The loud voices of fanbases have become quite a powerful motivator for publishers over the last decade. For four years now, those who loyally follow Square Enix’s Final Fantasy franchise have been begging the publisher for a localization of the PSP spin-off Final Fantasy Type-0, and the game is finally knocking on our doorstep on the new generation consoles!
Would Square Enix have ever gotten around to publishing Final Fantasy Type-0 HD without the vocal cries of fans? I’m not entirely sure. But now that it is here, Square Enix is letting you know all about this incredible fan-favorite by putting it on a enormously high platform. This is the big one, the one bringing the beloved series into a new generation with a “mature” storyline and the backing of its rising star director, Hajime Tabata.
How does a game stack up to such hype?
Never mind that even! Now that we finally have Final Fantasy Type-0 HD after all these desperate years, was it even worth the wait?
Mature as a Call of Duty game
“The franchise has grown up,” commercials claim, feeding from this reputation of Final Fantasy Type-0’s “mature” storyline. Those who have played an import version or fan translation have praised the story as one of the darkest and most unsettling in the franchise, littered with violence, war, betrayal, and loss…
… but I’m afraid I just don’t see it.
Maybe in this world where Call of Duty escapes with being called mature storytelling does this game pass the bill, but structuring the plot of a video game around a war does not automatically grant it the title of “grown up.” Showing the destruction of towns does not automatically pin the label of “mature.” Killing off characters is not always “tragic,” and plot twists aren’t always “smart.”
This is the hype the game has to live up to, and it doesn’t come anywhere near such lofty heights.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD’s events unravel in a world where four crystals govern four powerful nations. One nation, that unironically thrives on the production of weapons and machinery, launches an invasion into its peaceful tree-hugging neighbor and pushes its capital city to the brink of annihilation. Only a team of super cadets called Class Zero are able to ward off their magic disrupting devices and fight them back.
However, a simple counter strike is not enough to quell the invaders, and the government, with few other options, places the future of its nation in the hands of these adolescents and creepy matriarchal figure. They are tasked with infiltrating enemy territory, sabotaging weapons and liberating towns.
Sound familiar? Final Fantasy Type-0 HD’s story can claim to be “mature” because the backstabbing politics, the slaughter on the battlefield, and the complicated plot twists are simply the direction in which every entertainment medium has been gravitating toward. It’s more like “conforming” than “growing up,” something that the trendsetting Final Fantasy should never do.
The themes arising through Final Fantasy storytelling and imagery can give them that necessary unique edge though, but Type-0 is simply too shallow to generate the needed emotional investment.
It doesn’t help that the supporting cast is a shallow bunch of kids either. Not a single member of Class Zero stands out as a leading protagonist, allowing players to pick which character they want to experience the world through. Not that it matters though because choosing a character to trounce around as just changes the avatar on the field and grants very little insight through the character’s thoughts and interactions with other characters.
It might just be best to pick the one with the fastest animation just to cut down on running time.
Who can you choose from? Well, there’s the angry one with a spear. The stoic one with a rapier. The cute one with a mace. The intelligent one with a bow and arrow, or if you want to go crazy, the blonde one with a deck of playing cards.
These are the lucky ones too, the ones who are actually blessed with a hint of a personality. The rest can be described as the one with a flute, the one with a magic gun, the one with bare knuckles. These are not characters but rather just the shells of characters, the shells of anime stereotypes even. If you play a Final Fantasy game to dig through the backgrounds of protagonists, understand their motivations, and even fall in love with them, then forget about it here.
You’ll find none of it. The only two with a little exposition are a frail pretty girl who coughs a lot and a stupid boy who naively (aka, conveniently for the plot) believes a lying politician’s story aimed at causing strife within the group. These two are from the countryside and grew up together. That’s the deepest we get.
These characters are not their personalities. These characters are their weapons, and their functions in battle will determine how much you like them.
Further performance issues also plague the storytelling. Strange editing with really awkward rhythms leap all over a scene until it becomes impossible to tell where characters are standing. Voices fly in from off-screen, and Type-0’s voices are so indistinct that you’ll be forced to turn on subtitles just to know who is speaking.
Of course, these issues point toward the game’s PSP roots and the console’s distinct difference in power compared to what is capable on the PlayStation 4. Full cutscenes using all of these complicated character models would have been nearly impossible, but had Type-0 been played from the palms of my hands, that simple notion might have been easier to swallow.
