Forget everything you once knew about Final Fantasy – Type-0 immediately throws everything out the window. The very first scene of the game depicts a bloodied soldier, caught in a warzone, collapsing against his equally bloody Chocobo mate and tearing up about his swiftly-approaching death – it’s raw, shocking and powerful.
Mercifully, Type-0 eases up on the Chocobo deaths but the war motif is used heavily throughout. The player controls the 14 students of Class Zero, members of a magic academy who are charged with aiding a rebellion to save their home country Rubrum. It’s fairly intriguing stuff but the game detracts from this with a tendency to throw complex terms around without really explaining them – those who paid little attention to Final Fantasy XIII might spend most of the game wondering what exactly a l’Cie is, for example.
There’s an odd contrast which needs to be discussed too. Yes, Type-0 (rather ambitiously) seeks to create a tale about the brutal realities of war and conflict but it’s also a game which features cartoony Moogles who end every line with ‘kupo!’. It’s really quite jarring at times (though it never fully detracts from the experience), almost as if Square wanted to completely start fresh with the series but had to keep certain elements intact for the fans.
This can also be seen through the excellent but underutilised soundtrack. Hefty, dramatic themes are placed alongside classic remixes from across the series, creating a score which evokes nostalgia but also seems to want to push forward in a different direction. These conflicting themes and ideas aren’t really bad, they’re just slightly odd – Square were clearly in two minds when making Type-0 originally.
It’s the fourteen main characters which really stand out and pull the game together though. Rather than handpick a couple of characters for the game to revolve around, Square created something of an ensemble cast – every character has their own role to play and they’re all equally important to the narrative (something which ties in really well to the gameplay). This is especially notable in the sections between missions where the player is free to wander the Academy – building relationships and chatting with classmates might not be as vital as it is in Persona 4 but it’s still an interesting way to learn more about Class Zero and their various personalities.
Class Zero’s differences really shine in battle though. Each character has their own unique weapon and set of skills, offering a whole bunch of different playstyles to choose from. The game actively encourages the player to switch characters regularly to keep everybody’s levels balanced but you won’t really need prompting – trying out each character, getting to grips with their unique talents and unleashing them on foes is terrific fun.
Type-0’s focus on war and combat needed a strong gameplay system to match and happily, Square didn’t disappoint. Borrowing the ATB system from Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII was a great move (there’s definitely a dash of Kingdom Hearts in the mix too) and the quick pace of the game encourages players to constantly be on the move; dodging attacks and maneuvering around the battlefield is essential for survival in Type-0.
The game layers tactical elements on top of this too – enemies will be vulnerable at certain moments (usually after attacking) and the player can capitalise on this for massive effect. Landing an attack on an enemy while they’re surrounded by a yellow circle will result in a massively damaging critical hit; attacking while the circle is red will kill the enemy instantly. It’s a neat way of preventing the player from simply spamming attacks and hoping for the best – pausing and waiting for the opportune moment in the heat of battle is tricky but rewarding. It’s a battle system which tends to favour ranged characters (they’re less vulnerable and they’re able to target weaknesses far easier) but melee characters are far more fun to use, thanks to the fast, skill-driven dodging and combo attacks. It’s a fine balance and it works really, really well.
But what about the HD tag in the game’s name? Unfortunately, this is generally where problems arise. Type-0 for Xbox One and PS4 is a high-def remaster of a PSP game, released in Japan in 2011, and the limitations of that portable console are still on show here. The game’s mission-based structure breaks the action down into small, bite-size pieces; those who want to push on with the story might be aggrieved at the constant breaks.
The PSP’s limited hardware has left some areas poorly textured, something which would look awful in high-definition, were it not for the quality of the art design – the remastered cutscenes make up for this somewhat though. Another constant source of trouble is the atrocious camera; a slight nudge to the right stick results in the angle violently swinging around, making it hard to accurately point the camera where it needs to be facing. The motion blur effects which accompany a change in angle are fairly unwelcome too.
Don’t allow yourself to be put off by these factors though. After all, it is a port rather than a fully-fleshed next-gen title – there was bound to be some rough edges. Persevere through the game’s cutscene-heavy intro and you’ll be rewarded with something special. The diverse, thrilling combat is reason enough for Final Fantasy fans to buy into this remaster and the mature re-imagining of a classic series is certainly intriguing, to say the least. It even brings back the world map, a lost RPG staple; if that doesn’t get the hardcore Final Fantasy crowd interested, absolutely nothing will.