Final Fantasy Type-0 has had a long and arduous journey to the shores of the western market. Originally released for the PSP way back in 2011, it was often teased and promised to be ported, most recently in a fumbled announcement from Sony talking of a PS Vita port which was later proven to be a false/mixed message. Things were looking bleak with regards to western gamers getting their hands on Type-0 and experiencing it's story. Fast forward to the present day and look where we are, a week away from its general release on home consoles, with a fresh HD lick of paint no less.
So has it been worth the long wait?
Well actually, yes! As a fan of the series who has dipped in and out, enjoying some titles more than others while utterly despising some (I'm looking at you XIII) Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is one of the most addictive and drawing titles I’ve played in some time!
Like most JRPGS, Type-0 HD kicks things off with copious amounts of cut scenes that initially make about as much sense as rubbing your car bonnet with marmite and serve up more hammy acting than your daily dose of Hollyoaks. Push through the initial slog though and you’ll be richly rewarded with an addictive battle system and beautiful world to explore.
A side story to Square Enix’s ‘Fabula Nova Crystallis’ compilation, it begins with a city devastated by war and blackened from the smoke of a thousand cannons. A lone young soldier tries to escape the devastation on the back of a Chocobo but ultimately falls from exhaustion, before screaming for help. Enter ACE, yes that's actually his name. Or rather, your name for the time being. After trying in vain to save your fallen comrade, it's on you to step up and finish the battle.
This somber opening sequence sets the tone for the story to come as it twists and turns into a rather brutal war drama, dealing with the nastier sides of battle seen through the eyes of nothing more than school children who have been manipulated by those in power.
In the world of Oriens, several nations who once lived in peace, each guarding their own crystal of power, have inevitably ended up in a state of war as leader of the Millets Empire has moved to seize each crystal of power for his own. This is where ACE and Class Zero enter the fray. An elite group formed from the students of a magic school belonging to the nation of Suzaku. The games main protagonist isn't ACE nor is it any single student from Class Zero but is in fact the group themselves. A novel idea which will take some getting used to.
From the get go you’ll notice just how good Type-0 HD looks, especially for what is essentially a straight port of a PSP title. It in no way pushes the boundaries of this generations home consoles of course, but what the game does offer, it does extremely well. With vivd colours, natural lighting, gorgeous character designs and smooth as butter animation. The games backgrounds are a tad hit or miss in places and the level design doesn't always ooze fresh ideas, but overall I was happy with what I saw.
Once you get into battle, Type-0’s refreshing departure from the standard turn based battle system rears its head and offers something really unique. More akin with Crisis Core or Kingdom Hearts, all of Class Zero is at your disposal, each offering a completely different style of battle. ACE, a more nimble fighter, is able to dance around the battleground and fire off decks of cards which may not be the most powerful but allow him the speed and accuracy to land critical hits and kill shots. Machina is a much more powerful team member, using a pair of rapiers that look like screwdrivers to nail enemies to the floor. The down side lies in his slower movement and need to get up close and personal in order to land a hit, making you a lot more open to attacks while enemies off in the distance are a complete no no.
With attacks mapped to your controllers face buttons, it may initially seem as if you can get away with simply button bashing your way to victory but as the game progresses you’ll quickly realise theres a deeper running strategy game here, forcing you to be vigilant or be dead. Type-0 HD reiterates the need for vigilance by rewarding the player who masters good timing. In the seconds before an enemy attacks, the target reticule will flit between yellow and red. Land an attack while in yellow and you’ll be rewarded with a critical hit known as ‘break sight’, do so when the retake is red and you'll score a one hit kill or ‘kill sight’. It's a risky manoeuvre to rely on, as if you miss ,your only reward will be a massively damaging full on attack from your foe but master the sight moves and you’ll be head teacher of the battle ground. (bad pun?)
Controls feel fluid and, much like a can of ronseal, do exactly what they say on the tin.
