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The Final Fantasy series is certainly no stranger to spin-offs, what with everything from dungeon crawling chocobo adventures, tactical role-playing games, competitive fighters, as well as recent Pokemon and Monster Hunter clones. While it’s hard to argue that any of these are more praiseworthy than Final Fantasy Tactics, particularly War of the Lions for the PSP, perhaps the most interesting is the once Japanese PSP-exclusive Final Fantasy Type-0.
Set in the Fabula Nova Crystallis universe (a collective mythos that spans seven different games, including the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy and 2016’s Final Fantasy XV), Type-0 HD is the current console generation’s remaster of 2011’s PSP game and the only version available outside of Japan. Although the stories within the Fabula Nova Crystallis share a common mythos, like the concept of l’Cie fulfilling a focus and turning to crystal, their stories are mostly independent of one another. It’s a complex universe that Low on Life explains in-depth in a post that released prior to XIII-2.
So, what is Final Fantasy Type-0 and exactly how Final Fantasy is it?
In a nutshell, it’s an action RPG with bits of menu-based combat similar to that found in Crisis Core or Kingdom Hearts. The story itself takes place in the land of Orience, which is divided into the four “crystal states” of Rubrum (which houses magic), the Milites Empire (science and weaponry), the Kingdom of Concordia (dragons), and the Lorican Alliance (defense). They’re referred to as such because each one houses their own powerful crystal, which brands citizens as their protectors (l’Cie) and gives them a “focus,” similar to Final Fantasy XIII.
The game itself centers on Class Zero, a group of fourteen exceptional students who reside at the Vermillion Peristylium (a military school) in Rubrum. They originally began as thirteen strong, but one dies in the gutwrenching opening cinematic and two new students are added to the roster immediately after (one of which is the deceased’s brother, Machina — who, fun fact, is voiced by Sword Art Online’s Kirito in the English dub).
Unique to Type-0, and perhaps its most interesting concept, is a nationwide case of memory loss: when someone dies in Orience, every living person magically forgets about their existence. The four crystals did this so their citizens wouldn’t be held back by regret and could instead focus on improving via future conflicts. That key moment early on when Machina’s brother is mortally wounded and dies alongside his battered and bloodied chocobo, only to be replaced by Machina himself, doesn’t seem to phase him later in the opening chapter when he visits his headstone in the graveyard. Imagine losing a family member and having no recollection of their existence? Strong stuff.
Fair warning: I’m about to spoil the plot here. Shout-out to the Wikipedia entry.
The game begins as the Militesi Empire breaks the nationwide peace treaty with their invasion of Rubrum, by way of deploying a crystal jammer to dissolve its protective barrier and negate the use of magic within it. As mentioned above, the Vermillion Peristylium in Rubrum is the home of magic users, and no magic means no way to fight back. Class Zero, however, is immune to the crystal jammer’s effects and repel the invasion. Militesi, being the home of the White Tiger crystal and the cornerstone of science and weaponry, respond by bombing the Lorican Alliance off the map, murdering the Queen of Concordia, and framing the murder on the students of Class Zero. This results in Concordia forming an alliance with Milites and launching a joint assault on Rubrum.
Then there’s the whole Tempus Finis apocalypse set to destroy Orience, because what’s Final Fantasy without some godlike evil plot layers? With Rubrum successfully defending their turf and uniting the nation under the Vermillion Peristylium, the magical kingdom of Pandaemonium appears and puts Tempus Finis into action. Shit. The only way to prevent such an ordeal is for someone to become what’s known as Agito; a legendary figure that just so happens to be powerful enough to stop it.
Long story short, Rem (one of Class Zero’s new recruits) is eventually made l’Cie by the Vermillion crystal when the rest of Class Zero decline the offer (if the offer is accepted, the player is treated to an ending where Tempus Finis occurs and Orience is destroyed). Rem battles her childhood friend Machina, both l’Cie at this point, and when Rem is mortally wounded the two become crystal (fulfilling their focus). But what’s the focus? When Class Zero arrives at their location, they lack the mindset to move forward and proceed with the final encounter. Seeing Rem and Machina in their crystal state somehow reinvigorates them. However, each student becomes mortally wounded themselves during the encounter and after stopping Tempus Finis they appear back in their classroom, discussing their future plans… which is just their awkward way of staying positive, because they all know they’re going to die and nobody will remember them. One of the characters is so afraid of dying during this scene and their dramatic sobbing and whimpering was such an emotional gut-punch. I legitimately felt sorry for them.
The classmates huddle together, breathing their final breaths, and eventually perish atop one another. Rem and Machina, now human, arrive at their pile of corpses and… actually remember them. As it turns out, stopping Tempus Finis allows Orience’s living citizens to remember the dead! Woo!
There are some great story moments at play, particularly the relationship between Machina and his childhood friend (and fellow new recruit) Rem. He eventually grows to resent Class Zero for his brother’s death, defects to Milites, and is branded l’Cie by their White Tiger crystal to prevent Rem from seeing the same fate as his brother.
