When Square Enix first announced an HD version of Type-0, I admit that I got a little excited. I had been interested in the PSP version when it came out in Japan in 2011, but the game never made it to western shores. After releasing great HD upgrades like Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD and Kingdom Hearts 1.5, I had hopes that Square would put the same time and effort into porting Type-0 to next gen consoles. Sadly, the game fails to deliver on many levels.
There Will Be Blood
Type-0 is a part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis series together with the Final Fantasy XIII games. The games have similar settings and share some key elements of the lore. Terms like l’Cie and Crystal Focus will be familiar to people who have played XII. Unfortunately, the game does very little to accommodate for new players. I found the game hard to get into because of the lack of information presented, and I can only imagine how confusing it must be for people who are playing a Fabula Nova Crystallis game for the first time.
The world presented in this game is divided into 4 different states. Each is built around a crystal, and the nations have different cultures that have evolved from the characteristics of their respective crystal. The world is suddenly thrown into war when the Militesi Empire seemingly unprovoked decides to invade Rubrum. In an attempt to fight back against the onslaught of the invading forces, Rubrum decides to let Class Zero, an elite class of cadets, fight on the front lines. Despite their young age they are some of the most powerful individuals that Rubrum has to offer.
The most striking thing about the setting is how dark and gritty it is compared to previous titles in the franchise. The story revolves around war and the developers have made a point of showing some of the harsh realities of combat. People are brutally killed as they flee from enemy forces. You see blood splatter and hear their screams as they perish. Battleworn chocobos die in pools of their own blood. It is a change that I welcome and hope will return in future titles. The game feels more mature and that makes the recurring themes of memories and morality feel more emotional.
The change in style is one of the highpoints of the game, but it is not implemented as well as it could have been. While we get introduced to some darker points of combat, the consequences of war is almost invisible. In this world, the crystals have granted people with a ‘gift’ that makes them forget all memories of a person that dies. This means no mourning, no pain caused by loss, and no emotional consequence to the death they have just witnessed. The characters you play seem completely detached from the war raging on around them. While the forced amnesia is a plot point for the game, it does have some unfortunate results. We see the world through the eyes of the characters we play. If they aren’t emotionally involved, how can we be expected to be?
The story and character development does get a bit better in the latter half of the game, but I found the first few chapters to be very lacking in terms of plot development. You go on missions and get some insight into the leaders of Rubrum and other states, but the characters of Class Zero get very little attention or development. If you can get through the portion of the game where you play as characters you know close to nothing about (a real struggle of me personally) you will be rewarded with better developments later.
However, don’t expect all 14 class members to get equally developed. They do have different personalities and fighting styles, but Square has not been able to balance their time in the limelight. It is ambitious to have such a large cast of characters and try to make each one equally important. In Type-0 the main focus of the story is on a select few, namely Rem, Machina, and Ace, while the rest of the class are supporting characters with a few lines.
In the later half of the game, the story becomes very convoluted. There is so many plot points introduced that it is hard to wrap your head around everything. This is probably done on purpose, as the game is designed for multiple play-throughs. There is information that will only be revealed during subsequent play-throughs and while discovering the multiple endings. It is impossible to get the full picture of everything unless you play through the game at least twice. While it is good that games have replay value, I dislike that I cannot get a full understanding of the story when I play the game for the first time. Instead I had many moments where I had no idea what was going on or what the characters were talking about. Put that together with the lack of story development in the first chapters, and you are left with a very underwhelming experience.
It’s Dangerous To Go Alone
Final Fantasy Type-0 is mission based. Class Zero will be sent on a number of missions throughout the game. They will have different objectives, but they mainly play out in the same ways. Usually you will fight your way from point A to point B, sometimes with a boss waiting at the end. The missions will feel like walking through a tunnel in that there is no opportunity to explore your environments. You defeat your enemies and then move on to the next area. Rinse and repeat. Other missions will have you partake in ‘real time strategy’ on the world map. You control armies from different cities and try to free occupied cities while defending your own. While the idea behind these RTS missions is interesting, it very poorly implemented. It only has a few commands available and the enemy AI is badly programmed, making it a shallow experience with very little challenge.
Despite the lack of variety in the mission designs, the combat system makes them a better experience. It is a bit hard to get a proper grasp on at first, but once you get a feel for it you will find that the combat is more strategic than what it is initially presented as. This is not a game where you can simply run into enemies and repeatedly press the attack button. Your opponents will have different attack patterns and by striking at the right moment you can land critical hits, or special attacks that instantly kills them even if they are at full health.
It sounds simple enough, but the combat has a decently high difficulty level. As in Kingdom Hearts the battles are fought in real time, but at a much quicker pace. You will probably find yourself dodging frantically as you hunt for an opening the in the enemies’ defense. Their attacks do a lot of damage and you can easily find your character defeated if you don’t time your movements right. If that happens, the character will be unavailable for the remainder of the mission. While you do have the rest of class Zero at your disposal as reserves that can jump in if you lose the active character, it can have a big impact on your strategy if you lose too many. In one early boss fight, for example, I was having a lot of trouble because the enemy was flying and all characters with ranged weapons were unavailable. You do need to be mindful of which characters you have available as you move forward.
