With a global release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the previously Japan-only Final Fantasy Type-0 is finally ready for the rest of the world. Type-0, which came out on the PlayStation Portable in 2011, seems like it's masquerading as an action-role-playing game for the current generation. But despite its age, it still has plenty of craft to offer.
The new console version, Type-0 HD, delivers a full-length game, complete with remastered graphics, a 14-character roster, and many signature sights and sounds from Final Fantasy's nearly 30-year history. Type-0 HD isn't the next chapter in the Final Fantasy universe, but it's a game that deserves more than a passing look.
Type-0 is set in the same world as all of the Final Fantasy XIII games, so veterans of the series will see Easter eggs and familiar terms, such as L'cie (divine humans), thrown around. (Each iteration of Final Fantasy — XII, XIII and so on — is essentially a reboot with new characters, stories and settings, and each spawns multiple games.) Because there's no direct connection to events from other games, newcomers won't need any prior knowledge of the series to enjoy Type-0.
The story begins with the Kingdom of Rubrum defending itself from the Militesi Empire, one of the three other nations of the land of Orience. One of Rubrum's academies is attacked, forcing Class Zero, an elite group of students, to protect the Vermillion Bird Crystal, a holy relic and the source of Class Zero's magical powers.
Each of the 14 characters in Class Zero has a unique personality and signature combat style, often taking inspiration from classic Final Fantasy archetypes. Nine — a brash, spear-wielding melee fighter — features dragoon-like moves, complete with jump attacks and well-timed taunts. You can choose any Class Zero student to play a starring role in your game, although certain characters, such as Rem and Machina, get more development than others.
As in most Final Fantasy games, there's more to the plot than a war of nations. There's a shady layer of backroom politics involving military leaders, the headmaster of the academy and the true source of Class Zero's power. This is thematically similar to 1999's Final Fantasy VIII, but if you want to get the full story, it's going to take at least 20 hours of gameplay and a lot of investigation.
Developer HexaDrive has packed a lot of game into Type-0. Battles are limited-time missions, with action-packed combat that's more like Dark Souls on fast-forward than the strategic turn-based battles of older Final Fantasy games. Your party usually consists of three members of Class Zero but can be supplemented by guest combatants from one of the "lesser" classes, with the ability to switch one of the two other party members on the fly. If a party member dies, you can also back them up with a reserve from the full roster of 14 characters.
Each character has an action mapped to a controller face button: a standard weapon attack, two slots for special attacks and spells, and a defensive move like Guard or Cure. With four levels of difficulty (Cadet, Officer, Agito and Finis) and basic attacks that automatically combine into multihit strings, it's possible to button-mash your way through much of the combat. But when you get into the groove, there's a really satisfying feel to landing a critical hit or an instant kill when a Sight Strike vulnerability marker appears.
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I just wish that I hadn't felt obligated to use ALL of the characters. Only the characters you use in battle gain experience, but during premission briefings, random characters may get a onetime bonus to their own combat statistics. If you prefer to use a small core team, you won't be able to take advantage of the bonus stats as often.
Between missions, you can gain additional experience by training, or walk around the academy talking to fellow students and guests, which sometimes sheds light on a character's backstory. Interactions can differ depending on the character you're controlling at the time, which can force you back to a save crystal to switch to someone else.
There are also random battles as you move from place to place on the world map, and even a simplified real-time-strategy game that has you commanding battalions as you try to claim territory. Early on, you get your own flock (herd?) of 20 chocobos, giant chicken/emu hybrids that you can breed, groom and ride around. Classic summonable deities (this time called Eidolons) such as Shiva, Ifrit and Odin also play an integral role in battle.
Type-0 is a really interesting mash-up of early Final Fantasy tropes with the involved action of recent Final Fantasy XIII games. Due to its many systems (action, RTS, social and chocobo breeding), it takes more than 4 hours of gameplay before you're really set free to explore the world. The player's point of view is pulled in too close, forcing you to constantly look for a better view. This is made even worse by motion blur that blinds you when the camera moves.
Square Enix has done an impressive job of updating the game for 2015, but there are a few places where you can see glimpses of its previous life on PSP. As the game starts, you're treated to a typical Final Fantasy opening, complete with swirling fires, sparkly orbs of power and a laser-spitting dragon god named Bahamut, reminding me of why I love this franchise. Square Enix can get a little too caught up in the majesty of its own creations, but it always goes full-out, resulting in mystical worlds and settings that other franchises don't dare to imagine.
Unfortunately, when you finally get to the game world, you see textures that are a little too flat, and buildings that are a little too square, reminding you that Type-0 began as a portable game. Square Enix gives Type-0 HD improved lighting while adding motion blur, although the latter can be heavy-handed and distracting. There are also improved particle effects for spells and melee attacks that let you see sparks fly in ways not possible on the PSP.
With Type-0 set around a school, the characters start with a similar look, sporting variations of Catholic school uniforms, albeit with added flair. The red accents on each student's uniform tie the characters together, but I could have done without the too-short capes that land somewhere between an overgrown ascot in reverse and child who's tied her favorite blanket around her neck. The school setting forces the designers to show restraint in terms of outfits, preventing the overabundance of buckles, belts and overly long trench coats we've seen so often in other Final Fantasy games.
Sound and Music
Type-0 plays calming, orchestral songs when you roam the open world, and energy-filled action pieces during battle, but they don't really stand out. I'm struggling to recall any new music that moved me the way "One Winged Angel" or "Eyes on Me" did in Final Fantasy games of old. My biggest excitement in Type-0 came when I heard rehashes of the classic FF victory music or chocobo theme, but I'm not going to give the game points for tugging nicely on nostalgia.
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Sound effects are sufficient but not outstanding. The clangs and clashes of weapons during battle, along with the hiss and crackle of magic, add depth to combat but fade quickly when you walk away from the game.
Some fans may find the hit-or-miss voice acting objectionable. The dialogue has been redone in English for the HD port, but some vocal pairings leave characters sounding confused and out of place. For me, Cater's voice was unusually grating and sounded exactly like the Moviefone guy, making it difficult to get immersed in the story.
Also, I can't remember if this is the first time moogles have had fully written lines, but hearing them say "Kupo!" with a flat English accent had me really longing for the short, cute chirps of the white, rabbitlike creatures I used to know and love. Admittedly, these are subjective critiques, so it's hard to really fault the game for it.
If you're looking for a dose of world-saving drama, grandiose settings and JRPG bullet points, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD may be exactly what you need. However, it's not the next core installment in the Final Fantasy franchise.
For that, you'll have to check out the demo for Final Fantasy XV, available exclusively as a pack-in with Type-0. That's the game that looks to redefine the franchise, and it has amazing graphics. But I digress.
Type-0 has more than 40 hours of sword-swinging, chocobo-riding and Eidolon-summoning fun, and it's a good way to get lost in a fantastical world that only a few developers care to — and have the skill to — make.