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Review: ‘Final Fantasy Type-0 HD’ Takes the Series Back to Its Roots

After dominating worldwide software sales during both the PS1 and PS2 era, the Final Fantasy series has seen better days. Sure, there have been some high points since the days of Cloud Strife and Final Fantasy Tactics, but those have been few and far between.

Some have argued that Final Fantasy’s struggles have been a byproduct of its new identity, which has strayed away from what made the series so great. Others would say it’s the series’ inability to catch up with a maturing audience, who no longer pine for the spiky-haired heroes of old. Whatever the case may be, Final Fantasy has been in a need of a facelift for some time.

Enter Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, a current-gen remaster of the PSP release from 2011. Originally, Final Fantasy Type-0 was supposed to be part of the Final Fantasy 13 brand – an offshoot set before the events of FF13. That’s still true, but considering the cold reception to 13 and its sequels, Square Enix has been smart to keep the connections slight.

With this HD re-release, Square Enix has gone the perfect route when it comes to adapting a PSP title. They’ve listened to fan feedback and toned down the difficulty with a new ‘Cadet’ option, and up-rezzed the visuals for added punch. Graphically, the game looks solid for a PSP “port” and its sound effects and music hearken back to the Final Fantasy games of old. Die-hard fans will love hearing some of their favorite themes, from the level up chime to the old school harps of the PS1 Final Fantasy era.

For all intents and purposes, the look and some of the feel of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD are that of an old school franchise iteration, albeit with some slight twists. In this game players are taken to the land of Orience, in which four factions have lived in piece for centuries. Each of these nations is under control of a special crystal, which imbues its standout citizens with special powers. However, when the nation of Milites, who holds the power of the White Tiger Crystal, decides to make a move on the nation of Rubrum, keepers of the Vermillion Bird Crystal, things heat up.

From there, players take control of 14 (yes, 14) cadets of Rubrum; the brightest the nation has to offer. These cadets are members of Class Zero and it’s up to them to turn the tide in Rubrum’s favor. However, as the Class Zero cadets soon find out, war can be an arduous experience. Death, destruction, and loss are ideas not often explored in a Final Fantasy game – or at least not in this brutal a manner – but Final Fantasy Type-0 puts those concepts front and center. It makes for a mature franchise iteration that is compelling and nuanced, more so than most games to have come before it.

It’s worth mentioning, though, that this is still, by and large, a Japanese developed RPG; so players can expect a borderline impenetrable narrative, some goofy characters (Moogles return!), and some really clunky dialogue. Particularly troublesome is the English-language voice work, which is off-key nearly the entire game. Even more awkward than that is the way cutscenes fade in and fade out on seemingly disparate dialogue bits, as if the game is giving players the bare minimum of story. There’s a compelling world and an intriguing premise, but Final Fantasy Type-0 HD has some real trouble bringing it all together.

While the story in Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is surprisingly demanding of its players, the real-time RPG combat is even more so. With 14 characters to juggle, this game becomes a streamline focused player’s nightmare and a grind-happy fans’ best friend. Sure, some players can get by if they focus on just a handful of the 14 cadets, but this is all about developing the entire Class Zero cadets and managing their strengths and weaknesses.

The combat itself plays out in full real time, with players free to move about the battlefield and even dodge enemy attacks. In fact, dodging is practically a must because it unlocks special weak points on enemies. It’s a little less fast-paced than Kingdom Hearts, but is far less focused on micro-management than Final Fantasy 12. In a way, it’s almost like Final Fantasy Type-0’s gameplay is a cross between a character action game and an MMO, and it really works.

Because each of those 14 cadets is different, they become tools for different situations. Players head out into missions, the main storyline-focused sections of the game, in teams of three, but they can mix and match cadets at any save point. Once in battle, the two AI teammates will try (emphasis on try) their best to keep pace with the player character, who is managing basic attacks with magic and abilities. For some characters, those attacks are focused on range, while others are purely melee focused. Some attacks are quick and do minimal damage, while others are slow but devastating; it all depends on their signature weapon.

Combining these different character types together is part of the fun, but it’s also the game’s biggest hurdle. Having to manage so many playable characters and keep them up to a certain level becomes quite the chore. And since the game only lets players swap out characters at save points, the tedium of managing them sets in pretty quick. The big cast is obviously part of the game’s appeal, but it’s also a major hindrance.

The missions in Final Fantasy Type-0 are uniquely framed around time-based preparation phases and mission phases. During the preparation phase, players are free to complete side quests, interact with fellow schoolmates, and head out into the open world for some good old fashion monster slaying. It’s here where players will do the bulk of their preparation: getting each Class Zero cadet up to the right level and earning new gear for the main battle. For those who lambasted the lack of towns and exploration in past FF games, this fits the bill and then some. Again, there’s a lot to manage and it can become tedious, but this is right up a Final Fantasy fan’s alley.

The actual missions, on the other hand, are far more rigid and should be plenty familiar to FF fans as well. Players will move forward in a semi-linear path, working their way through lots of well designed enemies, mini-bosses, and bosses as they go. Some of these enemies, even the seemingly insignificant, can truly pack a punch and are capable of taking out a character with a single blow. That’s why the dodge is such an important mechanic, and it’s also why there are 14 cadets. Downed cadets can’t be resurrected during the mission either, but must sit out until the player finishes the entire sequence. It’s a demanding challenge to get through the missions, but it’s satisfying as well. However, those who don’t want to take the time to prepare should probably avoid the game.

Pulling it all together, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD has so many flashes of old school FF it’s hard not to be transfixed by the experience. Walking around the open world looking for random battles, a story that’s a little convoluted, and oh did we mention Eidolons/Summons are back – this is what the fans want. But with that comes a game that is unforgiving in its difficulty spikes, demanding from a leveling perspective, and heavy on chore work. For some that will be exactly what they want, but for others it will be a huge turn off. As a longtime Final Fantasy fan, my feelings fell somewhere in the middle – appreciating the combat, but wishing the story and mission structure had been better composed. Still, those who have been waiting for Final Fantasy to get back to what it does best, this is the best thing going right now.

Are you looking forward to playing Final Fantasy Type-0 HD? What do you think of the game’s approach?

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD releases March 17, 2015 for PS4 and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PS4 copy for this review.