There’s something really exciting about a previously Japan-only Final Fantasy finally getting released in the West. The last time I can remember getting excited about something like this was almost a decade ago, when Final Fantasy III was released on the Nintendo DS. While playing Final Fantasy III felt like unearthing an old classic, Type-0 is a much more modern game. Perhaps more importantly, unlike Final Fantasy III, Type-0 doesn’t feel like your typical Final Fantasy game.
Type-0 takes place in the same universe as the Final Fantasy XIII games, and boy does it feel like it. Not necessarily in the feel of the world per se, but in the way everything gets presented to you. Names of nations, people, and general world-building concepts are constantly thrown at you with little to no context. God help you if you don’t know what a L’Cie is, because people never stop talking about them but won’t bother to clue you in unless you go around talking to random NPCs.
[Editor’s Note: In an interview with Siliconera, director Hajime Tabata stated that, initially, he was writing the story to focus on warfare between countries. Halfway through the project, he was reminded by others at Square Enix that the game was supposed to exist within the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythology that Final Fantasy XIII comes from. “Until then, though, it was my aim to create a sort of historical documentary-esque game,” Tabata said.]
The story revolves around a group of kids known as Class Zero, who are specially gifted soldiers that carry out secret assignments in the middle of a war between nations. Rather than introducing its ensemble cast of characters in a clear and understandable way, they all just kind of exist and it’s up to you to remember who is who. Instead of developing the characters, most of the exposition seems to be concentrated on boring political dialogue with little context or reason to be invested.
All I can really say about the plot is that it gets better with time. The opening chapters of the game are very broad and desperately in need of an editor. Around the halfway point, the story finally begins to narrow its focus to the characters and the emotional core of the game begins to develop. That’s not to say everything about the story is completely terrible until that point—the game sets up a lot of interesting concepts early on—but I didn’t find myself really appreciating any of it until later in the game.
After the rather clunky introduction to the world, Type-0 HD introduces the real highlight of the game: the combat. Battles move in real-time, and you have full control of your character rather than being shackled to turns or an ATB system like other Final Fantasy games. Type-0 plays kind of like a simplified version of an action game like Crisis Core or Kingdom Hearts. That means lots of attacking and dodging, but if you try to play Type-0 like a button masher you’ll quickly get burned.
The Sight system sets Type-0 apart from its peers. As you lock onto enemies, circles will occasionally appear on them. These circles indicate the ideal time to strike, yellow for critical hits and red for instant-kills. As you get used to fighting, it becomes easier to recognize the different enemy attack patterns and predict when the circles will appear. What makes this mechanic really interesting is that it applies to strong enemies too, from bosses to normal enemies that happen to be at a way higher level than you. With good timing you can easily decimate foes way out of your league, and as a result, pulling of the instant-kills ends up being pretty darn satisfying.
Swift deaths aren’t just for the bad guys, either. The members of Class Zero can be surprisingly frail, almost too frail. Many times I would go into battle and not realize that one of my party members had actually died while I was busy focusing on the fight. If you’re not careful yourself, a bad dodge can be fatal against some of the tougher enemies. To make things worse, once someone dies in Type-0, they’re gone until the end of a mission. Thankfully, you have back up.
Class Zero fights in three-man squads, with reserve classmates waiting to jump in when one of your current members becomes incapacitated. Essentially, this means that you have a lot of room for error while playing even with the harsh limits on party member revival. It’s an interesting way to balance a game but not necessarily a convenient one.
The caveat to having the whole cast at your disposal is that in order to cover all of your bases most efficiently, you’ll want to make sure everyone is properly leveled. While I don’t mind a little grinding in RPGs, leveling up 14 different characters isn’t very realistic. Instead I found it best to focus on having two squads, a primary and a secondary, with the rest of the group to be used for emergencies. Even when putting that limit on myself, however, it’s necessary to go out and grind a few levels, which can sometimes feel like a drag.
On the bright side, it’s fun to try everyone out in battle. All the members of Class Zero fight with distinct play styles. Some characters like Jack are melee-focused, weighty, and swing big weapons. Others like Ace can attack from a distance by throwing playing cards. While you can toss the students into different subcategories, all of their weapons feel very different to control and they additionally have their own unique skills and gimmicks to differentiate them further. Exploring all of the different characters in battle was actually one of my favorite parts about Type-0 HD; I’m really impressed with how much depth was put into every member of the cast in this respect.
Beyond the combat, Type-0 also gives you a lot of downtime at Akademia, the military school that Class Zero resides at. A countdown to the next mission gets plastered at the bottom of the screen, and until then you’re allowed to do whatever you want. This usually involves wandering around the school and triggering optional dialogue and cutscenes. A surprising amount of the interesting story stuff happens during these points, so I actually found these parts to be quite enjoyable until you run out of people to talk to.
From then on, you basically have the option to go out and train or do side quests. While the main story of the game is mission based, there’s actually an entire world map to explore like most other Final Fantasy games. During your free time, you’re allowed to explore this map as much as you want to grind levels or visit towns and caves. I generally preferred to just explore and fight enemies, as most of the sidequests are just fetch quests or “kill X amount of enemies.”
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD has some flaws, but it is an enjoyable game overall. Unlike other Final Fantasy games, though, this is one I would recommend purely if you’re into the combat. When it finally gets going the story isn’t bad, but mastering the battle mechanics is what really carried the experience for me.
Food for Thought:
1. It’s strangely morbid to have a cute little moogle as a commanding officer during missions, basically ordering you to slaughter people by the dozen while adding a “kupo” at the end of the sentence.
2. A small feature that I appreciated was that you can set the game up to train a character while you’re not playing by going to the arena in Akademia. It’s not super efficient, but it’s nice to get rewarded with a few extra levels whenever you come back to play.
3. While this is the first time Type-0 has gotten a western release, it’s actually being billed as an HD remake. Sometimes the game looks really good; a lot of the environments in particular can be surprisingly dynamic and striking. Other times, not so much. Basically any cutscene where there’s just close ups of character models talking in a static room makes the game’s PSP roots clear. Some of the minor characters are especially ugly.
4. One battle mechanic I didn’t really care for was summoning the Eidolons. In theory it’s awesome: you get to take control of a giant monster like Ifrit or Odin and wreak havoc on everyone in your immediate vicinity. There are two major drawbacks, however: one is that you have to sacrifice the life of one of your party members, the other is that the Eidolons just don’t seem all that effective. The first summon I got, I used in the next room on a giant golem, only for my Eidolon to get knocked in the face and immediately die. Maybe I’m just using them wrong, but that experience was so disappointing that I’ve only used them sparingly since