When 9 and 9 meet 9.

The Final Fantasy series has a history of being overly self-indulgent. Extravagant cutscenes bookend every set piece. Storylines tend to favour complexity over simplicity. And the cast of characters range from the cold and emotionally detached to the annoyingly upbeat.

Despite all this, I’ve always enjoyed the lavish spectacle of Square Enix’s long-running series. I’ll forever be indebted to Final Fantasy VII for introducing me to the JRPG genre all those years ago, and for providing me with my first (and probably last) video game crush in the form of the hard-hitting Tifa Lockheart. *swoon*

But it’s fair to say that Final Fantasy has lost its way in recent years, stagnated even. It’s perhaps understandable, then, that my expectations for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD were rather reserved. After all, how good could a current-gen remake of a PSP game that released exclusively in Japan four years ago really be?

Pretty good, it turns out.

Crystallis Confusion

Final Fantasy Type 0-HD isn’t immune to the pitfalls highlighted above. A flashy opening sequence lays the foundations for a typically convoluted tale of two cities embroiled in a bloody conflict. Orders are barked at soldiers, crazy costumes are worn and cute Moogles float around the game’s main hub, Akademia, shouting “Kupo!” after every sentence. It’s Final Fantasy fluff at its finest, presented with more melodrama than an re-enactment of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Nevertheless, the game starts out with real promise. A surprisingly mature and well-executed introduction sees a helpless soldier and a disturbingly blood-stained Chocobo consoling each other as they await the cold embrace of death. Watching a dying soldier spluttering in agony may be commonplace in the majority of video games, but witnessing one of Final Fantasy’s fleet-footed, feathery steeds croo it’s very last croo (at least I think they croo?) is a strangely powerful and evocative sight. Poor little thing.

machina final fantasy type-0

“Hey, Machina… I think your Vincent Valentine cosplay needs a little work.”

Predictably, the story eventually succumbs to its own wishy-washy nonsense, but the game avoids falling into too much of a rut thanks to Type-0 HD’s interesting premise and excellent combat.

A Class Above

You control a team of 14 students from Class Zero, each blessed with magical powers and their own unique abilities and weapons. That’s right, 14 hormonal teenagers, tasked with fending off an evil empire – what could possibly go wrong?

You can pick from any of the students to act as your active leader, with two other members joining you in battle as you tackle a variety of missions which can be replayed numerous times, and tasks set by the game’s NPCs. Missions are graded depending on your performance, so there’s plenty of replayability on offer if you want to obtain the best items and weapons for your team.

14 hormonal teenagers, tasked with fending off an evil empire – what could possibly go wrong?

You’ll only have a certain amount of hours each day to undertake side-missions and interact with other characters, which keeps things moving along nicely. Depending on who you control, you’ll encounter character specific events and story arcs. Though they are completely optional the majority of the time, it’s a clever way of encouraging players to regularly switch between the class members.

None of the students really stand out as a clear lead character, however, and I never found myself particularly drawn to any of Class Zero’s star pupils. Card-flinging Ace probably just edges it because he is featured on the game’s box art – but I did feel the game would have benefited from focusing on some sort of main hero or heroine. Students Rem and Machina act as the game’s subplot, though, so there is some continuity and structure to the story; Machina attempts to uncover the mystery behind his brother’s death, while Rem attempts to cover up her terminal illness, even though it’s blatantly obvious she’s not well.

Schoolyard Scrappers

The one significant advantage of having 14 characters to choose from is the variety on offer. Thankfully, each student represents a different challenge when it comes to mastering their abilities on the battlefield. And it’s here where Type-0 HD really comes into its own.

The combat in Type-0 HD is slick and satisfying. A simple lock on system is in place, allowing you to keep a close eye on your enemies. Instead of merely dodging an enemy’s attack and replying with an endless volley of your own, each enemy has a “Kill Sight” and a “Break Sight” that can be exploited. Kill sights are represented by a red target and, if timed correctly, can deliver an instant kill. Break Sights operate in a similar manner, however,  they deal high damage to enemies as opposed to a quick kill and are symbolised by an orange target. Studying your enemies’ attacks is crucial; you only get a second to act when an enemy becomes vulnerable or exposed, and depending on your chosen character, you may have to factor in weapon range and their speed of movement to hit them effectively. It’s a simple but effective system that really keeps you on your toes.