However, when your PSP game is hyped to be the grand “next-gen” debut of a beloved franchise known for its lavish storytelling and is being played on an HDTV, well, it just looks silly.
Streamlining Final Fantasy into an action game
Final Fantasy Type-0 is clearly a game that was meant to be “played” rather than “experienced.” There is no point in denying it was put on the PSP in Japan to capitalize on Monster Hunter’s thunder, and in that regard, it shows that Square Enix had the right idea on how to approach a game in that genre.
Its story might be shallow and overhyped, but it provides a perfect frame for a really solid pick-up-and-play action RPG.
As mentioned before, preference to a character will not revolve around their personality but rather their functionality in battle. Monster Hunter provides depth in its gameplay with different styles of weapons, different combat stances, and different character builds, and we find that approach perfectly mirrored within a Final Fantasy setting thanks to the fifteen members of Class Zero.
Each character plays totally different from one another, leaving the game’s play style up in the air. If you like to fight from a distance, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD provides an archer, a heavy gunner and a magic pistol wielder. If you like to get up close and personal, Class Zero’s ranks include a bare-knuckle brawler, a lancer and an adorable girl with a giant mace. If you like your RPGs to have buffs and debuffs, a flute wielder and a card slinger can boost character stats.
Even a samurai makes the jump into battle, but he is for those with an acquired taste, the kind who like to put it all on the line into a single life or death attack. Wait for the right moment and strike. Miss and you’re dead. That kind of deal.
No matter the kind of RPG character you like to build, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD will have something close to it.
Battles play out to the tune of a locking-mechanism and four special attacks assigned to the facepad and R1 buttons. After locking on, characters can go all out with chip damage or wait for an enemy to briefly expose a weak point. Attacking that lands a massive critical hit which should clear out most non-boss characters in a single blow.
Because of the brief window of success in this interesting mechanic, the best characters are those who have very little delay between pushing a button and causing damage. Attacks that are fast and easy to land work best. The fisticuffs brawler, the archer and the magic pistol girl proved to be my favorite in this regard.
Battles generate further levels of depth by requiring knowledge of attack and bullet trajectory speeds, memorizing enemy patterns, knowing exactly when that weak point is going to show up, and dodging enemy attacks while never letting your guard down.
Much like Director Hajime Tabata’s other less-popular game The 3rd Birthday, of which I am a fan, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD’s battle system is simple enough to wrap a brain around, but it will take intimate knowledge of all the inner workings to completely master.
The power inside
And then there are the mechanics, the inner guts of every RPG. It’s a Final Fantasy game, so naturally that means these kids have to level up somehow, am I right? As students, they reside in a massive school called Academia dedicated to improving their abilities and training them to become the super soldiers of tomorrow.
How do we improve character stats? By training, undertaking fetch quests, listening to lectures, improving our magic skills, breeding chocobos and shopping for better equipment of course! Where do we begin?
In between story missions, our chosen avatar will be granted a set number of hours to access the school grounds and talk to people. Striking up an interaction with a “!” marked character drains two hours of time and leaving the school’s premises wil cost six hours. When time is up, the next story mission will begin.
Time management. The Achilles heel of every college student.
Some of the “!” NPCs lead to actual exposition and add flavoring to the story, but most will be meaningless conversations with unimportant characters. The best use of time is through chatting with Professor Moogle for bonus EXP. points and stat boosts.
“Tasks” can also be assigned to Class Zero by teachers or fellow classmates. These will often send our plucky heroes to a remote cave or somewhere into the wilderness to slaughter a set number of enemies or find a specific item. Returning it garners a reward, usually a piece of armor or accessory.
Magic can be improved with an element called Phantasma. Class Zero holds the unique ability to rip this material from the dead corpses of enemy soldiers, and when collected in bulk, a machine within the school can turn a simple fire spell into a meteor shower of death. Powering spells comes with the downside of increasing the amount of MP they will take to cast.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD also has hidden achievements that will grant bonuses and open up new items in the shop. Such goals include getting critical hits and ripping enough souls from enemies with each character. The game keeps track of these milestones and rewards graciously for knowingly or unknowingly stumbling upon them.
Let’s not forget Chocobos, either. Final Fantasy’s iconic yellow birds can be gathered on the field, and bred to create countless generations of superior breeds. Chocobos are a saving grace for transportation within this world. Trust me on that. The running time can be infuriating before the airships are unlocked.