While some characters have skills that slightly overlap (Rem with daggers and Machina with dual swords, for example), they develop their own distinct play style as they level up. At first it seems like the only difference between them is their weapon and their movement speed. However, as you gain experience you are able to unlock new skills for each character. With the Ability Points you earn you can choose which skills to unlock, improve and equip. That way you also have a say in how each character plays, and you can make them better fit your play style as much as you can within the parameters. Still, characters will keep their own distinct styles so mixing them up between missions keeps battles interesting and fresh.
The downside to this system is that you need to keep each character properly leveled at all times, which means that you have to be prepared for a lot of tedious grinding. Characters don’t earn experience unless they are in the active party, so you have to keep switching them around in order to make them stronger. As a result of this system, all my characters were level 14 to 15 before doing a level 17 mission. I had to spend a long time grinding random battles on the world map to make everyone ready for the task ahead. Other options for leveling are to either enter an arena or boosting experience gain while the console is switched off. In the arena, you can only level one character at the time, but you can fight enemies continuously until you run out of health. When switching off your console you can also choose one character that will receive experience while you are away. While you earn experience for three characters while doing random battles, it becomes very tedious after a short time as the game has extremely little variation in enemies. As I out leveled one zone and moved on to the next, I was really disappointed to find the exact same enemies with exactly the same abilities and attack patterns again. They didn’t even have a different color scheme. This might be due to the technical limitations of the PSP, but I would have liked to see Square putting an effort into either adding new enemies into the game, or at least upgrading existing enemies to make them a bit different. Whichever approach to leveling you take, it will be a long grind before you get to the end of the game.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
There is more to the life of Class Zero than just combat and warfare. Between missions you have a set amount of spare time that you can spend doing different activities, like meeting friends and new people, helping people with tasks, breeding chocobos and upgrading your magic spells. Time works like a currency. You have a set amount of hours, and each activity depletes a specific amount. Talking with your friends, for example, costs 2 hours, while leaving your home base to explore the world map will cost 6. There are a lot of people to talk to, and a large number of tasks you can do. Once again it is impossible to do everything during your first play-through, so you will have plenty of new things to explore on later play-throughs.
While I was initially excited about this system, it soon became clear that what you do during your spare time is almost irrelevant. Random characters you talk to on campus don’t even have names, and once you have spoken to them you probably won’t ever talk to them again. What they say can sometimes give a little information on the military institution you live in, but mostly it’s just a short dialogue about their private lives. If you had a system where you actually got to know characters and developed friendships it would have been a lot more interesting. Even more of these relationships had an effect on your missions, like in the Persona series. If there was a system where you built relationships in Class Zero and then unlocked new skills for characters as they became better friends would have been fantastic. Instead you are left with a very shallow experience where you talk with unknown people and get a potion as a reward at the end. After some time I started skipping through the dialogue to get the reward. Teenagers’ moaning about school is only interesting for so long. There is great potential here for fleshing out central characters, but sadly it is not being utilized.
HD, Without the HD
The distance between good graphics for the PSP and good graphics for the PS4 is enormous. The same can be said for the difference between PS2 and PS4, but Square has still managed to make great looking HD remakes of their PS2 games. That is why I question how they can release this game as a HD remake when it looks like they have made minimal effort to making it look like one. The central characters have gotten a graphical upgrade, but the side characters have gotten little to no attention. This is especially awkward when you see the upgraded characters in the same scenes as the low quality ones. The world also looks very flat and the textures still have a much lower resolution than it should have had in a next gen game. Some areas look alright initially, but as you get closer to objects you can easily see the lack of detail. Couple this together with some bad voice acting and cut scenes that are not optimized for HD screens and you are left with an incredibly underwhelming HD version. They should have called it a port or something along those lines, because HD just doesn’t cut it. In addition, they charge full price for the game, which is a lot more than they did for their other and much better HD collections. It seems to me like this game was put together in a rush just so that Square Enix had a way of charging money for the FF XV demo that comes with it.
For a company that has released some very good HD remakes in the past, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD stands out like a sore thumb. The setting of the story and the combat mechanics are the high points of the game. The focus on showing brutalities of war makes for a more mature FF game than the previous installments in the franchise. However, the story becomes very convoluted as it moves forward and you will need additional play-throughs in order to get access to all plot related information. The game is also crowded with characters, and it becomes hard to care about most of them as they have very little time in the spotlight. The combat is fast and intense with a good difficulty level, and allows for a lot of experimentation with skills and playable characters. It requires some heavy grinding to keep all characters properly leveled. The system of having spare time between missions is very promising, but ends up being a shallow experience with very little effect on the rest of the game. As a HD version, the game falls completely flat. Very little effort has been made to make the game presentable on the PS4 at all. It looks like a last-gen game with its low quality environments and bad textures. Not even the cut-scenes have been properly rendered to look good on a big screen. In the end it feels like this game is a clever strategy for Square to earn money on the anticipated FF XV demo. Or maybe the FF XV demo is there to sell a mediocre game. It sure feels like it’s one or the other.