PSP Import Review – Final Fantasy Type-0

School settings have been especially popular in JRPGs lately, and following suit, the newest Final Fantasy begins in a school, but don’t expect too many giggles and panty jokes. As early as the opening, Type-0‘s story is darker and more constantly serious than most others that use the setting, and even more than most JRPGs in general.

While not “gory” by today’s standards, it’s several notches above what Final Fantasy has been used to. Lack of advanced graphics prevented us from seeing blood for years and years, and even when characters died in the past, there was something… somehow cleaner about it. That changes in Type-0 with its frequent images of people losing their lives – often violently. It’s not the FF we grew up with, but damn if it isn’t powerful and well done throughout, epitomized in the thrilling introduction and memorable conclusion.

Rather than collecting party members gradually, we’ll meet all of our 14 protagonists within minutes of starting, all of whom are as different on the battlefield as they are in personality. It’s enough to make a big cast that the player honestly cares about, but not too big to suffer from “Chrono Cross Syndrome,” during which the player is overloaded with too many characters and has to ask “Who was he again? Was he the one with the dead mom? No? Well, then whose funeral did I go to? I have no idea who this kid is.” It would be nice to be able to rotate the order somewhere other than save points, though; either that, or make the world map a save point so that changing up the roster isn’t such a pain in the butt. Sometimes, characters won’t even need to be rotated at all, as some parts of the game are clearly done more sensibly as a solo effort. Being an extension of the Crisis Core battle system, this might not be surprising. With enemies so powerful that they’re often capable of one-shot killing anyone in the party, having a second and third character simply stand around can be detrimental to progress. I noticed multiple instances of my allies simply standing around (with no negative status, even) instead of attacking things. I busted into a room, guns blazing, only to realize too late that my two teammates hadn’t even followed me in.

One downfall of having 14 playable characters is that they all apparently need some spotlight time, and some story sequences will have, say, 15 lines of dialogue split among 11 people, as if the writers had a checklist and a quota beside them. This is mostly an early thing though, to establish the characters; like most other aspects, it gets better as the game goes on. The story and its characters are pretty strong overall, and hopefully they’ll transition well into English. Another small setback with the sheer amount of characters is how it ties into leveling them up. The punishing mission structure and strong enemies will put players into situations in which almost all characters must be used at some point. I had two instances of being down to my last singular character when finishing a mission; everyone else was knocked out. What a rush.

It might be Final Fantasy, but Type-0 is no walk in the park. In the first 10 or 11 Final Fantasy games, when you couldn’t beat a dungeon or boss in the first try or two, a feasible option would be to go get your main crew two or three level-ups and have another go at it with a noticeable difference. Levels certainly are important in this game, but for all the power that leveling can grant against regular enemies, the time-honored grinding tradition described above won’t work on most of the game’s bosses. Much more important is timing one’s shot to get critical damage, and the game is actually better for it. It can be initially frustrating to get Game Overs and feel helpless against someone, but the benefit is that it makes the player to get in there and fight a better fight. It’s surprisingly more possible than it might sound, which to a player that just got stomped, is great to realize. The increase in difficulty without being ridiculous is an overdue addition to the Final Fantasy series.

Final Fantasy Type-0 is addictive as hell, thanks to its furiously fast combat and magic growth system. On one hand, the huge level gaps between some of the story segments suggest a need to hit the grindstone, but on the other, time flies during that process. You’re always looking for that next Phantoma, that next level for whatever character, and FFT0 keeps the hunt exciting with the fast pace and high challenge of its battle system. There is a killer amount of fun to be had finding the best party combinations, finding which characters are best for taking out which enemies, or testing out the results of your Alto Crystarium magic mixing. It’s just too freaking easy to get caught up obsessing over your master plan for how you’re going to customize the magic spells, then accidentally spending hours working towards it. The spells can be modified manually through gathering Phantomas from defeated enemies, though, on the downside, the game has a way of capping the player’s growth. Through making certain types of Phantomas available only appear in select locations, then roping those locations off from the player via invisible walls, players are somewhat restricted in just how crazy they can really get with the Phantoma system, though a lot of players won’t notice this.

There are similar barriers that players almost certainly will notice, however. An explorable overworld finally makes its return to the Final Fantasy series in this game, but the feature as well have an asterisk on it, given how many invisible walls there are. For all its size, there’s sadly not a whole lot of exploration that can be done until very late in the game, which actually sounds a lot like FF‘s X and XIII. Players will see a scenic vista off in the distance, be lured in, only to see a message on the screen that says “You can’t go here yet.” At least give me some sort of river for which I need a boat, a bridge that’s under construction, or hell, even a party member that pops out and says “Hey Ace, we should actually not get too far from the campus. We’ve got important stuff to do, man.” Boom, problem solved. Instead there’s just a lazy, simple, “Not yet champ.” It appears in front of several towns and caves as well, “You can’t go in here.” Oh. OK.

Entering said towns would invite new shopping opportunities and a save point, but little else. A popular complaint about Final Fantasy XIII from some fans of the older games was its failure to provide exciting new cities for players to discover and mention in internet forum threads about the best RPG towns of all time; Type-0 doesn’t have much to calm that crowd. There are several towns dotting the world map, but while players may enter, they’re only to be met by disappointment in the small size, usual lack of more shops than one, and Wal-Mart style similarity. A few that buck the visual trend finally show up near the end, but even those end up looking too much like each other and still feel microscopic.

A handful of times, a mandatory minigame puts players on the overworld map and requires them to take a certain target city, almost mimicking a real-time strategy game, except minus the strategy. While not a bad idea for a side game, these sections feel tacked-on, with very few strategic options and no customization. If I’m going to have something that looks like an RTS, I want something that lets me formulate an attack plan and try to implement it, but this is kind of dull. During the final one of these sequences, in which there are dragons and armies all over the map, the lag in moving around is awful. I hopped on a chocobo to speed things up, but it did little to help how painfully slow everything was going. Some people won’t mind them, but I found these sections to be a waste of time.

Even in the face of those, Final Fantasy Type-0 comes with high replay value. The first go-round provides a long game in its own right, but beyond that, there are more story sequences, more missions, and a ton of other little additions that open up on second and third playthroughs. There’s definitely over 100 hours of gaming in this package.

Of course, FFT0‘s visuals and music are on the highest level, pushing Sony’s first handheld to its limit. Up close, there are some jagged edges outside of the cinemas, but it’s clear that there’s not much more could be done on the PSP. Helped in part by Rieko Mikoshiba, Takeharu Ishimoto makes a return to the composer spot, and like he did with Crisis Core, he knocks the soundtrack right out of the park. It’s almost too good. If I were Johnny Depp and this were Once Upon a Time in Mexico, I would shoot a composer for making something this great.

Though it might not satisfy everyone in the bi-polar FF fanbase, Final Fantasy Type-0 is a hell of a game. It has a number of small problems, but they’re more than overshadowed by the amazing fun of the action-packed battle system, good characters, world-class soundtrack and fantastic story. It’s not even necessarily the story itself that’s so great, but the characters amplifying it and the ending just putting a perfect stamp on things.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ My favorite ending in the Final Fantasy series caps off a good story.

+ Bosses and regular combat amazing for different reasons.

– Lacks serious exploration almost as much as it lacks good ally A.I.

8 out of 10