The Final Fantasy series has taken a self-inflicted beating in recent years. Linear stories told through enforced corridors with the same tired combat and character progression has led to a decrease in its popularity. You wouldn’t blame some, like myself, who would hold off making any new entry into the series a day one buy. Introducing Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, proving sometimes you need to take a fresh approach to what made the series great in the first place, rather than ignoring your roots completely…cough, Final Fantasy XIII, cough.

First released on the paperweight formally known as the PSP in 2011 for Japan only, Type-0 has finally been released for Final Fantasy fans across the world. Well, those who didn’t go down the import route anyway. I’ve been waiting patiently myself, knowing that this once planned spin-off of Final Fantasy XIII would later become its own standalone experience. I made sure I gave this new-ish direction for the series time to sink in before writing this review.

Before I get into the game itself, I’d like to start, getting it out of the way so to speak, by addressing the whole HD makeover of a handheld game from what is essentially a previous generation of hardware. It’s lacking in any real effort! That’s the PG version of what I actually said when I first picked the game up. Bland background textures, lifeless character models, hardly any detail on environments that we’ve come to expect on our current gen consoles. Not to mention loading times including the tiresome black fade between camera switches while watching two awful looking characters have a conversation one line at a time. This just seems like a lazy port over that fails to utilise the power of the Xbox One and the potential Square Enix had to make it truly superior to the poorer handheld hardware they had to work with before. In terms of justifying the price for this game, I can’t, because who would pay full price for a 4 year old handheld looking game in today’s generation?

This is my main problem with FF Type-0 and Square Enix, for a full price game I’m disappointed with the little effort put into presentation, the horrendous voice acting and lack of definition in a game with HD tagged on the end. I understand why some say that you’re essentially paying for the demo of the upcoming FF15.
But what about the game itself? Well this is why I got my rant out of the way early because once you get deep into the game, all of the above can be forgiven.

Final Fantasy Type-0 starts with a lengthy but powerful introduction to the world of Orience, this wastes no time explaining just how dark the times are and the peril you’ll soon be thrust into. The Militesi Empire, the dark side to compare them with other well-known empires, has broken a peace treaty and invaded all the other nations. Each nation has ownership of a powerful crystal that gives its people super-natural abilities or magic as it’s commonly known. The nations are all more than capable of defending themselves, however, thanks to the empires new Crystal Jammer toy, the armies will no longer be able to cast their magic leaving the nations like sitting ducks for invasion.

Unless of course they attack the Dominion of Rubrum, home of Class Zero who somehow still have their powers despite the influence of their nations Crystal being blocked. That mystery is yours to discover down the line but for now the cadets of Class Zero save Rubrum and push back the Empire from their domain.

And so it begins.

You control all the cadets of Class Zero, yes all of them. All have their own characteristics and can be progressed individually. You’ll only be able to use a few cadets at a time so you will need to manage their development across the class. You will develop favourites but be careful, cadets can die and when they do you’ll need to replace them in your group with another cadet from the class. You really don’t want a low level cadet coming in to do something the stronger cadet couldn’t, do you? So you do need to be sure the class develops together, even if half of them are egotistical little so and so’s.

Based at the academy, it’s time for you to now keep defending Rubrum and keep fighting off the empires advances in a range of different mission types from pushing out the enemy from neighbouring cities. The game gives you a mix of just having a single objective to playing a form of a cool little RTS on the world map, directing the various armies to assist you in defeating the empire.

When in the academy between missions your time is managed, you have so many hours before your next mission which you can use to speak with other characters to learn more of a backstory, attend lectures, use the battle arena to grind out some extra XP or leave the academy to go exploring round the world map and engage random foes to boost your cadets. Each activity will use up so many hours so you need to use this time wisely. If you do not want the grind you can skip straight to the next mission should you choose. However, do so at your own risk as the level and difficulty of your enemies per mission will rise whether you use your time at the academy wisely or not.

I enjoy the time management aspect of the game as it keeps the momentum of the game going and gives you that sense of urgency that you need to get ready for your next battle, we are at war after all so no trips to chocobo racing in your down time here. In some ways this does strangle the game to once again be forced down a corridor to progress the game, but at least you get to choose the pace and direction that you move through the missions and level up your cadets.

One of the first things I loved about the game was the world map, it brought back so many happy memories of FF’s of old and once again you can enter into completely random battles. The battle system is real time, a new direction for the franchise and one that will feature in Final Fantasy XV. You only control one character at a time with the AI taking over the other two. You can choose to switch the cadet you’re in control of at any time which is great when you want to master certain attacks or spells.

As much as I loved the rapid, fast action real time battles, I feel the controls could have been a lot better. The lock on system is hard to manage and the one button automatic attack becomes a little tiresome for those looking for a battle involving skill then lock on. I know in the old timed battles you lock on but for real time combat this could have been made more challenging. My other issue with the combat is when you defeat an enemy by using RB to lock on and pressing X to attack, you can then harvest Phantoma to boost your magic from their fallen bodies, by also using RB to lock on and pressing X to harvest. You can see the trouble this can cause especially when you still have enemies to defeat and you’re trying to harvest before the body disappears. Unfortunately you can’t change the controller mapping either, I checked as soon as I had my first battle.

If you can look past the annoying controls the combat is a lot of fun when you once again take down enormously aggressive looking enemies and work to chip away at their health bar. Perfect combination of cadets attacking, healing and using magic can be very rewarding if you manage them right, some cadets are faster, some are slow but pack a heavier blow so I recommend a good mix to be successful.

Traditional powerful summoning of Eidolons are also available however, there is a twist in Type-0, you must sacrifice a cadet to use one… yes, your cadet dies… yes you do feel guilty and cruel even.

I like the way Square Enix returned to some of the elements of previous FF’s that made them so addictive and added some very nice new features including a good base to develop a near perfect real time combat engine for FF15 I’m sure. After years of disappointment with Final Fantasy games, Type-0 was a breath of fresh air. It’s dark, gloomy story just made me want to keep fighting so that the Dominion will prosper by the end and if you can look past the poor HD port and some control/camera issues, you’ll once again discover a Final Fantasy game that returns the series back on track and will engage you for hours. If only more effort could have been done to stop it feeling and looking like a handheld game.