It’s not all an example of perfection however, as the games camera controls are still something that leave a lot to be desired. When wandering the battle field or calmer sections of the world around you, the camera feels overly sensitive, causing a lot of blur and needless spinning which I have to admit took a while for me to get used to. When tracking enemies while locked on, it's just as sensitive and makes tracking multiple enemies an arduous task. On plenty of occasions an enemy I was locked onto would simply move off screen entirely, forcing me to run in a circle and get the right angle again.
Battles are confined to missions which you’ll be issued back in class, during which you can choose three characters to be a part of your active team, allowing you to switch between each with a click of the D-pad during battle. The rest of Class Zero will remain on the bench at your disposal should one of your active team mates fall or through menu portals that will crop up at crucial points, should you find your current team ineffective.
The sheer amount of playable characters offered up can be a daunting prospect to get to grips with, after all, each has such a unique play style, remembering who is best for each situation is a task in and of itself. Even after you’ve become familiar with the whole team and exercised the part of your brain that strategies every little detail, it can still throw you off kilter should you lose someone mid-battle and have to change on the fly to a less familiar fighter. Thats without all the worry of levelling up your class evenly by mixing it up as much as possible.
Phantoma will become a key focus for you if you want a strong set of class mates. A magical energy that you collect from fallen enemies, Phantoma in all its varying colours reflect different abilities from fire attacks to ice based attacks. Each ability can be upgraded in one of five ways from strength and speed of casting to range and rate of fire.
Levelling up your squad is a task that requires patience but with so many ways to do so, its not so much a joyless slog but a fruitful endeavour. From training at the local battle arena, attending lectures, accepting side-quests or simply repeating past missions with different active team members. Theres loads to do.
Each mission will have a specific objective, normally revolving around offing an important target but Special Orders also make an appearance thanks to the Moogles of your military command. Possibly the most annoying characters in the game, I would go into more depth with Moogles, but you’ll experience them and their catchphrase ‘Kupo!’ so much, that I’m doing you a favour by brushing past them now. Trust me. These orders are usually time based, battle challenges that offer great rewards but will drain you of all important HP should you stumble.
It wouldn't be a Final Fantasy game without the ability to summon great gods and demons though would it, and thankfully Type-0 HD is no different! So when you're ready to drop the bomb or simply at your last ebb of life in need of a desperate measure, holding two attack buttons will summon your God of War. Thrown into their shoes as your character is replaced, each God has a beefed up move set and slew of abilities. Familiar favourites like Ifrit and Shiva look amazing as they grace the battlefield but due to the immense power they wield, summoning one will drain your current player of all their HP.
With a vast amount of team mates, this isn't a crippling blow to your strategy but it still means you’ll have to be weary about what players you're left with before you push those buttons.
Should you fancy teaming up with something more than simple AI, Type-0 HD offers a multiplayer option that, once activated, allows players to drop in and drop out at will, replacing your active party members and fighting alongside you. Unfortunately these guests are only with you up until certain points but these brief encounters are a lot of fun, allowing you to connect like passing ships in the night while never feeling too rigid.
Not everything is about fighting the good fight. In between missions you’ll be back on campus with twelve hours to spare. Yep, exactly twelve hours. Free to roam the halls and do as you please, but while you wont be knocking on your mates door for a quick Jager Bomb or game of fifa, you will have the chance to get involved in some tasks. You can train in the battle arena, go on monster hunts or simply chat with key characters and friends. Be warned though, each task will eat up valuable hours forcing you to chose wisely what you get involved with exactly. I was a sucker for a good monster hunt, but the six hours it takes up often meant I’d miss out on a lecture that could have improved my magic skills.
Curse you time!!
Its easy for me to say that Type 0 HD is the first Final Fantasy game I’ve enjoyed in some years. With its slew of magic and abilities, an ingenious character switching system tagged with a great roster of characters, its battle system is simply blistering and just plain fun.
Throw in a rather dark story about the devastation of war and there’s just so much here to like. Sure it doesn’t push the realms of graphics that are possible today, but if it’s this much fun, who cares?
Take the time to master this game and unlock all of its secrets! You wont be disappointed!