Education. That irrefutably important facet of life that serves as one of the greatest sources of stress and drama in a young person’s life. Tests, teachers, relationships…war, combat simulations, top secret infiltration missions, murder. You know, all the hallmarks of school life…if your school just happens to also be a military academy. So don your colour coded cape and dive headfirst into your studies, because they may well be the only thing that keeps you alive in a world at war.
Welcome to Class Zero, the most prestigious group from the most prestigious (and perhaps only) learning facility in all of Orience. Comprised of the best of the best, this group of teenagers is tasked with top secret military operations at the whim of their superiors and their so called Mother, the woman who provided them with their special abilities. Thus this less than traditional family spend the majority of their school days out on the battlefield, slaughtering the enemy militia who, in turn, throw some slaughter right back. Sure it isn’t the most educationally conducive environment, but it’s not like they have a choice, what with the Militesi Empire deciding to decimate the entire country for their own secretive goals. I do however have to give the Militesi some props however from an outside perspective, as a villainous force they’re actually pretty effective. They eradicate those who pose the biggest threat, retreat when tactically sound and have the sense to forge alliances to bolster their forces. It’s refreshing to see an enemy army that doesn’t simply throw all of their effort into assaulting the protagonists at the expense of their grander campaign.
Due to their status as the cream of the crop, Clas Zero itself cops its fair share of scrutiny from within the borders of Rubrum, the country which they serve. Whilst this is completely understandable from their fellow peers, driven by jealousy and all around teenage uncertainty, it carries a touch more weight when said uncertainty comes from the Ruburm top brass. Or at least it would, if Class Zero ever did anything to warrant it. Playing as the 14 members of Class Zero, you never once undertake a mission with anything other than the intention to aid Rubrum, yet for some reason the powers that be shower doubt upon you. The justification of this is again called into question when said powers act like scorned children, unhappy that they aren’t the ones receiving the praise. Ironically, their actions are also undermined when, for the most part, they never act on any of their doubts, claiming to gather intel yet never once questioning the class. Even when an event that could easily aid them occurs, nothing is said. It just makes the whole plot point feel entirely unnecessary.
Delving into this popular class, we find 14 characters who each personify your typical character archetypes. You’ve got your quiet, smart type, your brash, impulsive type, even good ol’ fashioned cynicism rears its head in at least one student. Unfortunately, for the most part, these characters do not receive the amount of development they should. Moments that provide insight into the minds of the students is relegated to optional conversations within the game’s inter-mission free time mechanic. Though nice, given the camera’s propensity to cut from one character to another, they come across as rather flat and lack a conversational flow. Going even further down this path, some conversations do not even receive vocalisation or a separate cutscene. Though I understand how JRPGs alternate between voiced dialogue and non, the overall lack of cutscene exploration is more noticeable in this game. This is, of course, until the finale, which is by far the strongest part of the game. In two cutscenes Class Zero is given a greater sense of development and companionship than they had in the previous 30 or so hours. As heartwarming/heartwrenching as the ending was, I was almost equally upset that Type-0 avoided this level of story for the majority of the game.
My compliments to the final cutscenes aside, the final chapter of the game does not share the same strength of story. From the very start of said chapter, a number of story elements are dropped all at once, with very little warning or explanation. Though the new elements are in their self interesting, their sudden appearance makes the finale feel quite disjointed from the rest of the game. Despite calling back to dialogue from the early section of the game, it still lacked the detail required to draw out any honest sense of emotion. A trend that unfortunately permeates the game. I mean, the concept of forgetting those that die in itself is a brilliant concept, but again is one that is for the most part under utilised. Essentially, these elements are good, yet had the potential to be great.
Ok, let’s star throwing out some positives shall we? Despite my misgivings about the overall presentation of the story, the gameplay is well executed and the variance between characters provides an actual reason to shift between the 14 playable characters, rather than simply sticking with your favourite. The layout of missions also contributes to this need for shifting, as ranged enemies have a tendency to reside on balconies, shipping containers and other locations that lie out of melee range. Luckily, there are four ranged characters to choose from, with the option of magic available to add some range to your close range cadets. That being said, ranged characters are by and large easier to utilise, as they are able to take down any enemy on the map, whilst keeping you out of harm’s way. At the end of the day it’s better to find what playstyle you prefer, just keep in mind that you will need to keep the cadets around the same level, or you will find yourself in trouble later on.
