Of course, we know now, eight years later, what a disaster the "Final Fantasy XIII" era has been. FFXIII along with its direct sequels, have been terribly controversial games - in the opinion of some (including myself) the very worst games the series has ever produced. "Versus XIII" suffered delay after delay, and still continues to disappoint fans even after a name upgrade to "Final Fantasy XV". It skipped E3 this year and its final release is nothing more than fan hopes and dreams. Meanwhile "Agito XIII" after six years of changing development and platforms,was released at the tailend of the PSP's lifespan. Yet the tragedy of the FFXIII era continued. "Agito XIII", now known as "Final Fantasy Type-0", never saw its way over the US, having come out well after the point that Sony had let its portable rot to make room for the PlayStation Vita.
Obviously this was a crime that could not go unanswered. Should we in the West have to suffer because Square Enix was too incompetent to finish their game in a timely fashion, forcing themselves to release a game on an unmarketable console? Should we have to suffer because Sony's line of handhelds sank into the abyss of miserable failure? Certainly not! That's why a group of courageous fans known as Operation Doomtrain took it upon themselves,* to create the English "Type-0" that the Japanese would not give us. And so, just last month, the English patch of "Type-0" dropped, bringing the game to the Anglo world.
And then, only days later, Square Enix announced their own plans to port "Type-0" to the next-gen consoles and in English. But this is SE we're talking about, it took them two years to get "Final Fantasy X" on a PS3. Let's ignore the fact the game is indeed coming, find where Mom hid our PSP in the closet, and play this most obscure of modern Final Fantasy games.
First of all, Operation Doomtrain did more than merely translate the game. The original release of "Type-0" came on two UMDs, making it the largest PSP game of all time. The fan ISO, which can now be found for free across the Internet, actually merged together both discs into a single file. And very impressively, the ISO works almost without flaws. Nearly every element of the game is translated, which is no small feat considering the scale of "Type-0". The only glitch I encountered was that the opening FMV would freeze if you put your PSP to sleep, and the History section of the game sometimes woudl fail to load, locking the game. Other than that, this is a near-perfect release with the entire game available for your gaming. Just make sure you have a large enough memory card, because this game is a whopping 2.7 gigs.
Anyway, history recounted, technical business covered, let's get into the game:
"Final Fantasy Type-0" is in many ways, the opposite of "Final Fantasy XIII". The games share very little in common despite some shared mythology, particularly the concept of "l'cie". But they make for interesting contrasts. One game is incredibly small in scale, claustrophobic, and seems to be lacking in any real ambition to do more than present a flashy experience. The other is a gigantic game probably far too ambitious for its own good, filled with characters and an unimaginable scale, so large in its aims and scope that it cannot quite fit in every idea and plotthread. FFXIII seemed to want to nothing to do with Final Fantasy, it eschewed classic music choices and enemies. "Type-0" is obsessed with its series. The Victory Fanfare is back, and with it come Crystals, Chocobos, Airships, the World Map, and Flans.
This is a return to the old days of Square, when they would release huge messy games like "Final Fantasy VIII" or "Chrono Cross", which were attempting several thousands things at once, none of it making very much sense, but still creating unforgettable experiences beloved years later. You could be a proud of a trainwreck like "Chrono Cross" for everything it achieved despite its terrible flaws. FFXIII just had one idea and stretched it out for forty hours; the absence of ambition that dominated that game's design. "Type-0" is a game you can be a proud of... but still something of a mess. It is still playable, its moments are still impressive, and its characters are remarkable. But there are still major problems within this game.
|Yeah, that is a dying Chocobo. That's kinda dark, right?|
Rather than grizzled generic handsome war heroes, the stars of "Type-0", are generic cute anime teenagers. The nation you represent is called Suzaku, a state who battles its enemies by throwing out waves of the most dangerous weapon in the world: RPG protagonists. Your young heroes vary between wandering around a "Final Fantasy VIII"-style military high school and going off to smash imperial robots on missions. It definitely makes for an unusual contrast between exploding enemies to steal their souls (which restore MP) and the heroes hanging around a classroom having comedic moments with Moogles. Juxtapose crimes against humanity with peeping on your hot teacher in her underwear and you have "Type-0". In one scene doomed characters will be covered in soot and gore, and then your heroes will march in, utterly immaculate with porcelain skin, too lovingly designed by Tetsuya Nomura to ever be stained by the wear and tear of conflict.
