Final Fantasy Type-0 is a PlayStation Portable title that never made it outside of Japan, much to the dismay of many overseas fans. Boasting real time, action-packed combat and a mission-based structure, it's an example of the franchise stepping out of its comfort zone with a project that's not entirely what we've come to expect. In some ways, it's reminiscent of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, but by and large, Type-0 crafts its own surprisingly unique identity. With its varied approach to gameplay and even storytelling, it's clear to see why its presence was so sought after here in the West.
Fortunately, you've now got a chance to experience the escapades of Class Zero with the aptly named Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. It's essentially a port of the handheld release, done up with some visual effects and a few gameplay tweaks in order to suit the expectations of the home console crowd. With the original releasing back in 2011, it's been quite a long time coming, but has Type-0's high definition reincarnation been worth waiting for?
If you're a diehard fan of Final Fantasy, the answer to that question is probably going to be yes. The crisp, neat and tidy feel of the series is present and correct, and all the cheeky hallmarks of the property are dotted throughout the game. From chocobos to eidolons, and cactuars to blatant Sephiroth references, anyone who's dabbled in Square Enix's franchise will enjoy the nods, both subtle and obvious.
However, both fans and newbies alike will have to turn a blind eye to the title's presentation if they're to get the most out of this. Re-mastering a PSP game for the PS4 certainly can't be easy, and it shows. Outside of Class Zero themselves, the models of both non-playable characters and monsters can often look pretty horrible, although having said that, the release's on-point art style and character designs are just enough to excuse the terrible textures.
Unfortunately, things only get worse when you're out and about, exploring and partaking in battles. In what appears to be a desperate attempt to apply some sort of visual prowess to the title, Square Enix has employed more motion blur than we ever thought possible. Spin the camera even a tad – which is easy to do considering the incredibly sensitive controls – and everything past a certain distance will become a hazy blur. While this effect obviously helps mask the engine's shortcomings, we daresay that anyone who suffers from motion sickness will probably last about 20 seconds before they void their stomach.
But again, it's clear to see why the developer has taken this route. Stop for a second and stare at anything that isn't your current character's lovingly made red cape, and you'll see nothing but incredibly muddy textures as far as the eye can see. It seems like a necessary evil, then, for a company that's always so hell-bent on creating artistic titles, but the fact that there's no way to reduce the amount of motion blur is an oversight, especially when it's this prevalent to begin with. The same can be said of the camera, for that matter, as there are no sensitivity sliders to fiddle around with.
Thankfully, as we all know, graphics aren't everything. Where Type-0 HD stumbles in the visual department, it makes up for when it comes to gameplay. The downside here, though, is that it takes a good three to five hours for proceedings to actually click into an enjoyable rhythm. On top of an opening set of cutscenes that last around half an hour, and dialogue scenes that seem to drag on for an eternity, you'll be absolutely desperate to get into the action, which initially seems fleeting in comparison. Setting the scene is one thing, but drawing it out to the degree that Type-0 HD does is just wholly unnecessary, and ends up feeling overwrought.
However, as mentioned, get past this opening slog, and things really start to pick up around the title's third chapter. The game makes use of a time-based structure, where you're free to pursue side activities, have conversations with your peers, and explore the release's rather vast overworld, before heading out on your next main mission. Most of your time, at least early on, is spent in and around Akademeia, a militaristic institute, and the base of your operations. Acting as a hub location, it's split up into different facilities, each of which you'll have to make good use of if you're to develop Class Zero into the world's strongest force. Speaking of which, you'll be forced to master every option available to you if you're playing on the game's hardest difficulty, which is brutal to say the least. In fact, as a whole, the title can be pretty tricky, but there is a thoughtful easy mode for those who'd rather just see the story through without too much trouble.
The story itself is a bit of a weird one. It's arguably more grounded in reality than past Final Fantasy games, with the narrative centring around military conquest and technology. It's an admittedly refreshing tale for the most part, with plot points based on strategic warfare and how far humanity is prepared to go in order to realise its dreams. However, its weakest aspects are visible when the typical franchise fluff comes into play, with talk of L'cie and magic bogging down an otherwise intriguing, and even relatable drama. As with the divisive Final Fantasy XIII, Type-0 often revels in sticking its head up its own arse, and it's this pompous and purposefully vague storytelling that the series must let go of if it's to rediscover the charm of Squaresoft's older creations.