Another neat idea (on paper, anyway) is that Type-0 HD offers a few different endings and incentivizes multiple playthroughs. A subsequent ending reveals that Orience is stuck in a time loop, where a few of the key characters are aware of it and struggle to find ways to break the cycle. By the time the player controls Class Zero for the first time, the cycle has been repeated more than six-hundred million times. Yikes.
Final Fantasy Type-0 is mostly victim to having some neat ideas on paper and failing to nail their execution. Aside from the memory loss ordeal in the story, there are fourteen playable characters who each have their own play style and unlockable abilities. One throws playing cards with varying magical effects, while others wield a katana, a spear, or dual pistols. There are massive maces to be swung, magical rayguns, a whipsword seemingly ripped straight out of Soul Calibur, a scythe, and even a flute that can enhance your party’s effectiveness in battle (because bards fucking rule).
However, Type-0’s combat kinda sucks.
Most of the time I found myself mashing the default attack button in combination with whatever ability I found most interesting. There was absolutely no way I was going to level each of the fourteen characters in a single playthrough (that typically lasts ~25 hours), so I’d estimate that I only focused on four or five of them. Each member of Class Zero has their own distinguishable quirk to set them apart, but they’re never really given much in the way of story to build them up. For a cast this big and a story this robust, it’s a damn shame that their growth went largely ignored. Rem and Machina, the “new kids,” are the lion’s share of the entire sub-plot, and beyond them, I just couldn’t care less about the rest of the students. A class of exceptional teenagers risking their lives for the fate a world that wouldn’t remember them if they died landing flat is sadly underwhelming.
Combat itself just feels dry and wonky and none of the characters are overly fun to use. I found myself maxing out King, the pistol user, just to do the absolute bare minimum in combat and coast along with the story — bad guys spawn, mash square until they’re dead, move on. On my second playthrough, I attempted to diversify my party, but combat isn’t engaging or enjoyable so I defaulted back to King yet again. Yay, minimum effort.
Type-0 also has these half-baked RTS missions called “sorties” which require the player to direct and defend troops from one building to the next, in order to reach a specific end goal. You can only control one character and the entire sortie takes place on the overworld map, so it’s a lot of following A.I. troops around and attacking things in front of them so they can progress and overtake an opposing base. It’s as fun as it sounds.
Being an HD remaster of a PSP game, Type-0 HD looks as good as you’d imagine. It’s nothing too fancy and definitely looks like a port, mainly due to the primary characters and just a handful of major players and enemies in the story getting the proper amount of TLC. Many of the NPCs are merely upscaled and stick out like sore thumbs, with just their bottom lip jiggling on their otherwise stoic face during conversations.
Take this fine lass, by way of IGN Russia. Look at those soulless eyes!
This is the end result of a game initially released in 2011 on a handheld that packed a nearly equivalent punch to the PlayStation 2. Making it look fresh and clean doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s mechanically all over the place, and generally not for the better.
For the sake of comparison, here are a few screenshots I found via Google’s image search.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD has a pretty good narrative, but it’s told in a confusing way that didn’t make much sense until I followed up my playthrough with a perusal of the game’s various wiki entries. It’s one of those games that bombards you with names and terminology and just expects you to understand it all, so you spend a lot of time going “O-okay…?” until you read up on it and change your opinion to “Ah, cool, neat, I wish it was explained like this inside the fucking game.”
It also attempts a weird time-management system a la Persona, where you’re given a certain amount of free time to explore and interact with people. Undertaking side-quests, for example, uses up a certain amount of “free time,” while talking to an NPC may soak up two precious hours of your available twelve — why yes, one day in Orience is only 12 hours instead of 24. You can listen to class lectures, leave campus, and there are some story segments that play out if you use the “right” student to interact with the “right” NPCs, but nothing is ever concise. Needless to say, I always had a guide at the ready. It’s a terrible, wonky system.
As I just mentioned, the combat is pretty bad and sorties were never fun, but for all of its faults, Type-0 has one of the best soundtracks in the entire series.
Composed by Takeharu Ishimoto, whom you may know from Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, the Dissidia spin-offs, a pair of Kingdom Hearts games, and The World Ends With You, Type-0’s music spans everything from militant electronica…
…to this Silent Hill-sounding masterpiece…
…and this super rad chanting track…
…which makes way for this almost hymn-like song…
…to the Japanese rock band BUMP OF CHICKEN’s depressing intro track “Zero,” which, if it doesn’t move you then you’re a monster.
Yes, it is VERY GOOD.
I’ve managed to play through Final Fantasy Type-0 nearly twice: once at launch and again earlier this month. Playing through it again this year did nothing but lower my opinion of the game, however. It’s not a very good Final Fantasy, or a very good game at all, but there are some neat things worth exploring if you’re a fan of the series.
However, with two of my favorite aspects being a re-read of the story through pages of wiki entries (since the game itself doesn’t do the greatest job) and Ishimoto’s composition, you don’t really need to play Type-0 to enjoy these things. Maybe watch a recap on YouTube and give the soundtrack a listen instead. If you’re looking for a good Final Fantasy spin-off, there’s always Tactics.