More capes, darling!
For years now, some people have been saying that Final Fantasy is dead. While XIII was considered a misstep by some, XIII-2 was a marked improvement and Lighting Returns was one of my favorite games of last year.
Oh, and there's the impressive showing for Final Fantasy XV, the constantly improving Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which is one of the best MMOs ever made, a fantastic rhythm-based sub-franchise, and a handful of interesting side projects. Now we have Type-0 HD.
Final Fantasy is far from dead, folks.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD (PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Square Enix 1st Production Department, HexaDrive
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: March 17, 2015
Type-0 HD takes place in the world of Orience, with four nations dubbed "Crystal States" constantly vying for power. The narrative focuses on a particular academy in the Vermillion Peristylium region, specifically on a group called "Class Zero" -- an elite unit, consisting of the cream of the crop. Unlike some other Final Fantasy games the narrative is incredibly easy to follow, as it is essentially framed as a warring states type deal with magic infused in it -- think Harry Potter on a grander scale.
The order of operations in terms of gameplay is pretty straightforward. Players will spend a lot of time at the academy, which function as a hub-like city where you can buy and sell equipment, upgrade spells, take lectures to learn more about in-game lore, or advance the story and go on missions. There's a world map complete with optional chocobo travel, where characters can engage in random encounters, tame roaming chocobos, or find roaming monsters or warring factions.
Most of your time however will be spent in combat, by way of battlefield encounters that resemble those in Kingdom Hearts (which I'll get to in a moment) and small RTS-like segments that play out on the world map. With the latter sequences you can invade towns, order troops between different vantage points, and try to sway the tide of combat with your own magic abilities.
The real draw here though is the action-oriented combat, which features all of the staples you've come to love over the years -- lock-on, dodging, magic, physical attacks, and synergy between party members. It's crazy to see how much detail was put into each individual action, as every character has his or her own nuanced movements. For example, Ace has a teleport-style dodge, and can put up a magical defensive barrier to protect himself from attacks. Another character might have a faster melee skillset and focus on rushdown attacks, preferring a rough and tough block over the barrier.
The more one plays the deeper combat becomes, as you start to get into tactics like standing still to heal, holding ability buttons to charge them up beyond their limits, and absorbing souls from fallen enemies, Onimusha style. For the most part you'll control three characters at once, with the ability to switch freely between them with the d-pad to adjust your tactics accordingly. By sacrificing your leader one can bring out a temporary playable Eidolon summon like Ifrit (which is subsequently limited by a timer), or rely on reserve troops if your party starts to die out and dwindle.
Type-0's big message is that every party member needs to be used, and everyone is viable. From what I've played, this is absolutely true. Out of all 14 students, every single one of them has a unique skillset, from scythes to Magicite pistols to good old fashioned fisticuffs. The game gives you pretty much everything up front, and to really succeed, you'll need to have a balanced party to prevent a top-heavy situation from happening. While some may find it an excuse to pad the length, I personally love it, as there is real incentive to try out everyone. Since they're all fun to play in their own right (even Deuce, who wields a flute), I have no problem with it.
It helps that you'll keep your experience even if you fail a mission, and Square Enix actually hints that it's perfectly okay to fail. I've had instances where I was down to my very last member in the final boss fight of a mission, and it was an absolute blast to figure out how I got there and how to prevent my party from getting eviscerated further. It must be said, Type-0 HD is a difficult game, and mastering every element is required to really succeed consistently. For those of you who want a more casual experience, Square added a "cadet" setting that should help less skilled players get to the end.
Aesthetically, I love the focus on red and gold. Just like any Final Fantasy game you'll have your favorite characters, and the seasoned dub cast led by talents like Matthew Mercer really do a great job here. If one is so inclined Japanese audio is also in without having to download a patch (as Square has been known to offer). The incredible soundtrack also deserves its own mention, and I'm keen to listen to tracks outside of the game, which doesn't happen all that often.
I also felt a connection to the world of Type-0, which helped me along as I took on each mission. There's lots of blood, perhaps more than any other Final Fantasy title to date, and the first time I saw a chocobo brutally executed in front of me while a young cadet begged for his life, my jaw was wide open. There are a lot of great action scenes afoot in Type-0, and because of the down-to-earth school setting the rivalries between classes and classmates are a little more relatable than some other back stories.
Of course, not all is good when it comes to the visuals. The style is great on paper, but it really feels scaled down for an HD release. You can take the outdated visuals out of the PSP, but you can't take the PSP influences out of this remake. There are some jarring transitions to deal with, low-detailed environments, and re-used maps in a lot of city-states. The world map also feels bland compared to pretty much every other JRPG out right now. These things are easier to overlook when the game is constantly fun and rewarding, but it's something to be aware of.
JRPG fans looking for a meaty experience will be pleased to know that Type-0 HD has at minimum roughly 40 hours of story content, and if you do everything, it'll take you more than double that. There are extra missions to enjoy, plenty of sidequests and world map activities to find, and there's an expansive "history" section on the main menu that opens up the more you play. There are also four difficulty levels, two of which will push your skills to the absolute limit.
While it did not factor into this review, first-run physical discs and digital copies will include a demo for Final Fantasy XV. That's quite a hefty list of extras, but there's a certain degree of disappointment when one takes into account that the HD remake didn't really add anything significant content-wise for people who have already played it -- in fact the multiplayer component was actually taken out of the game for fear of taking another year to develop.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is a pleasant surprise, and after playing it, I can see why so many people were clamoring for a western release. Although it doesn't necessarily justify the HD treatment at every turn, the core game is worth playing whether you're a fan of the franchise, or just enjoy challenging tactical action. If Square keeps highlighting and pushing quality experiences like this, it will prove to more people it hasn't lost its touch.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD reviewed by Chris Carter
Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth most people's time and cash.
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