|Legs vs. bayonets. I feel bad for the guys with guns.|
Every character is unique in their play-style, they all have been meticulously designed to have different timing, different ranges, and different abilities. For example, there are plenty of characters that use swords, but the feel of the characters and their utility has been designed to be entirely different. Queen is built for fast offense: fast combos with her saber or quick magic. Jack however will move slowly: his katana is built for single heavy attacks and his abilities are based upon counters. The two gunners, Cater and King, also play distinctly. King can move while firing, but his attacks are weaker and he has to reload. He's also slower when not shooting. Cater can fire forever, but she must stop and shoot. However, her attacks always end with a huge laser blast, and her speedy dodges are fantastic. Any player can find within the fourteen heroes the perfect fit. You'll build a core team of five or six characters you love to play and use them every mission, then you can listen to the pleasant wails of horror from dying soldiers on the battlefield.
|♥♥♥ OH CATER, I LOVE YOU!!! ♥♥♥|
None of those are game-breakers, luckily. But they are still annoying. "Type-0" is an unkind game, if that makes any sense. Character death is basically permanent within combat since Phoenix Downs are mythological artifacts, existing more in fantasy than in fact. If you ever find one, you will never want to use it. They're too precious to be wasted. You do have reserves in the other dozen of so characters though and there are check points, so you don't really have much excuse to be ruined by a single character dying. GAME OVERS only happen when you lose everybody at once. Which will happen, by the way. There are scripted moments when enemies will simply murder your lead character. The game isn't hard if you are leveled above enemies, but if they start to out-level you, it is simply impossible, not matter what your skills might be. Also, I hope you keep around a ranged character, because every boss in this game requires you have ranged attacks. "Oh, you forgot to bring one to fight this flying guy? Oh, too fucking bad, I guess you just have to lose then." Or you'll be walking along the World Map, minding your own business, and then BOOM, level 99 enemy will attack. You can't win, you can't land a hit, you party members are just dead. Enjoy.
The other major mode of the game is an RTS battle system. The regular combat is translated onto the World Map, where you can command allied forces to attack enemy camps while you rush forward and fight in real time. It sounded a great idea - solving the problems of console RTS's, which are hopelessly stiff and awful, by including action elements. The strategy might be more swallow but you can fight foes directly with your character, speeding things up. Unfortunately there is no strategy in these segments. There are maybe half a dozen in the entire game, and your actions really make no difference. The PC armies will automatically fight, all you do is tip the scales on your side by beating enemies (who don't give EXP). There are no strategic decisions to make. Also, since this is all automated, you cannot dodge attacks, so you will instantly take damage. If you're under-leveled, you die. In the regular combat mode you might jutsu and duck around with good play to survive, you cannot do that here. Also, you can't heal with magic for no reason that is ever explained. These modes are pointless, they are not fun, they are such a waste. I wanted "Ogre Battle 64" with controllable units. It would have been awesome. Instead I got a completely worthless unfinished minigame.
More irritating is a decision to add in a "Persona 3"-style time limit system, where between missions you have only a set limit of days to accomplish side tasks. Any conversation you get in with NPCs or side scenes you unlock or visits to the World Map eat up time, and when you run out of time, you might miss some key moments. You don't automatically have to go to the next mission, but it is still extremely annoying that rather than removing the obscure perminantly missable side bits that plagued Final Fantasy's of old*** they've made it an institution. The entire game is built around missing scenes.
