Final Fantasy: Type-0 is a four year-old PSP game.
Remember this. Chant it like a mantra. Understand it and most importantly accept it, because if you don't set yourself realistic expectations, Final Fantasy: Type-0 HD is as likely to disappoint as delight.
Its release marks a significant event for JRPG aficionados, and I'm not talking about Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae (in fact, that's the last time I'll mention it!). Type-0 has a somewhat legendary status as 'the one that got away,' a title promising a huge cast of characters, a mature bittersweet premise and superb real-time combat that was cruelly never localised for western fans. Until now.
As a devastating war wracks the continent of Orience, the brutal Miletesi empire launches a strike against its neighbors, using a deadly army of war machines and the power of their nation's magical crystal to decisive effect. The kingdom of Rubrum hangs in the balance, its magic users in disarray, but they have a secret weapon. Fourteen military cadets of the mysterious Class-0, skilled in asymmetrical warfare and mysterious magical abilities, turn the tide of battle and play a key role in the stability of the region while discovering the truth about their origins and an overarching conspiracy.
Type-0's story is heavily reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics in many ways, a more mature, gritty and no-nonsense war story that focuses on casualty figures and military manouevres, and brilliantly captures what a war between crazy magical nations might actually look like! Blood and mud mixed with fireballs and ridiculous mechs, with Type-0's crimson capes and gold ornamentation shining out from the battlefield. It's a neat visual hook, and makes you feel like you're participating in a military campaign that's unfolding around you.
Sadly the story runs into two noteworthy problems. First off, there are simply too many main characters, meaning that many of the cast are just cardboard cutouts with clichéd personalities and little room for personal growth. A select few of the students are fleshed out to a satisfactory degree, and there are some fun optional interactions between the classmates during downtime (more on that later), but what is still an undeniably magnificent and brave ending is somewhat let down by the fact that we don't really get to spend enough time with the whole cast to really care about them all.
Inconsistent English dubbing and a few awkwardly-translated lines doesn't help either. This was one area in which Squeenix should not have scrimped, though it's fit for task in the main especially when you consider the enormous amount of text, dialogue and codex entries they've had to localise.
The second problem, however, is that Type-0 HD is broadly set in the Final Fantasy XIII/Fabula Nova Crystallis universe. Meaning that most of the pathos and twists are buried under a mountain of unnecessary drivel; your l'Cies and fal'Cies, Peristylia and Agitos. Considering that the basic premise boils down to magic crystals and evil empires, the sheer level of pretentious and convoluted waffle is astonishing. Once again Square mistakes jargon for clever storytelling, leading to a plot that forces you to wade through a lot of bumf to get to the actual emotion behind it. As someone who still remembers every character and event in Final Fantasy II and Tactics Advance, I'm still dismayed that Square Enix doesn't realise that less is more and that simplicity lets you drill right down into what really matters: the people involved and how the plot affects them.
Nevertheless the plot holds together and provides Type-0 with a unique structure. Between missions, the classmates hang out at the academy, free to spend their downtime taking lectures for stat boosts, interacting with each other and fellow students in fun little skits, training in the combat arena, breeding Chocobos, buying equipment and generally enjoying the school life in ways that Final Fantasy VIII could only dream of. You can undertake MMO-style fetch quests, roaming out into the world map for fun and profit, and even engage with some incredibly tough special orders designed for New Game + runs.
It's a great system that becomes even more thoughtful due to the fact that your downtime is limited. Each interaction or world map foray takes between two to six hours, meaning that you'll have to carefully decide how to spend your time and what to leave to future playthroughs. As such, you'll really feel like a class of elite cadets, not just typical JRPG protagonists.
Sooner or later, however, the clock hits zero and you'll have to head out on a mission -- or engage in random world map battles -- which is where Type-0 shows its true strengths. Put simply, it boasts the best real-time combat system of any Final Fantasy game to date.
You'll take three of your fourteen cadets into combat at any one time, freely roaming around the battlefields to engage your enemies using simple face button and left stick tilt commands. Enemies range from familiar monsters to enemy soldiers, massive war machines, mechs and other terrifying magical constructs who'll push the advantage and deal out massive damage, meaning that you'll have to constantly relocate, roll and attack their weak points using a 'Killsight' lock-on command that rewards perfect timing with ruinous extra damage. Eidolons can be summoned at the cost of one of your team. Cooperative spells can be cast. Enormous bosses will push you to the limits.