You, of course, take on the role of Class Zero, a group of magically enhanced teenagers who are deployed to counteract an empire's quest for dominance. Made up of 12 squad members, the class is as diverse as it is cold hearted, with the cadets unable to express much emotion to one another. In the beginning, each character can seem stereotypical, but one of the title's greatest achievements is how it's able to drip feed you bits of personality as the story moves forward, until you're left with a band of soldiers that you feel like you've gotten to know. Where the overarching plot falters at times, the cast remains interesting throughout, and for a relatively large roster of 12 playable characters, that's quite an impressive feat.
Indeed, it's entirely up to you which cadets you make use of. If you have a favourite, you can decide to make them the leader as often as you want, switching out their team mates when you feel like it. Each squaddie earns experience only when they're in combat, which means that you'll be switching out active fighters on a regular basis in order to keep them all nicely levelled, but contrary to what you may be thinking, this doesn't mean that you'll be grinding to a huge extent in order to survive. Being action-based, combat is as much about timing and reactions as it is mathematics, and as such, it's not absolutely necessary to sprint towards the level cap.
It is important to maintain a balance, though. Each cadet features an entirely different moveset, with square acting as your basic combo string, while X, circle, and triangle all differ depending on what magic and secondary attacks you have equipped. This allows for some addictive customisation, as you experiment with different loadouts and team combinations. Ace, for example, fights using a deck of enchanted cards, and specialises in ranged combat, while Eight likes nothing more than to get up close with martial arts stances and combos. The variety to be found across Class Zero is fantastic, and finding a character that really gels with your playstyle is without doubt a defining moment.
Combat itself tends to be incredibly fast paced, and generally revolves around waiting for the right time to strike. There's a decent amount of enemies to discover and batter, and each comes with its own set of attacks, from physical blows to magic spells. The key to success is reading your foe's movements, and then retaliating when they're overlapped with a yellow or red symbol. Making contact when this mark appears heightens your technique's damage, and if you manage to hit when it's red, you'll kill your enemy instantly. Overall, it's a hack and slasher with a quite a bit of technical know-how thrown in. You can't, for instance, run into a battle and button mash, expecting to emerge victorious. You may even have to switch control to a different party member at times, if you're trying to take down a flying foe and don't have any ranged abilities, for example.
When all's said and done, it's a rather nice battle system that boasts a unique flavour, and blossoms during some intense boss battles - but it can take some getting used to. The whole thing is based upon a lock-on mechanic for starters, which can be a little bit finicky. The controls, too, can prove to be very deliberate, but if anything, this just reinforces the feeling that you need to approach combat with a degree of thought.
Sadly, this brings us back to the camera's sensitivity. The aforementioned lock-on system means that it's never too overbearing, but trying to do battle in enclosed spaces can be an exercise in frustration. There'll be times when the camera decides to freak out as soon as it touches a wall, or clips through an object, which can understandably grant your aggressors an annoyingly cheap advantage. Given that the camera was problematic in the original, it's a shame that this issue still crops up, although we don't doubt that the inclusion of a second analogue stick helps things tremendously.
Meanwhile, the game's audio features an impressively diverse soundtrack, that ranges from emotionally charged orchestral scores to gritty rock and techno-infused tunes. As we've come to expect of the franchise, many of the melodies on offer are infectious, with a few stand-out tracks effortlessly burrowing into your brain. It's a bit of a shame, then, that the English voices leave something to be desired. It's a classic case of voice actors trying to weave their lines into speeches that are already lip synced, and the result is some disappointingly dull, and, at times, awkward dialogue. Fortunately, there is a Japanese voice option, which, in our opinion, suits the often emotional storytelling far better.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is a mechanically solid action role-playing game, but now and again, it feels far more like a straight port than a grand remaster. However, questionable visual effects and some pretentious plot points aren't quite enough to hold back the efforts of Class Zero. Even though it can take a little while to truly click, this is a unique and refreshing entry in Square Enix's beloved franchise, and one that's a prime candidate for an even better sequel.