If you weren’t aware, Final Fantasy Type-0 originally launched for PSP back in October 2011. It was only made available to Japanese gamers, though, which is why fans of the series were excited to hear about the remastered version heading to PlayStation 4. Not only does it come with a long demo of Final Fantasy XV , it also features upgraded graphics and a few other nifty additions and improvements that make this the best version yet. The only problem is that despite a solid foundation and a combat mechanic with a massive amount of potential, the game can’t quite deliver a complete, engaging experience.
Firstly, the graphics are hit-and-miss. While the backgrounds are beautiful and the animations are especially impressive during hectic periods of action, this quality clashes with various pitfalls. The developer put a lot of effort into updating the look of Class Zero characters but other characters, like NPCs, aren’t as improved. Plus, the textures are wildly variable; some are actually quite good on PS4 while others are downright terrible. It’s just jarring to have some visual content look nearly identical to the old PSP version, and then see glimpses of graphical brilliance when fighting certain bosses with certain characters. Oh, and somebody needs to teach Japanese devs how to get lip-syncing right. Seriously.
The sound is a little better, thanks to a rousing soundtrack and a series of amazingly high-impact effects. The battles are often so intense that your speakers are filled with an invigorating audio extravaganza, fueled by over-the-top physical and magical assaults. Unfortunately, the voice performances are mediocre at best, even if some of the main characters aren’t half-bad. The Japanese were behind in this aspect of game production as well; it seems Western designers started recruiting real voice professionals well before the Japanese did. And while the soundtrack really is fitting and typically well-orchestrated, I’m not sure it can stand up to the gorgeous scores of past Final Fantasy entries.
The story in Final Fantasy Type-0 HD hinges on military and political themes, with a fair amount of tumultuous romance tossed in for good measure. The player takes control of 14 characters known as Class Zero; these characters interact with one another throughout the quest, but sadly, none are fleshed out enough. There’s a lot of arguing going on amongst the group and it doesn’t help that Rem and Machina are involved in a seemingly endless dance of flirting and jabbing. There are some legitimate high points to the story and I liked some of the characters, but I was never allowed to really become drawn to any one character. This isn’t due entirely to poor storytelling; it’s also due to an obvious drawback: When you’ve got 14 playable characters, it’s extremely difficult to make them all stand out.
War rages in the world of Orience and you’re in the middle of seemingly every major battle. The story, while somewhat ambitious, takes an immediate back seat to the gameplay. Therefore, even though the writers don’t explain the situation anywhere near well enough (tossing words like “L-Cie” out there as if the entire world knows what it means), it doesn’t really matter. You’re usually far too busy fighting. That combat, as I said above, has a boatload of promise. It really does. In a lot of ways, I’d say the developers come through with flying colors, delivering an experience that’s exceedingly entertaining and quite challenging. There’s a bit of grinding involved but I’ve never once had a problem with that.
Each of the 14 characters has four moves: There’s a physical attack, a defensive spell, and two abilities that can later be customized with spells and physical attacks unique to that particular fighter. Three party members take to the battlefield but as everything plays out in real time, you only control one character. However, you can switch between them on the fly and you can even swap characters in and out at will. This allows for an immense amount of diversity because with 14 characters, you can sample quite the variety of styles in any given encounter. That being said, I think some characters simply aren’t distinct enough, which gives the battles a stronger feeling of unfortunate repetition.
The good news is that the AI is actually quite competent. You can rely on your allies to respond as they should; switching to another character doesn’t mean the one you left behind will perform worse. So, you’re never too concerned about switching fighters because you know your buddies can take care of themselves. This is definitely a highlight of the combat mechanic, because you feel as if you’ve got helpful, reliable fighters surrounding you. You don’t have to do everything yourself, you know? It’s not one of those scenarios where you have to keep switching back and forth because a character is being a numbskull; rather, you switch just ‘cuz you want to. It’s a good feeling.
I do have some problems with the gameplay. The system itself is great but again, there’s not enough distinctness between some of the characters, and the camera isn’t very good, either. To add insult to injury, every time the camera spins, it blurs the action; the faster the camera spins, the heavier the blur. It’s just really disorienting and annoying. I get that Square Enix desperately wants to turn Final Fantasy into the fastest-playing video game series on earth (for whatever ridiculous reason), and I also get that this is a spin-off. I just don’t think the blurring effects add anything and in fact, they detract from one's enjoyment. It doesn’t help that there isn’t much in the way of exploration, so you really do spend the overwhelming majority of time locked in fierce combat.
On the flip side, it’s definitely a rewarding system, and one that demands patience and skill. I also like how NPCs in the world will react differently to various members of your crew; this encourages experimentation with your allies. Then there are the missions, which offer a fair amount of variety and introduce you to new sights and challenges. As an action/RPG, the gameplay system works well when it’s used correctly; those who wish to abuse the system will come away disappointed. I never like mechanics with loopholes or critical flaws and thankfully, I see no such problems here. I just think it could’ve been better presented and a lot more could’ve been done with those 14 characters. Well, actually, I would’ve preferred fewer characters.
Playing on Normal is tough, so newcomers might want to switch to Easy so they can get a feel for how everything works. You can change the difficulty at any checkpoint in the game, too, so you won’t be locked into an early decision. Certain bosses can be colossal pains in the ass; if this is the case, either start grinding or simply alter the difficulty level. There is definitely a learning curve here, although I wouldn’t call that a negative, as any role-playing game should require some practice and diligence. And I suppose this is a role-playing adventure, as the depth is obviously here and you can’t just mash buttons throughout the quest. Well, you can’t always get away with mashing buttons, anyway.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD has its ups and downs. The narrative falls well shy of the intended mark, as none of the characters really stick with you after playing, and the writers explain very few of the minute details. The camera and blurring effect puts a crimp in the flow of combat, and I wish some of the fighters had more originality in terms what they can do on a battlefield. But the base gameplay mechanic is pretty sweet, the challenge is stiff yet very rewarding, and the game is relatively well-paced. The missions are another highlight, especially ones that prove Square Enix still has an unparalleled creative touch. As for that FFXV demo, that has no place in this review, but I’m sure it has already inspired more than a few purchases. 😉
The Good: A few great musical tracks and sharp audio effects. Missions are diverse and encourage party experimentation. Decent pacing and styling throughout. Combat is appropriately deep rewarding. Fluid, fast-paced gameplay can be a joy.
The Bad: Some of the characters and scenery haven’t been spruced up. Story is disjointed and underwhelming. Camera and “blur” effect are definite drawbacks. Not enough distinctness between some characters.
The Ugly: “Faster is not always better. One of these days, Square Enix will learn this.”