It’s been a long wait for “Final Fantasy” completists who have been looking to get a taste of “Final Fantasy Type-0.” A longtime Japanese PSP exclusive, Square Enix is only now making this game available stateside. In many ways, “Final Fantasy Type-0 HD” is a “warts and all” kind of presentation. Hardcore FF fans will find plenty to satisfy the itch, but those less invested may want to leave it behind.

CHILDREN OF WAR

“Type-0” begins with one of the darkest scenes to emerge from any “Final Fantasy” game. It’s the product of war and devastation, with a young man letting out a cry of anguish in the street as his Chocobo lay dying at his side. It’s the kind of conflict that players can expect through the story, which takes players to the Dominion of Rubrum. The Dominion is warding off powerful invaders from the Militesi Empire, led (surprisingly, for followers of FF canon) by an evil Marshall Cid. The Dominion’s defenders are the 14 standout warrior students of the Akademia academy’s Class Zero.

If it sounds like Square Enix might have trouble fleshing out 14 main characters, that’s because that mostly turns out to be the case. Outside of a few characters like Ace, Machina and Rem, it’s difficult to make individual members multi-dimensional. The story surrounding them is not any easier to follow and only gets more confusing as it moves forward, especially once the Dominion army begins plotting against one another in rounds of political gamesmanship.

WAR GAMES

“Type-0” is far more action-focused than most other games bearing the “Final Fantasy” brand. It trades in traditional turn-based RPG combat for third-person squad-based action. Players control a leader and fight alongside two other AI-controlled members of Class Zero against the Militesi army, which range from human soldiers, to the traditional FF-style monsters, to towering mechs and dragons. In a nice touch, many waves of enemies will have a designated leader. Taking that leader down will automatically cause all other foes to surrender and leave items, further adding to the wartime atmosphere.

Each member of Class Zero specializes in different types of weaponry, from Ace’s Gambit-like deck of cards to Deuce’s combat Flute. They all offer different play styles of ranged combat or up-close melee brawling, though boss battles appear to favor more of the former. All of the playable characters have access to traditional FF magic spells, like Fire and Cure, which adds some welcome extra dimensions to the game’s combat. Variety in battles is definitely a plus, since squads can also attack in unison through formation attacks or summon powerful Eidolons to help chip away at powerful foes.

A DULL BLADE

By far, however, “Type-0’s” biggest weakness is the incredibly sharp difficulty spikes. Obviously, not all enemies are created equal, but the jump in power from one boss to the next sometimes rocked me straight out of my combat boots. All too often, it wouldn’t happen at the start of a mission, either. “Type-0” missions can run fairly long, many times surpassing the half-hour mark. After enduring a marathon of enemy waves, it’s frustrating to hit an end boss that’ll take out each member of the squad in one or two hits. These missions are structured as a veritable endurance match, featuring numerous enemy waves, a huge boss battle, and then an even bigger boss that would cut through my squad like butter. Just when I felt nearly finished, I had to start over from scratch.

So what’s the solution to this? Grinding and lots of it! The trouble with this is that each member of Class Zero has to be leveled up individually, making it extremely time-consuming. Beyond that, though, since each of the Class Zero characters have their own style, this often means having to level up a character that’s not necessarily your cup of tea.

There’s one other aspect of “Type-0” that falls flat and that’s the RTS-style war portions of the game. There are several instances in which the Dominion army will have to move in and capture enemy territory, requiring Class Zero characters to travel the overworld map and flank the opposition. Coming to the enemy from behind opens the door for the Dominion army to strike and capture territory before Class Zero moves in and invades the town proper. It’s confusing to learn and didn’t get any more fun after I understood it.

THE SPOILS OF WAR

A lot of this game’s PSP heritage appears to be on display. While the characters appear to look fine for an HD remaster, many of the environments and menus look awkward and even blurry. The gameplay has several moments of frustration, especially with AI not always knowing when to heal you. This would normally be alleviated by grabbing a partner for co-op, but that aspect of the game was stripped away for the HD remaster for reasons that leave me scratching my head.

The story of “Type-0” is an interesting one to witness, if only to see a darker “Final Fantasy” narrative and a more evil side of Cid. But it’s a story that’ll likely only satisfy FF completists and few others.

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