Is this former PSP game another shallow HD cash-in? Or a hint of greater things to come?
Final Fantasy Type-0 began life as a Japan-only PSP game set in the Final Fantasy XIII canon. Eventually the project span out into its own identity, yet still carrying remnants of the Final Fantasy XIII mythos.
FF Type-0 was well received in Japan, selling almost 80% of its shipments in the first week. Famed Japanese gaming outlet Famitsu gave Type-0 39/40, praising the story and gameplay but, Famitsu also gave Final Fantasy XIII 39/40, a game that I unashamedly loathe. Will I loathe Final Fantasy Type-0 in kind?
I haven't seen Final Fantasy as anything but a shell of its former glory for the past decade or so. Final Fantasy XI has left emotional scars on my gamer soul that not even a Mega Elixir can cure. Also, the linearity of Final Fantasy XIII made me wonder if a more open-world gameplay would be forever confined to Square Enix's lacklustre attempts to take a slice of Warcraft's MMO pie. SE themselves acknowledged that Final Fantasy XIV's troubled launch had 'greatly damaged' the Final Fantasy brand. They have since ploughed behemoth amounts of cash into repairing what has now become a half-decent, but, still lacking MMO.
So yes, I was feeling a tad negative going into this review...
Pleasantly surprised: right from the first scene, Final Fantasy Type-0 is engaging
Final Fantasy Type-0 is without a doubt the darkest Final Fantasy since FF7 and its chest-impaling plot. The opening cutscene sets the story in motion, painting a world beset by conflict. Originally, there were four nation-states, each with its own elemental crystal (standard Final Fantasy fare), with one state having been literally wiped off the map as a result of an Ultima Bomb. The Nova Crystallis mythos from Final Fantasy XIII returns, as each nation state's crystal produces super-human l'Cie, who live endless lives until they fulfil a specific role.
The Dominion of Rubrum is under siege from the Militesi Empire, who have violated a binding treaty against using l'Cie in war. The Militesi Empire wields magitek armour that calls back to Final Fantasy 6 while the Dominion is keen on magic and summoning Eidolons, a naming convention reminiscent of Final Fantasy 9.
From the first moments, I found a lot to love about the game. The cutscenes are shot with a grainy film filter, giving it a WW2 motif. The music and narration play out like propaganda videos from the 1930s and 40s and creates a vivid sense of authenticity despite the up-scaled PSP texturing. Final Fantasy Type-0's developers seem keen to present war with a more convincing aesthetic when compared to other FFs, not shying away from showing bloodied combatants. This violence includes a disturbingly harsh opening scene depicting a bullet-strewn Chocobo in its death throes. The aesthetic is maintained throughout the game, and seeing Final Fantasy staples like Odin and Bahamut depicted as weapons of mass destruction in a more contemporary setting is nothing short of breath-taking. There's one scene in particular featuring the living fortress Alexander, which left me jaw dropped. I shan't spoil it but it was almost worth playing the game for dozens of hours just to see that cutscene alone.
There are some hammy plot points, pretentious and vague exposition, annoying anime clichés and some seriously terrible English voice acting, but the same could probably be said about any Final Fantasy. Fans of anime, JRPGs and Final Fantasy, in general, will find themselves right at home. They will be immediately immersed in the world of Orience, which commands its presence in the Final Fantasy pantheon with confidence and individuality.
"HD" is very much a technicality
Final Fantasy Type-0 will not win any awards for graphics. While it's not unexpected that a PSP port would have dated visuals, I'd expect a little more from a full priced "HD" title. The Master Chief Collection was not only comprised of 4 games, but also featured a completely re-worked multiplayer, completely re-mastered Halo 2 and was cheaper than Final Fantasy Type-0 at launch. The pricing reflects the brand power of Final Fantasy only, suffixing "HD" rings hollow.
If you can overlook the fact the graphics are dated (which isn't too hard thanks to Hexadrive's very liberal use of depth of field and motion blurring), there's a lot to be praised about the art direction itself. Gone are the inexplicably uncoordinated fashion disasters of Final Fantasy XIII and FF X. Final Fantasy Type-0 goes for a much more measured, almost sombre design, which matches the tone of the universe it's trying to portray.
