Thursday, July 10, 2014

Final Fantasy Type-0 (Fan Translation)

Back in 2006, Square Enix was just announcing its grand plans for the next generation of Final Fantasy.  The PlayStation 3 era would not merely see a few unrelated numbered titles released as in days past, the new phase for gaming's greatest JRPG franchise was going to be an interlocked universe known by the hideously pretentious title of "Fabula Novus Crystallis".  At the center was "Final Fantasy XIII", but flanking it were two sister titles that would share the same mythology but represent wildly different interpretations of what Final Fantasy could be.  Those games were "Final Fantasy Agito XIII" for mobile phones and a PS3 action RPG in the vein of Kingdom Hearts, "Versus XIII".  The fans were ecstatic with excitement, not knowing what the disappointments to come.

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?
The core idea of "Final Fantasy Type-0" is to respond to the popularity of huge modern warfare video games by putting a Final Fantasy spin on the genre with a third person action RPG.  Previous games in the series have had their evil empires out to conquer the world, but "Type-0" is the first game to stage that as a true war - a terrible blood-filled nightmare of death and carnage.  This is a game that opens with a teenager riding a Chocobo, typical symbols of Final Fantasy, but then getting mowed down by machine gun fire.  The boy lays dying in the street, leaning up against Chocobo feathers sticky with blood, as he dies with his trusted bird.  Another character later on is taken down suddenly when she is shot in the head by a sniper's bullet.  Meanwhile all this warfare on the streets is represented by familiar iconography of the series.  Instead of tanks, we have Magitek Armors from "Final Fantasy VI".  Instead of planes there are huge hordes of summons.  And instead of grenades, we have Firaga spells.

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.
The emphasis here is on the action over the RPG.  The battle system is rather simple, with the gameplay being based on dodging enemies and landing critical hits.  You can simply bash enemies over the head with your guns or swords or cards or flutes, or you can be more strategic and let the enemy attacks open up weak points.  Typically after a dodge, the enemy opens itself up for a critical hit, which will land incredible damage.  This is not the game for those who love needlessly complicated battle systems filled with insane stats and hours of busy work fiddling with items and abilities and crafting.  However, if you just want to shove a katana up a tonberry's ass (and I'm not judging you), you will find this is a game that will work for you.  You have speedy dodging, positioning and timing is important.  This is a fun game with a great deal of variety and depth in your options.

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!!!
As fun and fluid as the game is, there are still some major problems with the gameplay.  The camera is completely hopeless on the PSP.  Lacking a second joystick... thumb stick... whatever that little nubby thing is called, they mapped the camera onto the D-pad.  I hate to explain the basic mechanics of a hand to a gaming company, but you cannot move the camera using your fingers while moving your character with the nubby thing at the same time.  You could cramp your left hand into a claw trying to do both at once, or just give up.  Why didn't they map the camera onto the shoulder buttons as in "Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep"?  Luckily you can just straighten the camera with the R-button, but it still feels awkward since that's also the lock-on button.  Enemies can also trap you in tight corners which will send the camera going completely insane, forcing you to rely upon psychic powers you may or may not have since God knows you won't be able to see either your character or the enemy.  Also for some completely ridiculous reason, when you open up the start menu, the game doesn't actually pause.  I don't even want an explanation for this, that level of insane thinking can only be dangerous for one's health.  Hajime Tabata, director of this game, all I want to say to you is this:  perhaps you should think again as to what the start menu should do.

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.

This sucks.
"Type-0"'s main structure is mission-based.  This is an expected organization for a handheld game, something we've seen before in games like "Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days" and "Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker".  But curiously, this is not a game built with mobility in mind.  These are not short five minute missions made to be completed during visits to the bathroom - they are full-scale linear levels, lasting forty minutes at their longest.  There are also only about a dozen story missions in the entire game.  Between those heavily-structured action segments, the game allows you to wander around a feature Final Fantasy has not indulged in for over a decade:  a 3D World Map.  We haven't seen one of those since "Final Fantasy IX"!  Between missions you can explore caves, defeat random encounters on the map, visit identical towns and complete sidequests, or hang around your magical war high school.  Later on in the game you can even capture your own Airship and fly around in huge "Star Fox" space battles over the World Map.

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.
It all stinks rather badly of a game trying to pad itself out.  Which is unnecessary.  One playthrough should take thirty hours at least, which isn't massive by JRPG standards, but still is a very large investment in time and more than enough material to tell a satisfying story.  But that wasn't enough for "Type-0".  The first playthrough is racked with missing key points.  Why did this character become a l'cie?  Just what was the villain trying to accomplish?  Who is really pulling the strings behind this war?  Recurring character Gilgamesh shows up.  What the Hell did he have to do with anything?  None of these questions are answered in one playthrough.  You have to play twice, or three times, or four times.  Sometimes unlocking scenes means completing ridiculous unrelated challenges.  Like you can't find out what happened to the King of Soryu unless you S-rank an optional mission with one particular character.  Why?  Because strategy guides aren't going to sell themselves, are they?

