Final Fantasy Type-0 HD: The Kotaku Review

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD: The Kotaku Review

The best moments in Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, a new role-playing game that is just as clunky as its title suggests, come not from the main path but from the things you can do during the breaks.

This might not sound too strange to anyone accustomed to RPGs like Baldur's Gate or Fallout, where going off and finding optional sidequests is practically the whole damn point, but for more linear Japanese-style role-playing games, it's an anomaly.

Here's an example. The party -- a group of talented fighter cadets called Class Zero -- is hanging out in an enemy city for Plot Reasons, and before the next mission begins, their bosses give them a chance to wander around and talk to NPCs. Since they're in an enemy city, most of these NPCs are imperial troopers -- the same ones they have been killing for the past few hours. It's a little disconcerting, especially when one of them says this:

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD: The Kotaku Review

Welp. I mean, yeah, this is kind of trite -- hey look, bad guys have feelings too! -- but these interactions add great flavour to a story that is otherwise chaotic and disorienting. Type-0's world is full of NPCs with gloomy things to say, from snarky moogles to treacherous politicians, and in their own little ways, they're more interesting than the main plot ever is. Exploration is encouraged and rewarded with memorable moments.

Final Fantasy Type-0 is not a great game. It's too rough, too messy, too bad at coherent story-telling to live up to the standards set by Final Fantasys of old. But it's a very good game, with satisfying, challenging combat, a lovely soundtrack, and a healthy dose of that Final Fantasy vibe we haven't seen in a console game for quite some time now. I liked Type-0 way more than I probably should have, and I expect that I'll be replaying it for a while to come, even if it does have a few too many things to say about Peristyliums and l'Cies.

I'm not kidding. Hope you like proper nouns. When you pop in Type-0, one of the first things you'll see is a cut-scene with the following chunk of narration:

And so the Milites Empire, home to the White Peristylium, invaded the neighbouring Dominion of Rubrum. As soon as the declaration of war was made, the Militesi main fleet swarmed into all corners of Rubrum.

Again, this is one of the first things you see. It goes on:

At the same time, a separate fleet was charged with a sneak attack on the Vermillion Peristylium. A l'Cie accompanied this task force. Using a l'Cie to invade a sovereign state was a direct violation of the Pax Codex, a treaty created by all four Crystal-States of Orience. The besieged peristyilum attempted to repel Milites's magitek armours…

...you know what, you get the idea. Final Fantasy Type-0 isn't afraid to be incomprehensible, spitting out proper nouns like it's trying out for Worst Tolkien Impersonation at the bookstore. But unlike, say, the old spinoff Final Fantasy Tactics -- which is similar to this game in a lot of ways -- Type-0 doesn't have strong enough heroes and villains to convince you that this is a world worth investing in. It's gritty, sure, but it doesn't have a whole lot of heart.

In case you didn't quite get your head around all those terms, here's the plot: a nasty military commander named Cid is invading all of the world's nations, including the one where the heroes live, and it's the player's job to thwart him. As Class Zero -- an eclectic squad of 14 military prodigies -- you have to go off on a series of varied and increasingly difficult missions ranging from simple (go capture this base) to decidedly complex (go shoot down some dragons then fight monsters on a frozen cloud). The story starts off convoluted and never lets up, bringing in a whole assortment of chocobos, crystals, and of course, l'Cie, those unfortunately-titled superheroes you may remember from the world of Final Fantasy XIII.

Final Fantasy Type-0's storytelling is so disjointed, it took me hours before I had a grasp on what was actually going on. From the get-go, I was overwhelmed with names and places to memorise as if I was taking a pop quiz right there alongside the rest of the cadets, and characters jumped in and out of the story with seemingly no regard for whether I actually knew or cared who they were. Type-0's most surprising moments -- like, say, the assassination of a major figure -- failed to make any sort of emotional impact because they didn't offer enough setup or backstory to make the events feel like they mattered. Imagine if Ned Stark had died in the first five minutes of episode one.

Of course, shows like Game of Thrones can't offer the type of gratification that can come from one of Type-0's many battles, which accomplish something remarkable: they make even random encounters feel fun. It's way easier to slog through all those proper nouns when every new mission is just a blast to play -- and rest assured the combat has way better pacing than the narrative.

