Don’t let the conclusive name fool you. There are more Final Fantasy games than I’ve had hot dinners. Once the benchmark in role-playing fantasy, the series has since hit a bit of slump, thanks to gimmicky sequels, teases of remakes that will never happen, and sub-par spin-offs. All of that however looks set to change, thanks to the remaster of a game that was originally released only in Japan, simply as a PSP exclusive back in 2011. Four years later, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD marks the long running role-playing game's first appearance on current-gen consoles, with a remaster that reminds us of the core values of what it means to be part of this genre-defining series.
The land of Orience is currently divided between four realms, all in a state of constant turmoil. Each one is defined and powered up by a legendary magical crystal they have sworn to protect. In an attempt to take control of all four crystals for themselves, the appropriately named Militesi Empire declare war on the other realms in an attempt to secure the power these crystals hold for themselves and take over the world. Enter Class Zero - a fourteen strong elite unite of teenage warriors from the magical Vermillion Peristylium academy, tasked with executing various missions and leading the charge into battle on behalf of the realm of Rubrum.
The narrative emerges as a tricky one and even for Final Fantasy veterans can be considered rather convoluted. Many of the key plot points are told in expositional cut-scenes, complete with visual maps that feel more like extracts from a history documentary than a computer game. Constantly bombarded with a lexicon of magical terms and strange unpronounceable words, if you do manage to follow every last detail down to the letter, you deserve some sort of qualification in Advanced Final Fantasy-ism.
It also means that the pupils of Class Zero don’t really get a look in as far as character building is concerned, with only two of their numbers, Rex and Machina, having some sort of impact on the game’s overall story. Aside from occasional conversations you can have with them throughout the game, there’s very little personality in this rag tag group of magically enhanced ruffians, which is a bit of a let down, seeing as other Final Fantasy game’s are renowned for larger than life characters, all with an individual quest or purpose that essentially make up the crux of side-quests and hidden missions that keep people coming back for more.
The same goes for the supporting cast. Beyond Class Zero, there’s isn’t really anyone of note, aside from a strange sorceress who keeps a close eye on the students and two omni present figures who appear to revel in Orience’s conflict. On the side of villainy, there’s no Seifer & Sephiroth-type landmark characters here, just one-dimensional military hungry antagonists led by the relentless Cid, whose sole purpose is to sound intimidating, while delivering predictable over-the-top dialogue to his subordinates during the game’s cut-scenes. Thankfully, as the game’s story unravels across a series of mediocre sub-plots, the one thing that will keep you interested is the surprisingly refreshing gameplay that could potentially set the way forward for Final Fantasy games to come.
The main game is broken up into eight chapters, each with their own specific mission at their centre. It might seem rather limiting for a Final Fantasy game to segment itself, but it’s an approach that works, managing what should be an huge game into easier-to-swallow bite size chunks. These missions include storming enemy territory, sneaking in through the backdoor unnoticed to disable enemy tech or liberating small towns from the firm grip of the Militesi Empire, while also increasing Rubrum’s influence over Orience. Of course, these missions grow in difficulty the further you go, and with fourteen playable characters at your disposal, expect plenty of experience building between chapters, if you are to succeed in your quest.
There’s also a fair amount to do during your down time as you wait for the next chapter to begin. You’ll be given an allotted amount of time to explore the world map, train your team in field battles and the combat arena, or perform tasks for individuals throughout the land in exchange for rewards and experience. There’s some, although not a huge amount of, hidden caves which are useful for mining experience and usually play some relevance in completing tasks. However, you can only perform one task at any one time and it soon becomes apparent that by repeatedly visiting the same dungeon areas over and over again, there’s not a huge amount of extra detail outside of the main quest.
All of these duties take time, so whether you have three days or three hours to spare, you’ll always find something to keep you busy before mission time. If you’re a bit on the lazy side, simply having conversations with people can pass the time (usually two hours per conversation, although they reward you well for bending your ear) or participating in lectures that power-up your attacking, defense, or magical powers. You can even breed various types of chocobo at the Chocobo Ranch, all of which have several uses in the game, ranging from quickly exploring areas of the map, to riding them into battle on the world map, including in some of the few and far between strategic moments where you assist Rubrum’s troops on the world map.
Of course, gathering experience is overall the most important objective between chapters and while the world map is the best place to do this, there’s also the option to participate in the suitably named Expert Trials. While these missions aren’t essential to completing the game, they do give you the chance to explore Orience a little more and deal further damage to the Militesi Empire and their allies. A word of caution however, as these missions are usually designed for players at a higher level, so it’s best to try these on a second play through, after you’ve unlocked the New Game+ mode. If luck is on your side, you can just about manage one or two during your first play through, but just make sure you’re well stocked and you know exactly how to perform the wide range of moves available to each member of Class Zero.
Combat is without a doubt the game’s strongest suit, building upon the traditional Final Fantasy formula and taking in a much more modern, fast-paced direction. Battles take place in real time rather than the old turn-based way. Armed with a physical attack, a defensive ability, and two other customisable abilities ranging from critical strikes to powerful magic, the key to surviving this war is perfecting your dodge and striking at the right time. Using the shoulder buttons, you can lock on to a specific target and from time to time, you’ll be able to land a killshot, signified by a large red symbol hovering over the enemy, meaning that you can dole out devastating damage to an enemy or even kill them outright with one blow. However, with fourteen playable characters to choose from as not all of them are comfortable to work with from the beginning, unlocking new abilities and getting used to each one’s set of skills becomes a difficult yet rewarding challenge in its own right.