Disregarding the past gen texturing, the special effects and designs for spells, abilities and Eidolons are top notch. They create impactful impressions that compliment the fast paced real time combat (more on that in a minute).
If you can overlook the fact the graphics are dated, there's a lot to be praised about the art direction
What suffers most when it comes to presentation, is the jarring split between the playable characters texturing and the environment around you. As is the case with many games, the playable characters enjoy a far more detailed look than the world around them, FF Type-0 takes this convention to new extremes. The main characters have all been given an HD re-skin, but many other NPCs, monsters and environments haven't, creating a strange disconnect. If Hexadrive had time to make sure the game's frequent panty-shots received an HD make over, they could've spent a little more time on the environment, enemies, and the lesser important, but frequently present NPCs.
Naturally, the audio suffers the least in the port, which is equal parts glorious and nostalgic. Composer Takeharu Ishimoto does an incredible job creating new music that evokes aural memories from the tones of Nobou Uematsu while giving Type-0 a distinctive style.
While I would have liked to have seen a little more effort when it came to texturing, the gritty and enticing art style would make it easy to overlook had this game not been full priced. Perhaps the gameplay justifies the price tag?
Staying faithful, while trying something fresh
The best Final Fantasy games all utilise variations of turn-based combat. Either there's true turn-based combat or ATB combat, in which players can only act after waiting a certain amount of time. Type-0 does away with this and instead features full real-time action combat. When I heard Final Fantasy XV would be real-time combat, I rolled my eyes. However, after going hands on with the demo, and the similarly inclined Final Fantasy Type-0, I'm pleased to say that it works quite well.
In Final Fantasy Type-0, you control the entirety of Class Zero, an elite cadet troupe from the Dominion's military academy. There is no true main character. Instead, the game presents the entire class in cutscenes, each of whom sport their own motivations and personalities.
This diversity carries over into combat, each member of Class Zero either represents a classic Final Fantasy archetype or a variation out of that. Every student is playable, with three at a time being active in any one battle. You can switch between characters on the fly by tapping left and right on the D-Pad. Additionally, when one of them dies another member of the class joins from the reserve squad. As you progress through the mission-based level structure, it can feel like a gauntlet, as you try to complete objectives with at least 1 class member alive.
As mentioned previously, each class member represents a different Final Fantasy job-type, usually based on a specific weapon. There's the martial arts expert Monk, lance wielding Dragoon, MP converting Red Mage and so on. Each character brings something unique to the table, and there doesn't seem to be any wrong way of composing your party. It's certainly not a case of needing a tank, damage dealer and healer, but it's nice if you have someone equipped with Curaga and magic increasing equipment.
While the combat is fun and well presented, it doesn't feel very tactical. You can just run through spamming both dodge and your main attack in tandem and win fairly easily most of the time on normal difficulty. The game does reward you for timing attacks to take advantage of critical hit openings, but it's generally unnecessary - but doing so will count towards unlocking powerful character specific weapons. The A.I. characters will cast support spells like Cure and Protect, but are terrible when it comes to landing attacks - they're mostly just along for the ride.
There are insane amounts of attack spells and abilities, but you can only equip two at a time, which is a tad restrictive, particularly when combat feels simplistic. Typically it's a bad idea to equip two spells, as it means you'll run out of MP and end up confined to your main attack only. But only having one spell equipped will hinder you against enemies with an elemental resistance. There's an inclination just to go for the two most powerful, non-elemental and easy-to-use attack abilities and ignore everything else, which is a shame.
Magical spells like Firaga and Blizzaga require upgrades to become useful. You purchase them using Phantoma, which drops from enemies when they die. But again, spells seem limited in power compared to some of the class abilities you pick up, even if you equip yourself with magic and MP boosting equipment.
Charging up Odin's Zantetsuken and carving through bosses feels glorious.
