Over the past few days, I’ve been trying my hand at Final Fantasy Type-0. This HD remaster of a PSP release marked the game’s debut in the West, and although I had let it languish on my shelf for a few years, I felt mostly optimistic about it. However, when gameplay got underway, I was left feeling sorely disappointed.
FF Type-0 is an action RPG set in a world of crystals and magic that shares much of its lore with FFXIII. You take control of the fourteen members of Class Zero, a group of teenage cadets with magical powers. The game begins with the invasion of your homeland by a neighbouring empire, after which the members of Class Zero are sent on missions to reclaim your territory. In between story missions, you can take on optional tasks, pass the time listening to stat-improving lectures, or chat to classmates – think a bare-bones version of Persona’s Social Links. For much of this time, remixes of favourite Final Fantasy tracks play so repetitiously that you may even grow to hate them.
Missions themselves involve either running round uninspiring corridor-like dungeons- yet another commonality with FFXIII – or participating in real-time strategy campaigns on the overworld. The RTS sections are mostly to be endured (and can indeed be skipped), and whilst the main missions are a bit more fun once you get the hang of dodging attacks and waiting for the points where enemies are particularly vulnerable to damage, they are frequently filled with cheap bosses that can one-shot your party. Yes, you do have fourteen individuals to draw on (and optional help from NPCs named after staff and game developers), but once one of them dies mid-mission, you have to abort or finish your quest to get them back.
And, like FFXIII, Type-0 is a game that wants you to play the way it wants, not how you do. You can’t just focus on a dream team of your favourite characters – you’re meant to level them all up equally. You can’t hope that any combination of three characters can take on any boss – frequently you’ll get to a boss with just some puny melee attackers left, only to find that they are chiefly vulnerable to ranged attacks, and you must now pull off some awkward combination of moves to get them into melee range.
What’s more, it’s not really enough to get through a mission once. The game is geared towards wanting you to replay missions until you can blast through and get an S-rank, thus guaranteeing better rewards. There are even special in-mission challenges, higher difficulty levels, and difficult “expert trials” that you’re supposed to do to unlock the really good stuff. You’re even encouraged to play through the entire game multiple times, since there are things you can’t do in the first playthrough. And of course, at the very least you should be redoing those missions just to grind out all the EXP you need to keep everyone at a decent level.
With all this in mind, is there anything the remaster could have done to make the game more fun? I have a few suggestions.
- Fix the camera
Action games that rely on dodging and fast reflexes really should offer a decent camera to make things easier. Unfortunately, Type-0’s camera is prone to getting turned round, stuck, or otherwise ensuring that your character neither lands their attacks nor has the wherewithal to dodge out of the way of incoming enemy fire. There are definitely better ways of making something challenging than not being able to properly see what’s going on.
- Let idle characters gain EXP
Most games are pretty generous about giving idle characters a share of the EXP – sure, they may not level up as quickly as active characters, but at least they’re getting something. Given that Type-0 really wants you to keep everyone trained up, it would be good if your reserves could accumulate something whilst sitting on the bench.
Admittedly, there are a couple of ameliorations to this restriction. First up, any EXP that is rewarded for completing a task or attending a lecture is given the every character. And secondly, you can leave a character to ‘train’ whilst the game is switched off, which lets them level up over time, and is ripe for abuse by messing with the PS4 system clock.
- Better maps
The world map that you can look at in the menu only displays information at the regional level – towns and dungeons are not marked on it all, even after you’ve visited them. Now, admittedly this was about the level of world map you might expect twenty years ago, but things have moved on since then. In particular, there are towns under your kingdom’s control scattered about the world map that you might not even notice or care about for a while – only to later discover they were selling some pretty decent weapons that you’d have liked to have access to a while back.
When you’re actually in an area, there’s no proper minimap – just markers in the direction of your destination and some enemies, set against a featureless background. Only the academy has anything approaching an area map, and that’s only visible in the menu. Proper maps for the area would have made traversing the game’s many corridors a bit more bearable.
- Take on multiple tasks
In between story missions, you can talk to various NPCs to take on optional tasks. Unfortunately, you are only allowed to have one active task at a time. Now, obviously tasks like “give me five ethers” don’t need to be active for you to go and get the requisite items, so in those cases you can get around the restriction by just memorising the task, collecting the items and going back to the requester. However, any task which requires you to kill enemies does have to be active, and going out to kill said enemies takes up precious between-mission time. In one case, I was partway through killing one batch of enemies when I ended up stopping by a town where another NPC had a “kill Imperial Commanders” task. I couldn’t take on his task without losing progress on my current request, so I had to finish that one off, return to base to report back, and then schlep all the way back out to that town to accept the new quest. Being able to take on even 3-5 quests at the same time would have made life so much easier.
