With its absolutely brutal opening that sees a Chocobo – a Chocobo! – fatally injured in a military strike and slowly succumbing to its injuries, Final Fantasy Type-0 definitely sets itself apart from its predecessors.
This darker approach lingers through the game, which is chiefly centred on themes of war, loss, and sacrifice. The 12-member Class Zero serve as the collective protagonists, students at the Vermillion Peristylium, a magical academy attacked as part of the Militesi Empire’s assault on their homeland. If that sounds jargon-y, prepare yourself: on top of the bleak atmosphere, Type-0 unapologetically indulges in one of the most complex sets of lore and pre-existing politics a Final Fantasy game has ever seen.
Wade through the heartbreak and backstory though, and Type-0 proves itself an engaging action-RPG. The story progresses through a series of missions, predominantly challenging you to explore set locations while engaging in real-time battles with the Militesi forces. Combat is closer to Kingdom Hearts than classic Final Fantasy games, with only one of three party members directly controlled and the others operating on pre-defined actions, though active command can be switched between the trio at will. The three active characters are chosen from Class Zero – all named after a traditional playing card, with a couple of surprise additions later – and can be swapped around before a mission. Battles themselves can be survived by hammering out quick attacks, but more complex strategies can be employed as you get to grips with various skills and how they interact and affect each other.
It’s worth learning the ins and outs of your entire squad though, rather than focusing on a few favourites. Each has a specialisation, from Ace’s explosive Gambit-style playing cards to twin pistol-wielding King or archer Trey. All will come in useful during the course of the game, and having them all levelled up will be a great help. Unfortunately, tactical missions peppered through don’t work as well as physical battles, falling victim to awkward camera angles and much less intuitive instructions.
Given the original PSP version never made it westward, it’s hard to appreciate the work done on remastering this for current gen consoles. Structurally, it still shows its portable roots, from the very mission structure itself (requiring less content to be loaded from the UMD, originally) to the lower res textures that still rear their ugly heads. Character models, lighting, and the scope of the world are all vastly improved though, and while the game isn’t quite on par with the likes of, say, Bloodborne, it’s still rather lovely to look at. Apart from the dying Chocobos, of course.
Brooding and contemplative in tone and with an engaging combat system, Type-0 is a more mature entry in Final Fantasy lore than you probably expect, but it surprises by being one of the most involving to play.