But still, Final Fantasy Type-0 just assumes we'll care about what's happening because it's happening. Most of the big-picture military events are depicted through cut-scenes and voiceover narration, delivered with a stiff drone that makes what should be fascinating exposition seem like an AP history lecture. It's reminiscent of the second disc of Xenogears, where suddenly all of the world's major events are told rather than shown.. except at that point in Xenogears, I actually knew and cared who everyone was.

When the story isn't giving lectures about military operations, it's zipping through vague cut-scenes that feel incomplete, like large slices of dialogue were left on the cutting room floor. Major narrative arcs are introduced and discarded at random, and even after 22+ hours I still couldn't tell you who some of the characters were, let alone why they did the things they did. Like Final Fantasy XIII, Type-0 comes with a large encyclopaedia in which you can reference events and characters you've seen before. (Thankfully, unlike FFXIII, Type-0 won't spoil events before they happen.) But encyclopaedia-reading isn't exactly an engaging form of storytelling, and although there are fascinating themes in Type-0, the narrative was just too clunky to resonate with me.

Maybe Class Zero will disagree. Hey, Cinque, what do you think of Type-0's story?

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD: The Kotaku Review

Oh. OK then.

Sadly, Cinque suffers from the same major flaw as the rest of her classmates: these people just aren't very interesting. Of your 14 cadets, only two are given any room for growth, while the others are relegated to caricature territory. There's the heroic one, the brainy one, the lazy one… we've seen them all before. Though there are in-game classes and extra scenes that offer fun little interactions between all these characters -- again, the optional stuff in Type-0 is the best -- the game makes very little effort to convince you that they're real people with real motivations. Most of them don't even have proper names.

Actually, I spent most of Type-0 identifying characters by the weapons they use in combat. King, right, that's the guy with the guns. Seven is the one with the badass chain whip. And Jack, yeah, he's that overpowered katana-wielder who runs like Roy Hibbert.

Fighting is where Final Fantasy Type-0 stands out, and that's really one of the main reasons this game is worth playing. Combat in Final Fantasy Type-0 is a blast, a chaotic mess of dodging and slashing that feels as thrilling and satisfying as any good action game thanks to a rhythm-based "sight" system that lets you do extra damage and oftentimes kill enemies outright if you can strike them at the right time. Different opponents have different rhythms; one Flan monster might become vulnerable every time it lunges forward, while a hulking robot takes extra damage if you catch him while he's lifting an arm.

This sort of battling never gets old. Thanks to some smart design choices -- the little acrobatic flourishes, the music cues, the slight flash that appears alongside every properly timed kill -- the moment-to-moment of combat is exciting in a way that most RPGs have never been able to master. Check it out:

Pulling off counter-attacks like that is really, really fun, especially as the challenges get more difficult and the missions get more gruelling. That cast of 14 might not be ideal for storytelling, but it sure is great for fighting. Thanks to their varying weapon styles, each character has a genuinely unique feel, and although some party members are more useful than others, almost all of them are fun to guide around the battlefield, especially as you level up their abilities and magic.

For example, Trey, the archer character, not only can charge up his bow and release charges of varying strengths -- reminiscent of the archer class from Final Fantasy Tactics -- but also has a sniping ability that lets you turn the game into a makeshift FPS while you mow down enemies from afar. Ace, whose weapon is a deck of cards, can draw from a stack of random abilities to restore himself or mow down enemies, depending on his luck. Setzer would approve.

The missions are paced really well, too -- enemies are challenging, yet go down fast enough that fighting them rarely feels like a chore.

While out on a mission, you'll typically use three party members at once, with the rest hanging in the "reserves" section to be called up whenever one of the main three run out of health. But when someone hits zero HP and dies, they're gone. Kaput. No more using them for the rest of that mission, with a few rare exceptions.

This sort of permanence adds real stakes in a way that makes Type-0 feel tenser and darker than your average Final Fantasy game, where the phoenix downs flow like water. In Type-0, it's possible to lose most of your party and find yourself totally screwed when you get to a tough boss or challenging set of encounters, especially when you're on a harder difficulty setting. You can abort mid-mission and live on to fight another day, keeping all the experience you've gained, but you'll have to go through the whole mission again from the beginning on your next shot.

There are some brutal difficulty spikes, too, and if you don't take time to do sidequests and gain levels from mission to mission, you'll probably get stuck on some of the later boss battles. Unless you are like me and wimp out around chapter 7, switching the difficulty to easy so you can finish the game without grinding. (There's also a new-game-plus mode that lets you keep your levels so you can go do harder sidequests and see extra cut-scenes that aren't in the main game.)

