My ‘Month of Final Fantasy’ has officially come to an end, and to be honest I didn’t get through as much stuff as I wanted, but I did finish Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (and reviewed it very highly – it’s a *great* game), and played enough of Final Fantasy: Record Keeper to know that it just wasn’t for me. The main game I wanted to play through this month was Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, along with Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae, and this is unfortunately where I have somewhat failed. In my opinion I’ve played enough to write this review and finish off my themed gaming month, but please take this with the caveat that I’ve not finished the game, and thus at some point I might revisit the conclusion/score at the bottom if I ever pick it up again and complete it. This is, however, quite unlikely.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is a game I was *very* excited about playing, pre-ordering quite early in anticipation, and spurred me on to dedicate a month of gaming to the Final Fantasy videogame series, which I have enjoyed for many years. Originally released on the Sony PSP, the leap from sub-SD graphics to full high definition seemed ludicrous, but in the trailers and gameplay snippets it looked like they had mostly pulled it off. Of course, you’ve got to know what you’ll be getting with Final Fantasy Type-0 HD to avoid disappointment, and I had no illusions about the visuals of the game.
It’s obvious that this game was designed for much more modest hardware than the PS4, as the environments are not only quite large and empty, but they are also covered in low resolution textures and simply modelled environmental detail. I knew this would be the case, and something about this game reminded me strongly of Freedom Wars on the Vita, which I thought was great on my PSTV and so I had no real problems with the graphics here either. In fact I was often pleasantly surprised by the highly detailed characters in the main playable cast and by the use of special effect shaders in an engine which is actually quite robust. Some of the cutscenes are also really good, although these don’t run in-engine despite using the same models and assets (some of the supporting cast unfortunately look terrible both in game and especially in these cutscenes).
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD also has an *amazing* soundtrack!! This, to me, is a real standout feature of this game, as the orchestral score is absolutely superb and easily ranks among the best in Final Fantasy; so much so that I downloaded the soundtrack and listened to it over and over during the period I was engrossed in the game. The voice acting of the characters was initially a little jarring, and once again in my opinion the English dub is pretty atrocious, it just doesn’t fit the characters and world and makes lines cheesy and hammy when they should be poignant. Luckily, this time the original Japanese audio is on the disc from the start (unlike Lightning Returns which required a cheeky download) and switching over to that solves these problems; the Japanese cast are very serviceable and do a much better job with the material.
Unfortunately, the voice acting is wasted on fairly bland and forgettable characters, and this is a big problem with Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. The plot itself is actually pretty awesome and different for a Final Fantasy game, as it concerns itself with a war between nation-states governed by large powerful crystals, and the whole thing has strong military overtones and themes of loss and death. It’s overall pretty damn dark. The two core characters, who form just some of the playable cast, are Machina and Rem - outsiders with a shady past and a lot of secrets. These two are quite interesting if a little one-dimensional, the problem is that you have another twelve characters to juggle and try and keep in the loop, which are all pretty much caricatures and non-entities. They even have a plot device that means they can’t remember fallen comrades, ensuring they rarely grow and develop or learn from mistakes. As the third member of a three-person party I mostly used Ace, as he’s the “poster boy” for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, but the problem is that the game doesn’t let you keep to just three people.
Often the game will spike in difficulty and punish you for sticking with the same party members, wiping one or all of them out and forcing you to swap people in, who will likely be hideously under levelled for the mission and cause you to ‘game over’. The solution to this? Well, you can replay any missions or side-missions from the main menu and use this to level your other characters, which I found to be really dull and quite tedious to grind out the same environments and enemies again and again. My solution was in fact to grind in a different way and over level my chosen main three people to a degree that story missions became trivial, which also meant they were less challenging and fun. It’s a strange setup and unfortunately damages the game somewhat.
When it’s firing on all cylinders Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is great fun though, the combat system especially is *fantastic* and frantic, operating in real-time but with magic and action cool-down timers, etc. You can also hot-swap between your party members with the touch of a button to take advantage of the enemy’s elemental weaknesses, or to hit triggers that cause instant death or the dropping of shields; it really is a great system!! Outside of combat there are some occasionally good side-missions, and there are sometimes odd RTS-ish sections where you command troops to capture towns and cities on the world map, but most of the core gameplay is in the party-based combat and this is definitely a good thing. Outside of combat, back in Academia (HQ), there is a different sort of grind as you attempt to waste ‘time’ by performing menial tasks and hopefully accelerate the time to the next mission.
Overall, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is an odd game to review. On one hand, a lot of hard work and effort has gone into remaking this for PS4, and bringing it to the West finally, and the combat system is superb (along with the *amazing* soundtrack). On the other hand, it can be quite sterile and dull inbetween missions and the grinding of characters really aggravates me, unless I over-level and make the game too trivial. A good game, but not a great one, worth trying for a different Final Fantasy experience played in short bursts. (I.e. perfect for handheld should have been on Vita!!)