Once an enemy is defeated, it’s time to extract their precious Phantoma. Phantoma is used to upgrade your team’s magic outside of battles, and replenishes it while you are in one. Extracting Phantoma can also damage enemies if they’re close by, but extracting it will leave you open to attacks. Getting the most Phantoma for your buck can be a tricky balancing act.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD teacher

Dr. Arecia Al-Rashia is apparently the mother of Class Zero. And has an ample bosom.

With so many characters available, you need to manage your squad carefully. Whenever your first trio of heroes fall in battle, you’ll have no choice but to rely on your reserves. Final Fantasy Type 0-HD doesn’t take any prisoners when it comes to the game’s difficulty, and I found myself relying on every party member for the tougher missions, which made training a necessity or I potentially risked having an unbalanced, top-heavy side. One of the game’s many Moogles will alert you if your team isn’t strong enough to tackle the next mission – so keep your ears open and your team well-trained.

Train Away With Me, Honey

Type-0 HD manages to avoid the trap of continuous grinding with a couple of clever ideas that I hope to see in future games. There’s a practice arena, where you can face off against a stream of enemies with a single character, and an option to “fight again” when encountering certain random battles instead of having to find another one. However, by far the most promising new addition is the Secret Training option. Basically, you pick a character you’d like to level up and quit the game; maybe you’re going to bed, or away for a few days. When you return, depending on the length of time you’ve been away, your character will have leveled up! It works wonderfully, and saves a lot of time in the process.

Portable Past

For a game that was originally developed on the PSP, the upgrade to current-gen consoles by developer Hexadrive is extremely impressive, albeit not by today’s lofty standards. Yes, it looks fabulous for a converted PSP game, running at 1080p and a solid 30 frames per second, but its underpowered origins are clear to see from the outset. Although the game’s main characters have received a drastic upgrade, NPCs and enemies don’t fare nearly half as well. They’re noticeably blocky and wrapped in flat, fuzzy textures. The majority of the game’s environments boil down to a myriad of dank corridors and constricting rooms, although the game’s main hub, Akademia, has received a much more noticeable upgrade.

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It’s tough to be overly critical of the game’s visuals considering the amount of work that’s gone into upgrading the game for current-gen systems, but its a valid gripe nonetheless. During my playthrough, the Xbox One version was susceptible to a few noticeable stutters, too, which definitely took the shine off the game’s generally smooth frame rate.

Push The Sick Stick

One of the biggest issues with Type-0 HD is the game’s ridiculously sensitive camera controls. Even the slightest nudge of the right stick will induce a crazy amount of motion blur as the screen hurtles towards your chosen direction at what seems like a million miles an hour. After feeling green around the gills on a number of occasions, I basically ended up playing the game with as little interaction with the right stick as humanly possible. It really is that bad, and avoiding it completely is literally the only solution.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD’s soundtrack is right up there with the very best the series has to offer.

Finally, it would be wrong to end this review without mentioning the game’s breath-taking soundtrack. Final Fantasy rarely delivers a dud in the audio department, but I genuinely teared up a little during the game’s opening song “Zero” by Bump of Chicken. Daft name aside, it really sets the stage for the ongoing conflict and the extreme struggle that war ultimately brings.

The game is also buoyed by multiple battle themes, fantastic overworld music and a selection of satisfying remixes of classic Final Fantasy songs we know and love. Honestly, I’d put Final Fantasy Type-0 HD’s soundtrack right up there with the very best the series has to offer.

The same can’t be said about the English voice acting, sadly, which has a habit of being unintentionally humorous. There is a Japanese language option available, but it made the story even more difficult to follow as checking subtitled text during heated missions wasn’t exactly ideal. For that reason, I stuck with the English voice over.

A review code of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD was provided courtesy of Xbox. The game was reviewed on Xbox One.

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