Back in 2006 when Square Enix announced the Fabula Nova Crystallis trifecta of Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy Versus XIII, and Final Fantasy Agito XIII, I (like so many others) was immediately hyped up and excited to experience all three of these seemingly epic titles. FFXIII released to a slew of mixed reviews, while Versus and Agito rebranded as Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy Type-0 respectively. Though while the whole world is on the same page with FFXV, having recently been given their first hands-on experience with the demo, Type-0 never saw release outside of Japan during its initial release on the PSP in 2011.
Now here we are, four years later, basking in the glow of the shiny, high-definition graphics of the updated PSP title, remastered for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One: Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. The only problem? You can polish and shine a turd all day. It will still be a turd.
This is not a statement I make lightly, as I truly wanted to enjoy this game. For a month I’ve tried to play this game, and for more than a month I’ve tried like hell to like it, but it’s just not happening. I’ve given up. I have not completed the game, so if that’s important to you when reading reviews, go ahead and stop now.
First and foremost, the title is all wrong. This should not be called Final Fantasy Type-0 HD; it should be called Menu Simulator 2015: It Still Looks Like a Handheld Game.
A large cast of characters is not unheard of in RPGs, and so long as the developers manage and introduce them properly, or make them all important or meaningful in some way. Usually it’s great having so many players to interact with and learn about. However, the 14 classmates in Type-0 all seem so one-dimensional and boring. Okay, Rem and Machina have their secret sub-plot going on, and Ace is the leader of the pack, but the rest of them are merely there to fill up a roster and claim various boring tropes such as “clueless jock,” “bitchy loner,” or “quiet and kind.” They have very little substance, and their history is all about the class, not any of them as individuals. Bor-ing.
In addition, it is stressed during the tutorial that you should not just pick a set trio of favorites to level up, as you never know when you’ll need to fight with someone specific for a particular mission. Best to keep them all leveled up and ready, just in case. So instead of typical Final Fantasy grinding, where you’ll keep a party of three to five at respectable levels, you’re expected to keep all fourteen of them strong enough to take anything on, even though you only fight with three at a time.
Admittedly, it is a great idea to have a mini-army at your beck and call, so if one dies you can immediately substitute another fighter in to take their place. That’s honestly fantastic. But forcing the player to learn 14 different skill sets and 14 different fighting styles straight out the door is simply absurd. There is no staggered “gain more party members as you play and meet them” deal as in the traditional Final Fantasy fare; you have all of them from the start of Type-0.
Because of this you spend more than half your time in menus, making sure everyone has learned new skills and equipped the best gear, as well as upgrading your magic spells in the Altocrystarium so they stay powerful enough to be useful. There is way too much micro-managing with not enough payoff. After 20 minutes navigating menus and upgrading everyone and everything, you feel primed and ready to take on the world. Then you remember that everyone except that one character you’ve chosen to main is still a pitiable level, and needs to be carried from fight to fight.
It’s just so damn tedious, and this is coming from a guy who’s playing through all fourteen numbered Final Fantasy games in a row. I’m no stranger to learning to level up systems and grinding like there’s no tomorrow. Type-0 just does it all wrong and plays too frustratingly.
The battles themselves are fine, and often you can chain up to five fights consecutively, each one more challenging than the last. This is the best way to grind, as the fifth battle in a row often shows you fighting enemies ten levels your senior, but so long as you fight strategically, they go down easily and you’ve gained some valuable experience and magic orbs of Phantasma. Honestly, the battles are actually good fun. But then all too soon you find yourself back in the menu, leveling everything up manually once again. Pain. In. The. Ass.
If there’s one way to lessen the tedium of grinding, it’s by leveling up when you’re not playing. There is an arena in Akademia where you can select one (yeah, just one) character at a time to train while the game is turned off. The longer you’re away, the greater your experience reward will be upon booting the game back up. It’s certainly a welcome mechanic, but it’s awfully counter-productive. When the most appealing way to level up is by turning the game off and walking away, you’ve done something wrong.
Now that I’ve explained the “Menu Simulator 2015″ part of my new moniker for Type-0, let’s discuss the subtext: “It Still Looks Like a Handheld Game.”
The main characters may be crisp and updated, and the cinematics certainly look the HD part, but everything else looks like it was ripped straight from the PlayStation Portable. Now I haven’t played the original Japanese release, and when I look at comparison videos there are evident graphical updates to many areas of your school, Akademia, but all the NPCs look absolutely rotten. I recall NPCs in Final Fantasy VIII, a PSOne title from 1999, that look comparable to those in Type-0, and they at least wander around their school.
Perhaps the difference in quality wouldn’t be so glaringly obvious had the playable 14 classmates not been updated so much, but when you move next to a group of students just standing around school, their faces (and their entire beings, actually) look jagged, blocky, and ugly. It’s remarkably disappointing.
On top of that the overworld also appears to be so incredibly bland. You wander a flat an uninspired world, only made interesting by the occasional town or massive crater. A few hours in you’ll see massive enemies on the map that should be avoided until you’re a higher level, but that doesn’t really help the world itself to look any more interested or detailed.
Honestly, the cinematics are the only part of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD that earn the HD part of that title, and even then it all looks like it’s been filmed through an Instagram filter. No joke. There’s an emotional scene where my class is discussing the repercussions of a recent event around a campfire. It starts off with just some chit-chat and looks like standard gameplay, but when things heat up in the discussion it transitions to a cutscene; suddenly everything’s got a bronzed sepia tone to it. As soon as the bit ends, you’re back to wandering around the camp and the tan haze is gone. It’s weird and jarring.
I’ve tried again and again to leave Type-0 for a few days and come back with fresh perspective after playing other games. Sometimes that’s all I need. Sometimes I go back to a game after a while and suddenly something clicks, and I can’t imagine why I disliked it so much before. Well more than a month later, that’s just not the case. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is not a terrible game, but it’s certainly not worth your time when you could just play Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae over and over instead.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD was developed and published by Square Enix for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
A digital copy for the Xbox One was provided to Save/Continue by Bandai Namco Australia for the purposes of this review.