accept the “mythological” components for what they are, and instead focus on the smaller qualities of the narrative, you’ll find that Orience is a world worth exploring.
What I personally found most intriguing about Final Fantasy Type-0 is how it manages to be so radical in its approach as a whole, and yet so true to the fundamentals of the franchise. Fans will be excited to know that there is a massive overworld to explore, as well as an airship which you can unlock; the first time it’s been done this way since FFX. Furthermore, you can expect to see Moogles, Chocobos, Eidolons, and all the other recurring elements that define a Final Fantasy game. The big difference this time, however, is the way the game is structured. If you recall how the SeeD missions worked in FFVIII, Type-0 takes that idea one step further and practically makes an entire game out of it. Basically, the game progresses through primary missions, but a limited amount of time is also provided between each, which can be used to talk to other characters, explore the overworld, train your characters and complete side-quests.
The first thing you should know about the way the game plays is that time is a consumable, and not something that counts down in real-time. Essentially, players are given several days to get into shape or to do what they want to do before embarking on the next mission. Talking with people is critical to experiencing the complete story, but taking on side-quests will provide you with experience and unique rewards. You definitely need to make the most of your time, but it’s also vital to know that you can’t do everything on a single playthrough. In fact, Type-0 has been intentionally designed to be played through multiple times. Everything about this formula is perfect for a portable game because it’s easy to pick up in short bursts and is packed full of replayability. However, the keyword in that statement is “portable.”
It’s not that I believe this game doesn’t belong on consoles, but I do feel it’s important to highlight that it was originally intended to be played in a different manner than your typical console-style JRPG. As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed playing through the main game, but, by the halfway point, I was beginning to feel very restricted when stuck between main missions. Don’t get me wrong, I was totally fine with taking a break to talk with people and re-asses my arsenal. What I didn’t enjoy was being forced to grind before I could continue. On a portable, all the small cookie-cutter quests fit perfectly for a pickup and put down game; the combat alone is enough to make that fun. However, when sitting down for the long run, I hated being pulled from the action and forced to retread the same ground over and over in order to find the best places to level up. When you can only accept one side-quest at a time, it grows tedious quickly.
By far, the combat system in Type-0 is the best ARPG system Square Enix has ever created; in fact, it gives me great hope for the potential of FFXV. To explain how it works, combat takes place in real-time: either seamlessly when on a mission or within a separate arena while exploring the world map. Much like Lightning Returns, all your actions are tied to buttons on the controller, but there are also timing conditions to consider called “kill strikes.” Having a party of 14 to work with is what really makes this game exciting though, as every character is totally unique in the weapons they can equip as well as the way that they play. In battle, you will still only control three team members at a time, but the rest of Class Zero sits in reserve should any of your main party fall. The thing is, you can’t just rely on three people, however, because only two active abilities can be equipped at any one time. This means that regularly changing up your party is essential, but, as a result, combat will never grow tedious as you’re always learning and mastering different play styles.
When it comes to the core gameplay of Type-0, there are so many interesting little ideas that I feel make this game stand out from other JRPGs. For example, magic has been simplified to five categories: fire, ice, lightning, defence and unique. Essentially, how this works is that, during combat, you collect “phantomas” from downed enemies which are used for upgrades. Another I really enjoyed was the “SO” system, which are special orders you can accept during a mission for bonuses; though, you put the life of your active party leader at risk should you fail. There are even real-time-strategy missions that you play out from the overworld; which I thought added a unique touch, even if they were a little simplistic overall. I could keep going, but that’s kind of the point I want to make: all these little ideas combined make Type-0 a very interesting game to play. Unfortunately, the multiplayer component didn’t fully make it across from the PSP version, but you can still opt to have special AI team members jump into your party while on missions to help.
I have to admit, when comparing footage between the HD version and the original game side-by-side, you can’t help but respect the effort that’s gone in. For many visual elements, such as the main cast, Square Enix have gone above and beyond what they likely could have got away with. The problem, however, is that as a whole, the visuals of the game are so terribly inconsistent to a point where it’s actually distracting. In some conversations, it looks as if your party has travelled back in time to an earlier era of gaming where mouths still flapped about like ventriloquist dummies. Similarly, the cadets often looked better in-game than during the CGI cutscenes which I found disconcerting. Don’t get me wrong, everything is better, so I still want to commend Square for trying to go an extra mile, but it also outlines the importance of being consistent. Although, weirdly enough, one thing from the PSP version which received no attention was the camera. It’s absolutely terrible on the big screen, and can even cause nausea. It takes a lot of getting used to.
There is actually quite a lot that I liked about the original art style and approach; though, it very clearly suffered from the limitations of being a PSP game. For example, the world itself does not have a lot of variety for the majority of the game. Towns often look identical depending on which region you’re in, and the overworld itself isn’t especially exciting to look at. On the other hand, despite being radically different, and a whole lot more bloody, you always know that you’re in a Final Fantasy game. After so many instalments, you’d think it’d be hard to excite a long-time fan, but the designers so expertly capture our nostalgia while taking the existing staples of the franchise in new and interesting directions. The music, for example, includes just enough familiar tunes, while adding a lot of original tracks that are genuinely stellar. Orience is simply a world that I enjoyed being a part of, so if the hints at a potential sequel are for real, then consider me very keen to see how this universe could be realised when given a grander vision to work with.
Final Fantasy Type-0 is a game which I had high hopes for; and while it ultimately fell short of my expectations, I still very much enjoyed my time with it. Like most recent entries in the series, it’s yet another mixed bag when it comes to almost all of its components; well, with the exception of the gameplay. This is arguably one of the best JRPG systems to date. The funny thing is, what I liked most about it were qualities I wasn’t actually expecting to appreciate. After so much advertising pushing the fact this was a meant to be different type of Final Fantasy, I was also shocked by how genuine it is to the spirit of the series. As a HD remaster, it’s a solid effort with some noticeable inconsistencies. But the biggest problem with Type-0, apart from the convoluted traits it shares with XIII, is simply the fact it’s better suited as a portable game. It’s not quite the revolution the series needs, but it’s undeniably another step in the right direction.
EDITOR NOTE: this game was supplied to us via the publisher, and reviewed on PS4 across 35+ hours of gameplay.