House of Cards
It?s not often that we Westerners are left out of a major Final Fantasy release, but that?s exactly what happened with Final Fantasy Type-0. Originally launched in Japan for the PlayStation Portable in 2011, Type-0 piqued my interest both due to its platform (which I loved) and the various impressions I?d heard from those who?d imported the game.
Well, we?ve finally received the game outside of Japan in remastered form, and I?ll be honest?it?s kind of a weird experience. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is clearly a portable game placed onto a console. Sometimes, that sort of transition produces fantastic results?Capcom?s PS3/Xbox 360 version of Resident Evil Revelations, for example. With Type-0, however, what originally worked on the PSP?and what still would?ve worked had this been a Vita release?instead seems awkward or restrictive at times. This is particularly noticeable when it comes to the world structure, since the towns and mission locations across the land of Orience are broken up into smaller segments that were initially meant to be more appropriate to the stricter limitations of portable hardware. Even the world map is sectioned off into square chunks, so moving from one area of the overworld to another causes the game to pause briefly as it loads in the territory ahead of you.
None of that has a seriously negative effect on gameplay, however?and while Type-0?s graphics also aren?t a dealbreaker, they?re easily the weakest part of the package. To be fair, the game?s 14 heroes look especially gorgeous here with that extra layer of high-definition polish, but that?s to be expected?they were always one of the major focuses of Type-0?s impressive PSP visuals. Run into any NPCs that aren?t important to the story or cutscenes, however, and character-model quality takes a nosedive?not to mention that many of those NPCs just stand there motionless, mid-pose, as if they were frozen in time and never released. Environments also vary greatly in how well they?ve made the jump to HD. Some textures are pretty decent looking, others not; all of them are mapped to environmental geometry that?s often noticeably rougher than previous-generation games, not to mention everything that Type-0 is up against on the new consoles.
I know all of the logical reasons why Type-0 HD wasn?t on the Vita, the PS3, or the Xbox 360, and I think they all make complete sense; that doesn?t stop this from feeling like the wrong game in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even for those of us who are willing and able to look past a game?s graphics if everything else about it is good, the reality is that we?ve all come to expect at least a certain level of ?oomph? from the current console generation. Where Type-0 HD would?ve been right at home on any of those platforms, it?s kind of an odd curiosity on the PS4 and Xbox One, to the point that I worry some simply won?t be able to get past how it looks and reach the point where they?ll appreciate it for other reasons.
And, really, they should, because Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is one of the most interesting things to happen to the franchise in quite some time. For me, Final Fantasy XII was the last time the series showed this kind of spunk, before it became bogged down with wanting to be an MMORPG or the seemingly neverending parade of attempts to convince players that yes, you really do love Lightning. It?s almost as if director Hajime Tabata and crew put Type-0 together in the moments when none of the higher-ups at Square Enix were watching, then convinced their bosses that, well, the game is finished, so you might as well release it!
What?s especially notable is how the game makes old ideas feel new?and nowhere is that more evident than in its ensemble of heroes and heroines. Type-0 has a darker, drearier tone than you might expect. As it kicks off, we get a taste of the horrors of a war that?s just begun to break out, but the mood is suddenly confused by a group of high-school students running around casting magic to fight off the imperialist army that?s invaded their home country of Rubrum. We learn these young men and women in their black, gold, and red school uniforms are known as Class Zero, an elite team of students tasked with helping Rubrum push back against the Militesi Empire?s advances.
High-school-student heroes are so common in Japanese media that they?ve long since worn out their welcome for many, but in Type-0, they?re something fun about them. They?re a twist on what we?ve seen from most Final Fantasy games in the past (outside of Final Fantasy VIII)?and, as utterly ridiculous as their role in a massive war between Orience?s nations could and should have been, it just somehow works. (Where Type-0 fails in keeping with the concept of ?mature storytelling? is more to writing and overused JRPG tropes than its character designs.)
Part of why the main characters work for me are the school elements that Type-0 introduces along with Class Zero, such as sitting in on lectures to boost party stats or spell mastery while waiting for the next storyline-advancing mission to kick off. In fact, if anything, I wish the game had had more of the ?school life? side of things in between its bigger moments. (Maybe it?s just my adoration for Persona clouding my judgement here, though.) Another reason? The diversity in attacks and tactics each student brings to battle, with each roster choice genuinely feeling different from one another. (You also have to appreciate the silliness of some of Class Zero?s members?dashing heartthrob Ace flinging playing card, the polite-yet-stubborn Deuce providing party members stat boosts with her flute, petite Cinque who swings around a mace far bigger and heavier than she is.)