Summonable Eidolons are some of the most iconic features of any Final Fantasy, and they feature heavily in this game's narrative as well as in combat. Their implementation, however, left me scratching my head. You have to sacrifice one of your party members in order to summon them in a mission, which is annoying in of itself as you're ranked based on your performance at the end of each mission. Regardless of this, also summons need to be levelled up, and considering they only last for around a minute at a time, doing so can be a painfully slow experience. It could be that the developers want you to move on from the older Eidolons as you unlock new ones, but the sacrificial mechanic swayed me against participation. That said when you do use the level appropriate Eidolons, it is a truly epic experience. Charging up Odin's Zantetsuken and carving through bosses feels glorious, and if used correctly, it can make the sacrifice of a player character seem worthwhile.
Speaking of levelling; the game carries an emphasis on grinding I'd have happily left back in the 90's. Missions can often jump 10+ levels in difficulty, asking you to go off and grind monsters, undertake side quests and so on. The side quests are the shallowest kill quests that provide nothing interesting besides EXP. While the classic Final Fantasy overworld makes a welcome return, locations tend to be copy and pasted, in a similar vein to Mass Effect 1. Throw in the fact that there is a rather small catalogue of enemies compared to other Final Fantasy games, and the monotony may put off even the staunchest JRPG fan. FF Type-0 does throw you a bone, allowing you to gain EXP while offline for a single character. However, levelling your team like this can take days and is far less efficient than replaying old missions.
Overall, there are a lot of aspects of Final Fantasy Type-0's combat I'd like to examine in more depth, but what began as a video game review could easily turn into a Final Fantasy thesis. Type-0 brings something new and fresh to the table that sets the prototypical stage for Final Fantasy XV's action-JRPG hybridised combat. Some of the controls are wonky, and your tolerance for grinding takes precedent over personal skill, but hey, it's fun, and that's what counts.
A flawed, but fun foray for Final Fantasy fans
There are a lot of other aspects of gameplay that I had minor gripes about, but, for the most part, combat is fun and reactive. Most of the enemies you fight will be pallet swaps of the same 5 or 6 archetypes. Occasionally you will battle grand mechs, giant dragons and other foes that will put your dodge-spam skills to the test. Most enemies leave themselves open for critical hits for 0.5 seconds or so after missing a hit, allowing you to perform hugely damaging attacks that come with a satisfying critical hit sound effect. This trick is just one of a multitude of enjoyable aspects to Final Fantasy Type-0's combat that help you see past some of the less intuitive decisions.
The return of the open overworld is a comforting step in the right direction. Other smaller Final Fantasy staples like Chocobo breeding and job types harken back to Final Fantasy's golden age, and promising sales figures reflect a wider inclination towards these old school elements.
Final Fantasy Type-0 is a ray of hope for a franchise that was previously heading towards mediocrity.
Some aspects of this PSP port haven't aged well. Things such as awful texturing, poor camera pivots, and needlessly complex button mapping. The game's core real-time action-RPG battle system shows us the evolution of Square Enix's ideas for combat from Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core through to Final Fantasy XV. FFXV features very similar real-time combat, including dodging, AI controlled partners and so on. But my concern is that it simply lacks depth. That this is instead a system that promotes "press X to do a cool flashy thing" rather than "press X to perform skilfully in order to win".
Final Fantasy Type-0's greatest strengths lie in its setting and presentation. Light-hearted banter while off-duty, dragon dogfights in the skies, super-human l'Cie unleashing their full powers in battles to the death, the sacrifice of human lives to summon Eidolon weapons of mass destruction. All of these things depict a Final Fantasy that has grown with its audience, as opposed to resisting it.
- Action combat that is both fun and fresh
- The shift away from linearity
- Engaging, emotional story with interesting characters
- 40+ hours for a single playthrough
- Expect grinding
- A full priced "HD" re-release that doesn't improve on the original
- Terrible companion AI
- Terrible camera controls
Final Fantasy Type-0 is the most fun I've had with the series in a long, long time and has replaced my cynical dismissal for the upcoming Final Fantasy XV with cautious optimism. FF Type-0 carries some truly epic moments across dozens and dozens of hours of gameplay, that all Final Fantasy fans, lapsed or otherwise need to experience. If you can look past the PSP trappings holding it back, Final Fantasy Type-0 is a ray of hope for a franchise that was previously heading towards mediocrity.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is out now on PS4 and Xbox One.