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".
So to conclude here, I am very happy that "Type-0" has finally made its way here to the United States.  I have been looking forward to this game for a very long time, and it was pretty much everything I wanted.  It is a bold new experiment for this series, attempting a whole new kind of story, one that works very well.  However, like a bad girlfriend, "Type-0" is not a game that loves you.  You might worship at its feet, you might go out of your way to please it, but that won't ever be enough.  It will force you to go to a party with nobody you know, only her friends, and then it will abandon you on a couch while it flirts with some jerk who looks exactly like Gideon Graves from "Scott Pilgrim".  You will have good times with this game, you will even love this game.  But it won't love you back.  It will fuck you over, it will con you out of a great deal of your time, and it will then never let you understand it.  It will tease you into wandering into caves to find rare items and then force you to battle high level Behemoths for hours, until you discover sadly that you just cannot win no matter how well you play - you just weren't supposed to come here until the second playthrough.  Then you'll be left alone, dumped without reason, and be left to pick up the pieces of what you thought was your happy life.

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.

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* 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.

11 comments:

  1. What was your core team like, assuming it was consistent through the game (I mean from the looks of it it sounds like you used Cater a lot xD). So far I've been playing through with Rem blowing things up with magic, Duece as a support/healer, and I alternate between Cater and Seven, though Seven's mix decent range and pretty strong attack continuously wows me

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    1. My core team was Cater, Queen, and Duece. Duece was pretty much always a COM but she was actually amazingly useful at times despite her weird battle ways. Extras were Jack who is really great against big monsters with his high counter, Ace as a back-up ranger, Seven, and Sice. I didn't think much of a Rem at first, her physical combo is bizarre, then I discovered her auto-MP restore powers. But I didn't want to use her or Machina since they aren't usable in the final chapter.

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  2. Having just finished watching an LP on youtube I'll say its a nice game, one I may get eventully. I'll admit I looked up the wiki so I can understand the full story which makes things a lot more sense. I'll won't spoil but the full truth is similar to XIII's.

    Other than that I liked cast, combat and the setting. My complaints would be the time limit between missions like you said, how short the main story is (the LP is only about over 12 hours long) and the final boss who is as hard as yu yevon.

    Fun fact: I fond an interesting theroy that the Gilgamesh here belongs in this game's setting and that this is his first chronological appearance if you believe every one of them is the same person.

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  3. I love Ogre Battle 64! Have you ever done a promo-review of it? I'd read it.

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  4. Ok show of hands who thought Code Geass when he said Suzaku. I know your here.
    But being serious, its good to know there is something occasionally coming out of Square Enix.
    This is probably the only FF ive wanted to play in the past few that I cant have because Im a Nintendo Fanboy. Besides this the last FF that I really wanted for a console I don't own its either FF9 or tactics.
    But hey if its good its good
    Sword Of Primus

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  5. Oooh almost forgot.
    I read an article saying that Nintendo actually does want DQ 7 to come across the pacific, but SE blackmailed not to do it, because if they did they threatened to stop releasing games on the 3ds.
    Frick SE needs to be bought out.
    Sword Of Primus

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    1. I've heard that rumor, but it makes no sense to me. Why would SE care if Nintendo wanted to publish a game in the West? They have no financial loss or burden. And SE knows (or should know) they need Western money to stay afloat. Type-0 was one of the worst selling games in series history - to the point I wonder if the game actually flopped. Why? It had a fraction of the audience that it could have had. Either way, SE and Nintendo have been publishing Dragon Quest games in the West for years. I don't see when it has ever been a problem for anybody.

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    2. Your right, from a completely logical standpoint it makes no sense.
      Then again this is the Geniuses that gave us 3 FF13 games, even though one was too many. I think at this point nearly all the smart people left SE to form Monolith Soft.
      Sword Of Primus

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    3. No, Sakaguchi formed Mistwalker.

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    4. Yeah but Tetsuya Takahashi and Soraya Saga who made xenogears left to form Monolith Soft, still mistwalker is pretty good I suppose. I liked Last Story, no clue why you did not like it. Was it perfect, nope. But it was for the week I rented.
      To each their own.
      Sword Of Primus

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  6. I couldn't help but notice that there was not a ** in your review, just a little hint from your OCD buddy. This really sounds like a game I could enjoy. This at least sounds like a game that could be intellectually challenging enough for me. Perhaps I'm just a little desperate after having to sit through the cringe-inducing dialogue of Conception 2. The rest of it is fine, great even if I may be generous, but I can only handle so much tsundere-anime-bullpoop before it starts to get repetitive.

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