Despite being considered a more welcomed Final Fantasy experience by many fans, Final Fantasy Type-0 has always lived in Final Fantasy XIII‘s shadow. Because it was released only in Japan in 2011 with much less hype than any of the other XIII era games, not to mention only on the PlayStation Portable, it didn’t really get much attention in the West.
That changes this week. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is a fully remastered and updated port of the original PSP game for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It’s not a perfect game by any means, and at times it doesn’t even feel like Final Fantasy. But after watching the franchise pick up so many bruises over the last 6+ years, an experimental Final Fantasy game that deviates from the traditional formula might be just what this franchise needs to start finding its way back to its glory days.
In Final Fantasy Type-0, you play as the members of “Class Zero,” a group of 14 school age mercenaries who set out to save the world. This setup will definitely spark some memories for those who loved the academy setting in Final Fantasy VIII.
We’ll keep this review spoiler-free, so let’s just say the students represent one of four nations in the land of Orience, and they must band together to stop a threat from one of the other nations that has violated a peace treaty. Things will obviously get much more complex, but that’s your starting point.
The story is one of the darkest of any game in the franchise. Even the opening sequence is designed to punch you in the gut and let you know right off the bat that this game will be different. Type-0 contains much more violence (and blood) than what FF veterans are used to, but given the fact that most long-time fans should now be in their late 20s, 30s, or older, the more mature feel should be a welcome change for most. The game, of course, retains some classic, feel-good staples. Airship, chocobo, Eidolon, and moogle lovers will not be disappointed.
Final Fantasy Type-0 does not play like your father’s Final Fantasy. The game is an action RPG that feels closer to Kingdom Hearts than it does to a traditional Final Fantasy.
Your party will always contain 3 of your 14 playable characters. Yes, you heard that right. You will have to manage a roster larger than anything you’ve probably seen before in this franchise. This has both pros and cons.
Square Enix did a great job of making all 14 characters feel unique. Each character has a different weapon, a different fighting style, and a different personality. With a roster of this size, you would expect there to be some confusion with keeping track of who can do what, but I found that each character was distinct enough that it was easy to keep everything organized in my mind.
Since you can only play three characters at a time out of a group of 14, the game intentionally throws ever changing scenarios at you that will require you to switch out party members until you find the right combination that will lead to victory. In fact, the game does a great job of switching out party members for you, by pummelling Class Zero into the ground.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD features a brand new difficulty mode called Cadet Mode. This mode was created because many gamers felt the original difficulty in the PSP version was simply too hard. The review packet Square Enix sent to the press actually suggested using Cadet Mode so that we could finish the game in a timely fashion. But even on the easiest setting, it’s still possible for a majority of your party to get wiped out if you go into battle with a less than ideal party set up. The frequent adjustments needed for your party will keep your brain working, and will be a welcome change from those who felt Final Fantasy XIII was essentially a one-button autopilot mashfest.
There is one major downside to having a roster of playable characters this large. At the end of every battle, the only characters to receive XP will be the three that you had in your party. This creates a situation where you will have some characters falling behind, and you will need to grind for a bit on extra enemies before moving forward with the story if you want to keep everyone even.
But speaking of grinding, Final Fantasy Type-0‘s battle system puts a much greater emphasis on skill instead of just outleveling your opponent. The game features something called “Sight Strikes” that will be key to your victory in any given battle. All of the opponents in the game have a pattern that they follow while in combat. At certain points, the cursor on the baddie will change color to either yellow or red. If you can execute a move with the right timing, you will either critically hit or instantly kill the enemy. This is another welcome element that helps the player stay tuned into the battles at all times. But it also means that for the more difficult opponents, simply outleveling them won’t be enough to ensure victory. You’ll need to watch carefully and attack at the right times if you want to come out on top.
When Final Fantasy Type-0 released on PSP, it was lauded as one of the very best looking games for that device. The PS4 and XBO remake can’t quite say the same thing, but considering where this game started, Square Enix and independent developer HexaDrive did an admirable job of rebuilding the visuals. I was much more impressed with this conversion from PSP to PS4, then I was with last year’s remaster of the PS2 era Final Fantasy X/X-2 onto the PS3. It looks like a current-gen game. Maybe that’s not high praise, but let’s just be clear that there was serious effort put into updating the game for 2015.
The game’s soundtrack is up there with some of the best in franchise history, and the songs have also been updated for this new release. Even more exciting for hardcore fans is that the game includes the original Japanese voiceovers, which is a feature that is often desired but very rarely included in North American adaptations. The English VO isn’t half-bad either, but with 14 characters, you’re likely to find at least one or two voices that grate the ears. Hey, they had to include at least a few Final Fantasy traditions, right?
The only other downside in the sound department again comes back to those 14 characters, and it has to do with the dialogue. The game does a remarkable job of making all 14 characters seem valuable to your team, but in some of the cutscenes, it’s clear that the developer was stretching to include everyone. You’ll sometimes get a scene where just about everyone is talking, but each character only gets a line or two so that the game can quickly get everyone involved and then move on.
Replayability is high, and the game actually encourages multiple playthroughs. You’ll be able to unlock additional story sequences and learn more about some of the characters in Class Zero only after beating the main story. And there are additional difficulty levels to sink your teeth into.