Worse, so much of the world map and side missions have simply impossible level gaps. You will be offered a side missions in an early part of the game, but playing those levels would be like giving a first grader a Calculus final exam. There is as high as twenty levels between you and the Empire's finest. So you think "oh, just level up, it will be possible later in the game". No. It won't. Those sidequests disappear after you move forward into the game. "Oh, just level grind". No, that would completely smash the difficulty of the rest of the game - and leveling up takes forever. Enemies give almost no EXP. The idea of "Type-0" is in fact for you to play it twice. You simply cannot 100% this game in one playthrough, you aren't allowed. As much as thirty percent of the game is hidden in later playthroughs. Including much of the plot, which this game somehow thinks should be bonus material.
|Your teacher keeps a pet Tonberry on his desk. This is a game that loves Final Fantasy.|
What's unfortunate is that the small problems really mar what could have been a perfect game. If only the camera was on board, if only the story made sense, we would have one of the best Final Fantasy's ever made. And there are real moments of absolute genius here. The FMVs are some of the most amazing visuals ever put in a Final Fantasy console. The sight of dragons raging in the skies, airships exploding, Alexander ripping a scar across the very planet - no Final Fantasy has ever attempted anything like this. In terms of showstopping incredible visuals, we have not scene anything like this in years. FFXIII in comparison feels like it was a game made on the cheap. But even better are the moments - which aren't many considering there are fourteen main characters - when the heroes get to have really emotional scenes. The ending will haunt you with its beauty and sadness.****
|Alexander in this game is 100 times more awesome than his appearance in "Final Fantasy IX".|
But ignoring that small problem of completely ruining my life forever, this is still a really impressive game. You will not find a better anti-war message from any JRPG, one that is implemented so subtly most gamers might not even notice it is there. The characters never indulge in huge maudlin speeches about the horrors of war. They just do their jobs, which is to kill. They've been programmed to fight, and they fight. Some might view the weird reactions they have to the nightmarish world they live in - the complete lack of one - as a game trying to have its cake but eat it too. Trying to be violent and dark on one hand but light and fanservicy on the other. But in fact, this is all the characters know. These teenagers will kill and be killed for their country, they never think of any other option for their lives until they very end. And your country is just another political unit battling for conquest, it is no better than any other. What was this war all for? Corrupt old men double-crossing each other behind closed doors. And even more corrupt evil Gods who treat humans like playthings.***** There's a fantastic theme here, you just need to parse it out. So even though I am rating this game with just a "Good" rather than a "Great", I do still think this is one of the most impressive Final Fantasy games ever made. And it is definitely an experience I will not forget soon.
Let us pray that its faults can be solved when the game comes to the PS4 and Xbone... Which, since this is Square Enix, probably won't be very soon. Until then we have the PSP version with the fan translation and the terrible camera. I guess all one can do is be satisfied with that.
* Back in the old days of gaming, Square without the Enix used to pull the 'No Export For You' business even more frequently. "Final Fantasy V", a fully-numbered Final Fantasy game was skipped over here in the West, ignored because Square did not believe in the profitability of the foreign market. Fans here in the US using the early dark landscape of the 90s Internet actually translated the game for themselves, representing the very first release of that game outside Japan. Meanwhile Enix without the Square was far worse, skipping three of the best Dragon Quest games. And they still haven't released the 3DS remake of "Dragon Quest VII"!
** Unless you count "Bravely Default", which I do.
*** I love "Final Fantasy XII" but locking out the player from receiving the best weapon in the game just because they opened one of four completely random chests? I have one response to that: fuck you. You know you were being an asshole when you did that, Square Enix.
**** SPOILERS: The ending to "Type-0" is the perfect response to the ending of "Final Fantasy XIII-2". They're both attempting the same depressing moment. But XIII-2 was just random and stupid and hopeless. Its ending only happened to justify making another game. "Type-0" is incredibly hopeful. Its still very sad, but the characters are there for each other, they've actually accomplished something, and you feel real love for these people from the writers. Motomu Toriyama on the other hand, has never shown me that he has passion for anything at all besides nonsense twist endings.
***** MORE SPOILERS: This game once again features an infinite time loop plotline. Which is a plot point Square Enix has used just recently in "Bravely Default", "Final Fantasy XIII-2", "Lightning Returns", and "Dissidia Final Fantasy". So Square Enix: you're on notice. No more infinite time loops. Not for a decade at least.