From swords to scythes, guns to fists, and even a deck of magical playing cards, each member of Class Zero has been trained to use a specific type of weapon, meaning that there’s plenty of ways to customise your party to cover yourself against the varying types of enemies that are after your blood. The text based tutorial messages at the start of the game are crucial, so it’s well advised to pay close attention to each one in order to fully understand how the game works. Once you’re settled, you’ll see just how revolutionary Type-0 is in terms of redefining combat for the series going forward, even if it does borrow bits and bobs from the Dynasty Warriors approach to action.
Your party will consist of three members but you’ll only have direct control over one. The others are controlled through the game’s AI which for the most part is surprisingly intuitive. However, there will still be some scenarios that will have you frantically switching between each one, particularly when you're facing a combination of ground troops and airborne infantry or worse still a deadly boss. During the main missions, you’ll receive assistance from a selection of NPCs who, despite having a greyed out appearance and absolutely no personality, will usually come equipped with a high level and one of Class Zero’s trademark weapons. You can’t control these characters but as the battles grow tougher, you’ll certainly be glad they have decided to come to the rescue.
It soon becomes a balancing act as you try and keep your favourite playable team members alive long enough to get them through some of the lengthier missions, while remembering that the bench warmers will only get experience points if you use them in the field. As much as it’s tempting to keep using whoever has the biggest sword for every mission, every now and then you have to call upon your least popular characters, including one girl who plays the flute (yes, that is her weapon) in order to make sure everyone levels up smoothly and equally. By accessing the promotion section of the in-game menu, experience points are translated into ability points which in turn can be used to unlock new moves and abilities for each character.
Killing enemies will allow you to harvest a material known as phantoma for a short time after they have died. This will not only replenish your MP counter but will also provide you with some rewards such as potions and other consumable items. The phantoma itself is also collectable and can be used to level up your magic attacks, a task that’s just as important as levelling up your characters. They all come colour coded and as you can imagine, various shades of red phantoma can be used to strengthen your magical attacks, while white is used to increase your defensive and healing abilities. After all, there’s no point in your character reaching level fifty, if their cure ability will only grant them 200 HP at a time.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Final Fantasy without the fan-favourite summon ability. Once again known as Eidolons this time around (just like they were in Final Fantasy XIII), these are usually unlocked after completing one of the game’s main missions (or the expert trials) and come in useful particularly when facing stubborn enemies or if the battle is going in your favour. In an interesting new twist however, you’ll actually be given full control over Ifrit, Shiva and the rest of the Eidolons for a short period of time. Like Class Zero, each one comes with a range of special moves that can be chained together to create devastating combos and tear through the enemy ranks. They even gain experience so the more you use them, the stronger they become. The one downside however is that in order to summon these creatures, you have to sacrifice a member of your squad, so be sure to do it when in control of the class dunce rather than your honours roll student.
If there is one massive fault with the gameplay, it lies with the camera. Controlled by the right analogue stick, moving the camera around is incredibly nauseating, as your surrounding visuals woosh past you to the point where sea-sickness is induced - and that’s just when travelling from one place to another. Worse still, locking on to an enemy in a battle may increase your likelihood of landing a critical strike, but at times, the viewpoint will confusingly whirl around, leaving you disorientated while you adjust it, but not before taking a few hits yourself.
As you can imagine, there’s quite a lot to handle when it comes to gameplay. Thankfully, it’s a welcome distraction from the game’s graphics which sadly fall short of the technical abilities of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. For a game that originated on PSP four years ago, it’s still a triumph for the series, but as glossy as some of the cut scenes are and no matter how much of a high-definition makeover they give the characters, you can never quite escape that fact that this is indeed a remaster.
The backgrounds are fairly static and unremarkable, with the same palette applied to most towns, dungeons, caves, and enemy bases throughout the map. If you’ve seen one bricks and mortar town you’ve seen them all, with just an alternative grid layout differentiating them from the last. Similarly, the world map is a surprisingly boring place to explore with nothing but a few forests, the odd cave, free-range chocobos and stampeding beasts to give it a bit of life. Again, it looks flat and uninspired which almost feels like a step back for a Final Fantasy game.
Everything from the locations to the cut scenes ends up looking pixelated when put up on the big screen which is disappointing when you consider just how much effort has gone into the other trendy remasters doing the rounds at the minute. The one saving grace is that at least the character models look at home on current-gen consoles. Put side by side, the clarity and increased amount of detail that Class Zero, their enemies and the wild monsters that roam Orience have all been given really stands out. Even the special effects for each magical move have been given a touch of glamour, but it all emphasises the fact that everything else just looks utterly dull and boring in comparison.
For a game that originated in on PSP however, there’s still plenty to love about Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. With the series relying on underwhelming sequels in recent years (yes, we’re looking at you Final Fantasy XIII), Type-0 HD is a breath of fresh air that may not look the part, but certainly acts the part. So for anyone who bought it, or is intending to buy it as a stopgap before our first true current-gen outing for the series eventually comes along, then you might be find this game as a welcome surprise, as going back to school with Class Zero really has taught us that there’s still plenty of life left in Final Fantasy.