After each mission, you're taken to the academy, where your class can chill, talk to other students, and go explore the world map. Yes, there's a world map. It's a little empty -- and kind of a pain to navigate because parts of it always seem to be covered in fog -- but it's there, in all of its old-school glory. The player who doesn't spend a large chunk of time scavenging the globe for optional towns and caverns is the player who's missing out on half of the game.

I should note, it's not a particularly pretty world map. Final Fantasy Type-0's world is rewarding, no doubt, and there's a whole host of places to see, from lava caverns to hidden airships, but this generally looks like a PSP game from 2011, mostly because it is a PSP game from 2011. No amount of makeup could hide Type-0's old warts, and although the developers did a great job making this HD version feel like a console game, it's not fooling anyone.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD: The Kotaku Review

Ugly textures I can live with, though -- it's the camera that serves as Type-0 HD's worst technological offence. "Disorienting" is not strong enough a word. Trying to control Type-0's camera is like trying to read a book while riding a rollercoaster, and as you roam through the cities and battlefields of Orience, you'll have to grit your teeth and deal with the nausea of a camera that just won't get out of your way.

That's Type-0. This is a game that has no problem being impenetrable, barraging you with proper nouns and saddling you with a camera that's always in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is a game that drowns you with exposition and buries its best writing in random NPC dialogue. It's frustrating in a lot of ways. But once you've really gotten the hang of the combat, once you've learned how to bounce around the battlefield and drive your whip into an enemy just as that red marker appears on his chest, it's not hard to forgive Type-0 for its many flaws. Just don't forget to talk to everyone.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD: The Kotaku Review

Comments

    But it’s a very good game, with satisfying, challenging combat, a lovely soundtrack, and a healthy dose of that Final Fantasy vibe we haven’t seen in a console game for quite some time now

    Ironic seeing as it's a port from a 3.5 year old PSP game.

    Not such a good thing the story doesn't flow. I was concerned that having 14 people in your party you'll feel no connection to any of them. That's what turned me off more than the combat in FFXIII; story I don't care about/understand because of bad writing + characters that I really couldn't care less about because of bad writing = one more reason for me to pine over FFVII and FFIX before going back to playing Fallout 3

      They made a FF game which isn't a FF game; seems to be Square's signature move for the past 10 or so years.

      That was FF13's worst crime, to me.

      Not the boredom of the corridors, not the grindiness of maxing out everything possible before moving on, not the restrictions on which party members you get to take or where you take them, not the frustration of combat you don't really control...

      It was the characters. Characters I didn't just 'not care' about, but actively disliked. I didn't WANT to know any more about these tedious fuckers.

    I'll buy this game. Not for its 'peculiar' narrative but for its insane combat. I could not bring myself to play anymore of Lightning's escapades as the combat did not feel at all involved. 'Choose a stance and let it play out'. Combat is the core gameplay, I'm sold!

      'Choose a stance and let it play out'

      Lol, no wonder you hate FF13, you don't even know how the combat works.

        How do you play FFXIII then? Because socialitegamer perferctly described how my FFXIII worked.

          Fight Long Gui and just do Auto-Attack. See how long you last.

          Do you realise that by just choosing a stance and let it play out, you can never win the game.

          Your party stances that you selected and level in advance will be critical to harder enemies. Each character is actually best for one class and effective in a few more classes. You need to be able to analyse the enemy and constantly changing stance to be effective. Changing stances in battle are equivalent to using different skills with different character, which is literally using other skills in turn base RPG. Change to a Commando, ravager, ravager for DPS, swap to Sentinel, Medic, Medic for quick heal, Sentinel, Sab, Synergist for debuff and buff.

          Unless if you stick to the same stance and just let it play out, it is literally the same as playing any turn base RPG and mashing the A button to attack every turn.

            "Unless if you stick to the same stance and just let it play out, it is literally the same as playing any turn base RPG and mashing the A button to attack every turn."

            Something which most Final Fantasy fans with rose tinted nostalgia goggles refuse to remember. Heck, in Final Fantasy 1, you could just hold down A to automatically choose Attack.

              Most turn base RPG can be really easy with random encounter. Circle the area near a healing point, hold A, win, level, heal repeat. I guess that is what people expect Final Fantasy to be.

              Yeah but in most FF games you have to occasionally throw a potion, or cast magic. If you have a healer and a ravager in your party there's almost no enemy you can't defeat with the autoplay button. It literally plays all but the hardest parts of the game by itself.

