The mixed bowl of franchise soup that is Fabula Nova Crystallis started out convoluted and only got more so as time passed. The initial game, Final Fantasy XIII, went on to become a trilogy in its own right, while Final Fantasy Versus XIII would go on to be rebranded as Final Fantasy XV and move from seventh-generation consoles to eighth. Final Fantasy Agito XIII, meanwhile, stayed on its originally intended PSP, but not before undergoing its own rebranding when Square Enix announced Final Fantasy Type-0 (and the still-missing Final Fantasy Type-1).
Staying on the PSP had inconvenient implications for Hajime Tabata’s radical new vision of Final Fantasy, as the system’s waning support in the west by the time Type-0 was finished left the company disinterested in the prospects of a possible English-language release. Demand, meanwhile, grew so immense that a team of fans got together to craft a translation patch, enabling people to play the game in English on hacked PSPs or on emulators. Fast forward to 2014, where many fans still consider the homebrewn translation patch to be the driving force behind Square Enix’s E3 announcement of a Final Fantasy Type-0 remake for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
What Is It?
As an intended franchise reboot, Final Fantasy Type-0 strips out much of the thematic and stylistic baggage that comes naturally from having a franchise that it fourteen games rich, and starts over from scratch. The game is a party-based action RPG in a much more grim setting than we’re used to seeing from Final Fantasy, in the backdrop of a global conflict among three superpowers. Final Fantasy hasn’t shied away from this kind of setting entirely over the years, but in order to match what Type-0 serves up, you might have to treat the darkest of Final Fantasy VI moments to the very same remake treatment many fans are clamoring to see from Final Fantasy VII.
More direct ties, however, can be made to Final Fantasy VIII, as Type-0 revisits the “school of child soldiers” theme from that game, splicing it with the grittier, “war is hell” presentation mentioned above. The worst horrors are left mercifully in the fridge, but what’s put directly in front of you still makes it quite clear that Orience is a world where no one remains untouched by the global conflict. Even the towns that appear to be the standard medieval Final Fantasy fare when you visit them often find themselves in combat theater sooner or later, if they haven’t already seen battle by the time you arrive. The calm you do encounter is actually a dissonant serenity provided by the Dominion of Rubrum’s “vermilion bird crystal”, which wipes everyone’s memories of the dead.
That becomes evident right away. The opening cinematic showcases the invasion of Rubrum by the Militesi Empire which, because of the deployment of a crystal jammer that cuts the Rubrum forces off from their apparent power source, is a largely one-sided affair with no shortage of on-screen bloodshed — the driving force behind Type-0‘s uncharacteristic M rating. The scene ends as a Rubrum military liaison and even his chocobo are killed on sight by the imperial forces, and the playable party, Class Zero, arrives just in time to receive information from their fallen comrade before singlehandedly turning the tide of battle, unfazed by the crystal jammer. Square Enix has used violence against chocobos over the years as a trope to inform players that “it just got real”. This is unquestionably the most extreme case yet, and it’s in the intro. You can pretty safely take that as a sign of Type-0’s tone before you even play a second of the game itself.
Class Zero themselves are very peculiar among Akademeia’s thirteen companies, serving not only as the playable party, but also as a source of as much of the game’s sense of mystery as the war itself. Sequentially named (the starting twelve characters are Ace, Deuce, Trey, Cater, Cinque, Sice, Seven, Eight, Nine, Jack, Queen, and King before two newcomers, Rem and Machina, join the class), and taking orders only from their “mother”, resident scientist Dr. Arecia al Rashia, you soon realize all these facts are clues to a mystery surrounding your own party. What is Class Zero, and why were they unaffected by Milites’ crystal jammer? Finding the answer to questions like these is the source of as much motivation to play through the game as is the desire to end the conflict.
Why Should I Care?
Rather than the world-spanning journey that usually comprises a Final Fantasy tale, Type-0 plays out in a chapter structure that almost invariably returns Class Zero to Akademeia after every mission, using the Rubrum capitol as a proper headquarters throughout the game. You don’t enjoy absolute freedom between missions, as time is treated almost as a currency that you must make the most of. Orience’s 14-hour days can be spent socializing (a two-hour expense nets you some character interaction and an item), exploring, leveling, and carrying out quests in the field (six hours lets you out of Akademeia indefinitely, so make the most of your opportunities), or attacking high-level expert trials that can open up new areas on the map and change the overall choose of the war (12 hours). If you find yourself with less than six hours until the mission but have done all the socializing available to you, you can speak to Tachinami or Kasumi in the command center, who can mobilize your forces right away. The time management system keeps the game moving forward in a way reminiscent of the Persona games, but without lifting Atlus’ system outright. It works really well.