Speaking of levels, the game seemed to undergo a difficulty spike around Chapter 6, requiring some level grinding to proceed. Having managed to make it through the five preceding chapters with no difficulty, it was a touch annoying to be suddenly forced to train. Luckily, the game’s overworld provides a constant stream of enemies to fight across its vast expanse. Said expanse is also the location for the optional sortie missions, which add a strategy/tower defence element to the usual combat, which is a nice feature. Having said that, sortie missions are not necessary, falling into the ever growing category of optional content, despite their integral place in the main story military campaign. Combined with the conversation options and side quests of varying importance, it’s hard to deny that a great deal of the game can be quite easily skipped in chase of the main story. The overall balance just feels off to me.
Visually, the HD port does well at upgrading the in-game graphics, a change noticeable when compared to the cutscenes. For whatever technical reason that I can somewhat comprehend, Type-0’s cutscenes do not receive the same treatment as the gameplay visuals. As is so often the case with video games, the difference is most glaringly obvious in the articulation of character’s hands, which degrade whenever the visuals switch to a cutscene. Said difference is also very noticeable in the game’s intro, following the first shift out of cutscene, the variation of brightness in Ace’s cape alone strikes strong (Though this may be, in some part, due to the military documentary adopted in some cutscenes). Being a Final Fantasy title there is of course an additional level of animation detail, but that is reserved for the dramatic finale. Not left completely unscathed, gameplay is detrimentally affected by less-than-perfect camera controls. Fine for the most part, the camera reacts very poorly if you happen to move close to a wall whilst still locked on to an enemy, spinning wildly until focus is manually changed. Even lock-on is no guarantee, as the camera will shift away from an opponent, despite the lock-on still being active. I’ll admit, it’s super annoying.
On the audio side, the game holds up reasonably. Though the voice cast are by no means untalented, the dialogue severely limits their ability to perform. The overall nature of the game’s layout forces dialogue to be read in chopped up segments, with awkwardly long pauses between most lines. The expositionary nature of their words also doesn’t help matters, making much of it seemed forced within the context of the scene. Yet again I call forward to the final cutscene, one of the few moments where the vocal talent is given the option to perform naturally, a feeling which may be aided by the more natural movement style granted to the characters by the improved visuals. But I digress. Type-0’s theme song is a perfect fit for the title, carrying with it all the sadness and hope one would expect from the story. The fact that it is briefly sung in game by one of the character’s also helps cement this ideal, whilst personally linking it to the members of Class Zero (especially since it too was translated into Enlgish, something that rarely happens in regards to Japanese music in games). Apart from that, the intro level also featured a track that stands out, featuring a heavy electric guitar that really amps you up to start playing. It’s pretty cool.
So…Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. Honestly I’ve been waiting for this game since it was announced as Final Fanstasy XIII Agito, which is quite a while ago. I wanted it to be an epic game, with an epic cast that kicked all kinds of metaphorical butt. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite the game that it could be. Though my notes have been for the most part negative, I actually really did enjoy this game. The character’s are fun to use, the military campaign aspect is interesting and there are some plot points that really make you think. However, most of this is dragged down by a shoddy camera, underdeveloped characters and dropped storylines. Again, the concept that this is a world where the dead are forgotten is incredibly interesting, yet it is vastly left as an aside. It is further undermined when one particular character wishes for revenge for his brother’s death, despite having no memories of said brother apart from the fact they existed, essentially making it revenge for a matter of principle. Said person even finds out the cause for their brother’s death, only to simply never do anything about it (an upsetting trend throughout the game’s story elements).
At the end of the day, Type-0 is a fun game to play, yet it is one lacking in strength when it comes to delivering a concise story. One scene that adds to the finale is even relegated as a game clear unlock, so check out the history menu if you want to see some pretty important information. Of course, you may uncover more on your concurrent playthroughs, as this game is unashamedly one that requires multiple runs (notably the side quests that are impossible to finish, though still available, on your first go around). Whether or not you choose to spend the time in uncovering the full story is up to you, although I still feel that too much is left unsaid and that this is a game that needs to look up the difference between ancillary and crucial information. Class dismissed.