Final Fantasy has fallen on hard times. Not everybody agrees on when the series’ Golden Age began and ended (I personally place it from 1994’s VI to 2000’s IX), but most everyone agrees that the Golden Age is over. Creative voices that were instrumental in shaping the series—artist Yoshitaka Amano, composer Nobuo Uematsu, producer Hironobu Sakaguchi—have all either had their workloads dramatically reduced or left Square Enix altogether. The young guns who inherited the series have made some hits, but on the whole, they don’t know what to do with it. To wit, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One rerelease of a 4-year-old, Japan-exclusive PSP game that began life as a cell phone game called Final Fantasy Agito XIII.
As its original name suggests, Type-0 shares some specific lore with the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, but its story and setting owe more to general Final Fantasy conventions. There are four magical crystals that keep the world in balance, a militaristic empire is attempting to take control of them, and it’s up to Class Zero, a team of inexplicably battle-hardened high schoolers, to stop them. The game’s tone is surprisingly heavy, and it attempts—sometimes with success—to inject pathos into its story of a war between magic robots and teenage super-soldiers. Between the grim atmosphere and narrated, grainy faux stock footage, it’s a bit like playing a PBS World War I documentary.
The broad strokes of Type-0’s plot are easy enough to follow, but its details are often either badly explained or deliberately unclear. There is an expectation that players will already be familiar with the elements that Type-0 has in common with Final Fantasy XIII, so if you don’t already know what l’Cie are or who Pulse is, you’re on your own. The only strength of this story lies in the characters. The cadets of Class Zero are thin anime cliches—there’s a stupid one, a stoic one, a naive one, and so forth—but at least they’re endearing cliches, and the story is at its best when the team is relaxing back at HQ or putting their heads together to solve a problem.
The cadets are also the best thing about Type-0’s action. The 14 members of Class Zero all fight differently. Some are fast but weak while others are slow and strong. Some rely on chains of quick attacks and others on landing single powerful hits. No two play exactly alike. The fun of the game is in learning all the characters’ specialties. You must train yourself, for instance, to hit the attack button a little bit earlier with Cinque to compensate for her slow wind-up. Fighting with Jack, you develop a talent for zipping into close quarters to land a single killing blow. Mastering each style is a satisfying challenge, one that’s constantly changing as the team levels up and learns new abilities.
Combat on the whole has a frantic energy. The battle system emphasizes the exploitation of “Break Sights” and “Kill Sights,” small windows of vulnerability in enemy attack patterns during which they can be crippled or instantly killed. Despite the speed and scrappiness of the fights, though, they are often won or lost before they’ve even begun. For every minute spent in combat, you’ll need to spend 10 micromanaging Class Zero’s stats, equipment, abilities, and magic between missions. Landing a perfectly timed Kill Sight attack can mean the difference between victory and defeat, but if you go into a mission under-trained or poorly equipped, you won’t stand a chance no matter how good your reflexes are.
Darting through enemy ranks and nimbly dispatching priority targets with your favorite character is exhilarating, but the stars need to be aligned for the combat to feel great, and they rarely are. Break and Kill Sights can only be used if you’re locked on to your target, but locking on slightly alters the camera angle in a way that makes it difficult to gauge how close you are to your opponent. Other times, the camera whips so quickly that it’s impossible to tell what you’re looking at. Characters who get knocked down in battle take several seconds to stand back up again, which is a death sentence in a game that places such a high value on quickly and decisively earning the upper hand. Type-0 talks a big game about how difficult it is, recommending that new players start on the lowest difficulty and dropping hints that “grinding” will be necessary to progress, but these several small annoyances working in concert can make the game more obnoxious than truly challenging.
Final Fantasy is too massive a cultural force to be in danger of failing after a few years of disappointing releases, but hope for the future of the series rests with Type-0 all the same. Not for anything the game itself might represent, but because it comes packaged with a demo for the would-be savior, Final Fantasy XV. Returning Final Fantasy to its former glory is not Type-0’s concern. It doesn’t reach for the standards of the golden age, nor does it by itself herald the coming of a potential silver age. But it’s also more than just a delivery vehicle for the demo of a potential reviving salve that, let’s face it, might not revive anything at all.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD
Developers: HexaDrive, Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4