The game’s core combat is extremely fast-paced, even by action RPG standards. You’ll play as one of a party of any three members of Class Zero, all of whom have a very distinct playstyle, and all of your available actions, which are highly customizable as your characters develop, will be assigned to a button. The easiest comparison to make would be to say that it plays like the Tales games, if the Tales games made more sense of their combat system and actually paid attention to things like collision detection. In the field, random encounters are in effect, and oftentimes will give you the option of fighting subsequent battles with identical enemy groups, which comes in handy if you’re looking to level-grind or seeking out a particular item drop.
Overall, the combat feels very tight and responsive once you know what you’re doing. Within each character’s parameters, it’s very easy to carry out any movement you intend to, and is especially satisfying when you make a series of premeditated moves that go exactly how you planned them. Before long, you’ll find yourself planning out how you want to take down any given enemy group the moment you identify them. Initiative and ambush are also represented in Type-0’s battle system, in the form of status ailments afflicting either you or the enemy. You have to be careful with this, as it can potentially manifest itself as the killscope status ailment, which can turn even the weakest of enemy encounters deadly.
Also, although only three characters fight at any given time, you can switch any surviving party members into the battle freely even if your active team has wiped. By no means is this a license to be careless, though. Using all fourteen characters in a battle may imply that things went spectacularly wrong, but things do have a tendency to go spectacularly wrong.
Apart from your standard combat, you also have regional conflicts to take part in, which will have a lone member of Class Zero take the field, commanding and fighting alongside Rubrum forces in broader conflicts over entire swaths of the map. The inclusion of tactical gameplay, directing forces from various bases and towns in order to overrun an enemy force, is quite reminiscent of the Suikoden series, and unfortunately just as underutilized in Final Fantasy Type-0 as it is in any Suikoden title.
Once you have no more time to use socializing, venturing into the field, or taking on expert trials, your mission begins. Missions are where the story of Type-0 itself plays out. These generally involve dungeon runs or invasions of towns or bases, occasionally themselves preceded by a regional skirmish. You’re not restricted to help from just your other party members here, as you can opt for guest characters (plucked from the game’s development staff) to switch in and out of the party as the mission progresses, and will be rewarded for doing so in the form of a second form of currency that can be spent in Akademeia’s command center. It’s an effective structure that probably lent itself especially well to the game’s original handheld format, but can seem a little restrictive here, as though the story is, with few exceptions, abiding by the restrictions of a platform the game is no longer bound by.
That takes us to the main blemish on the otherwise-fantastic game that is Final Fantasy Type-0. It is what you could call a “born and bred” handheld title, built from the ground up by a team that envisioned people playing it mainly at bus stops, on trains, or in break rooms. The overworld has noticeably less to explore than your typical Final Fantasy game, and the “socialize, level grind, story mission, repeat” format is a little too structured, even if the time you have between missions can significantly vary from chapter to chapter.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Final Fantasy Type-0‘s saving grace is that it is by no means a short game, even before you count the New Game + feature (which, without giving too much away, factors brilliantly into the storyline). When you take that into consideration, Type-0 gets lots of mileage out of the fact that it was built to be played through multiple times. Better still, once you catch on to the broader concept, those further plays will feel just as productive as the first, working toward a far more conclusive and satisfying destination than you were aiming for at first.
Of course, with the long-awaited Final Fantasy XV demo included with the initial shipment of Type-0, it would be unwise to assume everyone buying the game is doing so for the game itself. They just might find Type-0 to be a more playable and enjoyable experience when all is said and done. Perhaps more useful still is the fact that the two combine to form a concise, singular thought that goes a long way in explaining director Hajime Tabata’s game design philosophies moving forward. Neither game makes a good case for itself as the new standard-bearer for the Final Fantasy franchise, but both show signs that Square Enix has at least one of the right minds needed to guide the company into a return to form under new president Yosuke Matsuda.
What Type-0 represents, then, is the ground floor, and you’d be well advised to get in now.