                Which is usually just the trash enemies. Like in every other Final Fantasy game (especially when your level is high. In FFIX, I set the cursor to memory, so that Zidane to always Thievery 9999, Freya to always Dragon Crest 9999, Steiner to always Attack and Garnet to always Curaga. Depending on the mob, I might have to make Garnet use an Esuna or Vaccine, but... this is prety much FFIX's version of auto-attack. Naturally I play for real against bosses, just like in FFXIII).

                  That only applies to endgame. FFXIII was auto-win from the first battle.

                Not just end-game. Any battle that had simple trash enemies allowed me to just spam the same thing over and over. Remember the start of FFIX? First 'enemy', attack him until you win, use Potion when necessary. Just like FFXIII. Attack enemy, use Potion when necessary.

            I think that's what the original poster was getting at though. Combat is just switching stances at the appropriate time and that's it. Sometimes you need to use an item but most of the time it's just X X X X X R1 X X X X R1 and so on. Not quite the hands-off affair that XII became after unlocking most of the gambits but not quite the same depth you would get from a more involved game where the decision you make each turn counts.

              Yeah it totally depends on the player. Even with swapping paradigm, you can manually choose the buff and debuff that sort of thing but if you want easy mode, just mash the button. Similar to the situation I mentioned earlier, there is no point if they just plan to mash button. Literally the same as mashing button in turn base RPG for auto attack battle.

                So it's OK that the game plays itself because you can technically work around it? If you have to deliberately play the game in the way not obviously intended by the developers just to make it fun, it's a bad game.

                  Sorry I gotta take that back. I completely forgot about disabling auto battle. There is the option in settings to disable auto battle select the skills yourself.

                  Did you try maybe not using Auto-Battle and perhaps try manually choosing skills? Sure, having auto-battle there makes the fights over quicker, but... that's why it's there for the weak trash enemies you never cared about (and this is directed at every trash enemy in Final Fantasy. You wanted those fights over and done with ASAP).

                  Even with trash enemies you still had to switch to magic if they were elemental, use armour breaks if they had high defense, cast haste to get the battle over quickly, have thieves steal etc. etc. Yes eventually you could "hold X to win" later on when you were crazy OP, but 90% of FFXIII was auto-win.

                  Read my comment: if you have to play the game "wrong" to make it fun, it's NOT A GOOD GAME.

                  'Play the game wrong'? So what, using Auto-Battle is the right way? I'm sorry, but you're talking BS. You had a choice of using either that or playing the game manually (you clearly chose auto-battle). If manually choosing actions is playing the game wrong, then why the hell did SE allow you to choose abilities?

                  In FFXIII, if you lacked a Libra, you had to figure out what an enemies weakness was (elemental or physical?). So you chose magic to figure out which dealt the most damage and once you did, primarily use that magic. SYN allowed you to buff the party (and it was better to manually choose the abilities here because Auto-Battle would only choose one) and SAB allowed you to debuff the enemies (again, better to choose abilities manually. This also applies to SEN because A-B makes you waste an entire bar Provoking, rather than Provoke -> Guard).

        I enjoyed FF13-2's more polished combat (and much more interesting story!) to the brief sluggish moments FF13's combat had - it was a subtle difference that made a lot of impact BUT FF13 did it's job introducing characters that you learned to love and hate.

        That said there's no redeeming an insult that is Lightning Returns.. Seriously how can you turn a well developed story and absolute cliff hanger that was FF 13/13-2 and turn it into such a menial sob story about a single character that's supposed to be a goddess and put an artificial count down timer on an RPG.

        Ludacris

    I was hyped for the original PSP release. The wait has been so long but LE is in the mail so the wait is nearly over!

    Let's be honest, the only reason people will buy this is for the demo. Who wants a 4 year old PSP port of a game with an average story?

      I'm buying the game for the game, gameplay, story and demo.

      Just want to cover the whole Fabula Nova Crystallis :(.

      They're certainly selling it that way. I saw a trailer the other day, and about 40% of the trailer was actually a trailer for the FFXV demo...

      I think it looks interesting, and I've never played the PSP version so it's new to me.
      I was considering getting it, but the price turned me right off.

    Why is the enemy target reticule so overbearing? youre fighting a dude not locking on to a freaking fighter jet

    Much of the game's story issues are because it's fragmented by being broken over tons of small bite-sized missions, because they designed it that way due to it being a portable game. Wish they'd kept it as a portable game. :(

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