- Equip more skills
In battle, your characters are restricted to just four main actions. Square is for normal attacks, Circle is for your defensive skill (either a curative spell or a blocking action), and Triangle and X are for either spells or special abilities. On top of that, there are slight variants on your normal attack, such as charging it up or combining it with a directional action.
In the meantime, your characters are slowly building up AP, which must be spent to unlock new abilties. Each character has a fair number of skills to learn, but there’s just one problem – once you’ve found something you like, there’s little incentive to experiment – especially as you can only customise skills at save points. For example, I loved using Seven’s Snakebite ability to reel in enemies or pull myself closer to them, so I was loathe to swap it out for any of her other abilities, no matter how good they sounded.
Games like the Tales series let you equip multiple special Artes for characters, ensuring you can mix it up a little and try out new things without getting rid of old favourites. In comparison, Type-0 feels much more restrictive.
- Unrestricted party customisation
In Type-0, there are a bunch of things you can only do in certain places. Changing party members can only happen at a save point or if someone in your active party dies. Equipping new weapons and accessories can only be done at a merchant or a save point. Setting new skills can only happen at a save point. If you want to change any of those things at any other time, you’re out of luck.
The in-game menu isn’t that great at the best of times, but the fact that you can’t even use it to do something basic like change a character’s skills or weapons just adds insult to injury. Maybe you’ve just equipped a new skill and have now found that it’s useless. Well, you’re stuck with it until you next run into a save point. Yes, save points are relatively plentiful, but it still seems like an odd design decision.
Additionally, with so many characters at your disposal, it would be nice to switch them in and out of battle to be more responsive to the changing battle environment. No such luck – you can only bring in someone new when a character dies.
- Better environments
The FFXII remaster looks beautiful and sumptuous. In comparison, Type-0 is bland and barely up to scratch. The combat academy isn’t too bad at first glance, but the world map is bland and uninspired, and the mission locations are even worse. Even the better ones are low-textured and repetitive in appearance, whilst some of the weaker examples have fun features such as a visibility-reducing fog. These are not stages you’re going to have fun playing in.
- Fast travel
There are two places where fast travel would be useful. As already discussed, the overworld is tedious and bland, and it has no properly marked-up map. An airship option exists, but it only takes you to limited destinations. Fortunately you can warp back to the academy at any time, but you still have to trek out to other locations. The ability to fast travel to any town that you’ve already visited would be a welcome addition.
At the academy, you do have a giant portal in the centre of the main hall that will take you to most places. However, you can’t travel directly between areas – instead you have to warp back to the main hall and then select a new location. There are also a number of locations that simply aren’t serviced by the portal. Fast travel from any point in the academy to any other point would save a lot of running around.
- Get rid of the Level 99ers
For reasons best known to themselves, the developers decided to populate even the earlier sections of the world map with aggressive Level 99 monsters. You’re warned to give them a wide berth, and this advice you’d be well off heeding. Get anywhere near them, and the monsters will charge at you and make short work of your active party.
Admittedly, if you manage some error-free dodging and wait for the monsters to enter ‘Breaksight’ (your attacks do massive damage) or ‘Killsight’ (will die in one hit) status, you can actually kill these overpowered monsters at relatively low levels – only to discover they don’t even give out a huge amount of EXP. Why are they in this game at all? What purpose do they serve, other than to frustrate and annoy the player?
- Escape from battle
One of the reasons why the Level 99 monsters are so annoying is that there isn’t really any way to escape from battle. You can try running around for a while and hope the monster loses interest, but in my limited experience this never happened. This essentially leaves letting your active characters die without ever calling in reserves, at which point the battle ends. But then you have three dead characters, so you have to hightail it to the nearest town to revive them. Pretty much every other JRPG has a way to escape from battle – why does this one have to be awkward?
- Auto-harvest phantoma
When an enemy dies, you can harvest ‘phantoma’ from their corpse by remaining locked on to them and waiting for the attack button to change to ‘harvest’. There are a couple of problems with this. First off, it means that in a fast-paced battle where you’re getting swarmed, you don’t immediately switch your lock-on to the next enemy when the first one is killed – instead you remain locked on to a harmless corpse. Secondly, it often takes a few seconds or toggles of the lock-on button for the attack command to even switch to harvest, meaning that you hit the button in the hopes of harvesting some phantoma, and just end up attacking thin air instead.