Plus, I could just hang out at Academia all day and listen to that classic Final Fantasy arpeggio. How relaxing!
A few inconveniences like only being able to change characters, equipment and abilities at a save point hold the inner workings of this game back. Most RPGs would allow more than one quest to be tackled at once, and you’ll feel hard pressed to run back to school and then back out into the field over and over again.
For all of this usage of free time, the game is totally open, and that is its saving grace. Similar to Final Fantasy XII, Type-0 HD is a game that rewards greatly for experimenting in the field of battle, breaking sequences, and just getting out and exploring. The benefit of doing so makes the story missions that much more exciting thanks to superpowered characters.
My complaints earlier about the game’s story were more aimed at the fanbase’s misleading hype, but now that I think about it, Type-0’s plot needs to be light because it is not the main star of this package. Final Fantasy XII’s deeply political story begged to be experienced, but at the same time, its gorgeous world equally demanded exploration.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD’s story can be cast aside all the same as background noise, allowing for more personal time with the meat of this game: its RPG mechanics and its battles. Again, a very PSP minded approach, not so much a home console product.
Never meant to be a milestone
I don’t want to point fingers at anybody for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD because I am glad that it just exists in English at all. However, this is not the game that Square Enix has been hyping, and it should be tackled with a certain set of expectations.
One, this is not an entry point for the next generation of Final Fantasy, and it in no way should be viewed as such. It is a four year old video game stemming from a handheld built to replicate the power of a PlayStation 2. A simple HD coat does not give it the right to be called “next-gen.”
Two, it is very much a game created with a handheld audience in mind. The light story, emphasis on brief bouts of action, frequent save points, and encouragement to break from the path, explore, and complete mini-quests all point to a game designed with the PSP and a train commute to work in mind. Americans, of course, don’t readily travel to work on a train as often as Japanese people do, and that’s why you are playing this on an HDTV, where it comes off as a little janky, weird and dated.
A PS Vita version would certainly be nice, but I’m not sure if the user base is big enough to justify it for Square Enix at this point.
Three, the story is hardly the darkest or most “mature” that the series has ever been, but I blame the overly vocal fanbase for that one, not Square Enix. In many ways, Type-0 is a lot like Final Fantasy VI, arguably one of the best and most popular in the franchise. Both revolve around a war, both sport a huge cast of characters with no set main protagonist, both are home to gut-wrenching events, but the depth, characterization, and delivery of these plot lines are night and day.
VI is a far more disturbing and heartbreaking game than this one because it is so much more emotionally arresting.
Type-0’s plot is a little below standard for a mainline Final Fantasy, but more importantly, it is pretty good for a pick-up-and-play Monster Hunter style action-RPG. One where the emphasis is on building RPG stats, playing missions, grinding grinding grinding, and linking online through co-op. It gets the job done, and that is perfectly fine for the genre.
It’s a bit of a shame because I believe Square Enix does Type-0’s qualities a bit of a disservice for these misrepresentations. If it had just said “Here’s this one you’ve been asking for, one for the fans,” I think Type-0 would be better received. That wording doesn’t sell the game to a larger audience though, and the damage has already been done. As the entry point for a new generation of Final Fantasy, it comes up way short.
Play Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in that regard if you can’t wait for Final Fantasy XV.
The truth is that Final Fantasy Type-0 is just a nice side-project, one which is and always has existed to flesh out the bigger picture of Final Fantasy XIII’s polarizing lore. It was a quaint little 2011 experiment in Japan to see if Final Fantasy could thrive on a Monster Hunter formula, and it was a hidden grail that generated more mystical hype in the States than anything else for being “the one we never got.”
Try your absolute best to move beyond Square Enix’s hype and accept it for this simple vision that the designers originally had in mind. If you can do that, I wholeheartedly recommend Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, especially if you are a huge Final Fantasy nerd like myself, and it’s been a while since you’ve enjoyed a new game in the series.
If you want to buy it, don’t wait! The Final Fantasy XV demo won’t be available for long.
If you want to wait for a PS Vita version, which I know a lot of you do, you can certainly do that. This is a game which would benefit greatly by being playable in its original portable context. Be warned though that I don’t see Square Enix going this route any time soon, nor do I really want them to.
They gotta save resources to answer the cries of the Dragon Quest VII 3DS fans next!
Disclaimer: We were provided with a review copy of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD for the PlayStation 4 by Square Enix, and we completed 20 hours of the campaign before writing this review.