Finding a good balance of which of Class Zero?s 14 members to pair up with matters greatly when it comes time for combat, which takes place directly on the field with visible foes when in structures and set locations (yay), or randomly where you?re whisked away to themed battle arenas when out in the world (boo). Type-0?s combat happens in real time, as you lock onto enemies and then unleash either long- or short-range attacks while running around the open battlefield.
While some skills are shared and interchangeable?like elemental attacks or supportive spells, for example?each character?s individual weapons make some teammates better than others in certain situations (like when the best solution for besting a particularly nasty foe is having a melee fighter beat on them, or when you need someone who has long-range weapons to take out hard-to-reach enemies). At any one time, you can have three of Class Zero?s students in your party, swapping back and forth between them using the D-pad. If one student falls in battle, just call up a new one from a reserve list you set up beforehand?meaning that, in a somewhat twisted fashion, your characters sometimes feel like an expendable amount of items when trying to beat a boss or other challenging fight.
That?s what Type-0?s battles are on paper; in practice, they?re both exciting and deep?even in the most mundane of random encounters. Fights are hectic in a satisfying way, bonus damage coming from perfectly timed hits, spells leave you somewhat vulnerable as you charge them up, and the aforementioned possibilities of character playstyles and combinations mix things up in a welcome way. Aspects like Summons?Eidolons in Type-0?are also given a twist here, since calling them forth into battle requires you to sacrifice the party?s current leader (after which you can control the Eidolons directly for a limited time). And, thankfully, the AI that keeps your two party members going is usually pretty good so that they?ll fulfill their proper role as partners instead of liabilities.
Both in combat and out, you?re typically encouraged to make sure all 14 Class Zero students play a part?and this was something I personally butted heads against time and again. The character you use when interacting with the world and its inhabitants can make for some personalized scenes and storyline moments, but let?s be honest: When it comes to combat, most of us find our favorite team members and prefer to stick with them.
If you don?t make sure to keep up on leveling your entire team, however, you could be in serious trouble when your main party has been wiped out, and you?re getting farther and farther down your list of most-used reserves. (If I?ve gotten down to the point where I?m using you, Jack, then trust me?it?s because I?ve burned through everyone that I actually want to use your slow ass.) So, even if you?re used to having a few characters from a bigger selection as your usual go-to, you?ll be better served trying to break out of that habit?even if it?s not the way you want to play.
With all that Type-0 does to freshen up the franchise, it also has some elements that come off as decidedly old-school. You?ll feel those out-of-date remnants of past RPGs as you slowly trudge from location to location in the unremarkable overworld or deal with the game?s outdated quest system (only one quest can be taken at a time, and good luck remembering where you?re supposed to turn them in if you forget). Type-0 doesn?t always hold your hand on what you?re supposed to be doing next or what all those names and terms it just threw at you mean, and all of it can be somewhat overwhelming or bewildering at times.
In those moments, Final Fantasy Type-0?s novelty is most let down by the trappings of the series to which it belongs. This is an RPG that mixes the soul of its preceding chapters together with a look at what the future of Final Fantasy might be, but in most of what it does, it never feels confident enough to truly step out from the shadows of its siblings. Put that together with a ?remastering? that stretches the definition of that term, and Type-0 has enough failings that it?s hard not to potentially be more excited for what a full-fledged sequel could be. And yet, it also does enough right to still feel like something special, rising above its shortcomings enough to offer those looking for an experience different from the norm a game worth playing.
Because, really?I?d rather have an occasionally jankety Final Fantasy side project that?s still fun and engaging despite its faults than a big-budget, overproduced major release in the series that?s dull and lifeless.
|Developer: Square Enix, HexaDrive ? Publisher: Square Enix ? ESRB: M – Mature ? Release Date: 03.17.2014|
Final Fantasy Type-0 is a welcome release in the West, as we finally get the chance to experience one of the more experimental and enjoyable additions to the Final Fantasy franchise in years. It?s just a shame that some of the game?s concepts feel outdated or underdeveloped compared to its other parts?and that Type-0?s journey from the PSP to the new systems hasn?t done its visuals or environments a lot of favors.
|The Good||An interesting story propped up by a diverse roster of heroes and some legitimately fun battles.|
|The Bad||As both a game and a remaster, Type-0 can be more than a little rough at times.|
|The Ugly||Do you know how hard it is to fight monsters and invading armies in short pleated skirts?|
|Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review.|