There's a huge amount of combat, but unlike the 'push X and up' boredom of Final Fantasy XIII, Type-0 is tactical, hectic, tense and brutal, requiring constant concentration and strategic thinking to emerge unscathed even on lower difficulties.
What makes Type-0's combat even more exciting, however, is that your fourteen classmates all bring completely different weapons, skills and combat roles to the table, further enhanced by a flexible magic system with its own progression. It's a thrill to mix and match your three active students for the best effects, enjoying the synergies between their skills, such as pairing up the melee dominant Queen with the handgun-blasting Cater and tanking dragoon Nine before switching out snipers or a Rereaise-casting healer to suit the upcoming situation. You can optionally even activate support from the game's development team, who'll arrive mid-mission in hilarious cameos.
The amount of tactical and strategic depth is fascinating and compelling, underpinning the brutal moment-to-moment gameplay with real choice and brainpower that never ceases to entertain. Since this is a review, I'm not even going to attempt to detail it all here. Instead, I've prepared an in-depth Final Fantasy: Type-0 HD strategy guide with info on all the characters and useful survival tips!
So the combat is truly great, pulling Type-0's unique structure and serviceable storyline together. Unfortunately this is where we need to remind you of the one important fact we started this review with: Final Fantasy: Type-0 is a four year-old PSP game. And it shows.
First of all, there's only so much you can do in terms of prettying up a graphically primitive handheld game for cutting-edge consoles, leading to a deeply inconsistent visual makeover. The player character models look great, but textures vary wildly between PS1-PS2 quality, while oppressive fog and clunky animations abound. There's no escaping the fact that Type-0 frequently looks awful, compounded by a horribly harsh motion blur effect that can make sweeping camera movements uncomfortable as the backgrounds blur into insane streaks like stars outside the Millennium Falcon's cockpit.
More importantly, though, Type-0 had to make numerous sacrifices in order to work on the PSP. All environments are drab and simplistic, split into awkward and tiny load zones in order to run on Sony's last-gen handheld. The world map is sparse and dull; exhibiting huge tracts of empty space and populated by tiny recycled towns with copy-pasted textures that are boring to liberate and navigate. The camera is finicky and annoying, not quite suited to a second stick. The interface is fiddly and awkward, specially due to the huge number of characters.
All of which were necessary compromises when developing a handheld game, but become flaws on home consoles. Flaws that ultimately stop what could have been a great game from realising its full potential, especially when stacked up with the likes of Dragon Age: Inquisition. It's a crying shame that Type-0 HD wasn't developed for Vita instead, since we'd have forgiven these compromises in a portable title.
Thankfully, the combat is so good and the campaign is so eminently replayable that you'll eventually come to accentuate the positive. Again, expectations are the key.
- Tough, tactical and utterly magnificent real-time combat
- Class-0 all feel unique and boast fascinating strategic depth
- Serviceable story with some great twists and fantastic conclusion
- Long and seriously replayable (later playthroughs unlock more content)
- Tiny load zones, dull world map and copy/pasted towns betray PSP heritage
- Too many main characters to care about them all; weak voice acting and inconsistent scripting
- Shockingly inconsistent visual makeover and harsh motion blur effect
- Story overshadows emotional impact and twists with unnecessary convoluted jargon
The Short Version: The fact that Final Fantasy: Type-0 HD is enjoyable on PS4 and Xbox One proves how magnificent the PSP original must have been. Its fantastic real-time battle system holds the entire game together, while the ending more than makes up for the confusing mess of jargon that precedes it.
Unfortunately the jump from last-gen handheld to current-gen machines was a little too ambitious. The compromises that made Type-0 work on PSP hold it back from being great on home consoles, but there's still much to love here for patient dedicated fans. Set realistic expectations to avoid disappointment.
7 - GOOD: Some sites seem to think that the halfway point between 1-10 is 7. This is not the case. It should be noted that 7 is not just a perfectly respectable score, it's a good score. A 7 is not an indication of failure, nor is it the mark of a bad, poor or even average game. These are titles that can be considered very worthwhile, but maybe come with a caveat. Frequently the domain of the well-made-if-rather-conventional brigade.
Platforms: PS4 | Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix