Political relationships erode as war breaks out, and we're in the eye of the storm as soldiers brutally kill innocents, with zero camera cutaways or punches pulled. And that's just the game's intro. Welcome to Square-Enix's adult Final Fantasy.
It's a story of life and death interwoven with magic, manga, steampunk and gunpowder. It's immediately obvious why fans have asked for a Western release for so long. Because Type-0 is actually a remastered port of a four-year old PSP title that was never released outside of Japan.
We're in the middle of the war playing as Class Zero, an elite group of fourteen trained students from the school Vermillion Peristylium. Teenagers in school uniforms going up against an army isn't the strangest thing we've seen from a Japanese title, but you've got to buy into the fantasy.
While having access to over a dozen warriors from the off is fresh, it's also harder to get to know them, and as a result we're not as emotionally connected to the cast as with other RPGs.
This is a difficult game; levelling up and learning the right skills are all-important to surviving, though story missions do offer recommendations as to what's needed going in. There's a lot of side-quests and chit-chat between these main objectives. As a result the storytelling isn't as tight as it could be, but if you jump right into story missions, you miss the chance to level up.
There's a similarity here to Final Fantasy VIII's Balamb Garden as you run around, talk to people, do assignments, hear gossip about what is going on, get to know more about the characters' background stories and so on. There is even the opportunity to actually go to lessons and learn ability boosts. Although most are fairly banal, like fetch something for someone who left their item in a very obscure place, it does create a bit of organic life to Final Fantasy Type-0 HD.
However, it's hard to mask the game's origins. Square-Enix has been working hard on new lighting effects, crisp textures, but it's a touch up on a handheld game. For those that expect Final Fantasy to push the graphical boundaries, this is a hefty downgrade, with blocky, flat environments and poor animations. The game was also designed for only one analog stick, evident when you're dealing with the horrible camera, and there are some long loading times here. At least the music is some of the best we've heard from the series.
Combat echoes that of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, as you control one character but can switch at any time to one of your two other party members. The AI mainly play defensively and keep healing you, while you do the heavy work. If you die, one of the other characters from the group will fill in, so it is important that everyone is at least somewhat useful if you want any kind of backup. The combat proves very intense and entertaining at higher levels.
We're glad to have got to play the game, but unfortunately the obvious age of the game makes it harder to enjoy. We have taken some things (like a controllable camera) for granted on home consoles, and it detracts from the overall experience. In the end, it's still a mighty adventure and a taste of how a more mature Final Fantasy could look and play like, and is recommended for fans of the series.