Why bother with such a fiddly mechanic? Yes, the amount of phantoma harvested is used as part of your mission ranking, but this could easily be swapped out for ‘kill count’. Phantoma itself has a purpose for levelling up your magic spells, so keep it in the game by all means, but make collecting it automatic once an enemy has died.
- Pause on the menu screen
As if the menu wasn’t useless enough already, bringing it up doesn’t even pause the game. Yes, there is a ‘pause’ option within the menu, but this feels like twice the work for what is usually a single-button process. Also, it means you can’t even peruse what little information the menu offers unless you’re in a safe place.
It’s also worth noting that when you’re on any menu that involves looking at a character’s stats or abilities, you cannot cycle through characters using L2 or R2 as you can in most RPGs. Instead, you have to quit back out of whatever screen you’re on and manually select the next character to look at. Given that you’ve got fourteen characters to manage, this poor UI design is particularly painful.
- Easier item use
In battle, you can assign one type of item to be quickly used with a press of the down button – I selected the trusty Potion. Want to use something else, maybe an Ether or a Phoenix Down? Well, you have to go into the aforementioned menu to get to it, which you probably won’t want to do in the heat of battle. Why can’t you just bring up a dedicated item in battle, like you can in so many other JRPGs?
Other things I don’t really like
I’m not going to say these things should be changed, but they also detracted from my enjoyment of the game.
- Chocobos are consumable items: You can capture and breed chocobos, but every time you use one to breed or ride, that chocobo gets removed from your inventory. Admittedly, the game is pretty generous with chocobos and they aren’t hard to get, but it still makes me a little sad to just use them up like potions.
- Magic cost is high: Magic is quite costly compared to your max MP. You’ll want to conserve it for curative spells, which means that even if you like to play as a mage, it’s not really an option. A few fireballs or thunderbolts, and your MP will be drained – a pain if your character has no other ranged attack.
- Monster variety is low: Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like the variety of enemies on offer isn’t great. Missions involve wave after wave of imperial soldiers, whilst there’s a limited range of wild monsters elsewhere.
A quick run-down of the fourteen playable characters. You can also rank them using the tier list I made.
- Ace: Uses playing cards for ranged attacks. His firing rate isn’t the fastest, but he’s easy to use – just stand back and pick off enemies from afar. He also has a healing special that relies on the easily replenished Ability Gauge rather than precious MP.
- Deuce: Attacks by playing the flute, which summons an energy ball that targets enemies. I couldn’t get used to her play style at all, and swiftly gave up.
- Trey: A ranged attacker who uses a bow and arrow. He might be a bit on the slow side when it comes to firing his arrows, but they do good damage when they hit.
- Cater: Basically the anti-Trey of ranged attackers – her energy gun fires fast but weak blasts. She’s the only character who can fire charged shots right from the start, although others can learn this ability.
- Cinque: Wields an oversized, heavy mace. Cinque is one of the two slowest melee attackers – when her attacks connect, they do big damage, but they feel painfully slow.
- Sice: A bit on the slow side, but her scythe does some impressively sweeping area attacks. She can also summon a tornado to cause havoc in enemy ranks.
- Seven: one of my favourites, Seven uses a whip-sword that has a longer reach than those of the other melee attackers. She also has a special that can pull in enemies, or pull her closer to them.
- Eight: a pugilist, Eight fights with gauntleted fists. His attacks are fast and furious, leaving the enemy little time to counterattack.
- Nine: His lance gives him good reach for a melee attacker. His Dragoon-esque Jump special is good for clearing areas.
- Jack: The other really slow melee attacker. When his katana hits, it does major damage to even physical-resistant enemies, but its hit area is so small that it’s not easy to get attacks to connect.
- Queen: Spiritual sibling of Mitsuru Kirijo from Persona 3, Queen attacks with a rapier. She’s an average all-rounder, and reasonably easy to use.
- King: Uses a pair of pistols to pick off enemies from afar. He has to reload every so often, which slows him down a bit, but his attacks are reasonably powerful.
- Machina: Wields dual swords. A little bit slow, but dependable – he can easily clear out a room full of enemies.
- Rem: Performs fast and graceful attacks with her twin daggers – what they lack in damage they make up for in speed. A strong mage with some useful buffs, but predictably low defence.