Mention Final Fantasy and some gamers will undoubtedly gush about the venerable role-playing-game series of nearly 30 years, be it for its impeccable presentation, engaging gameplay or epic storylines.
But 2009's Final Fantasy XIII stumbled, with many gamers criticising it for its linearity. Thankfully, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One shows the series has found its mojo again. The game is a high-definition English remake of the original Type-0 released in Japanese in 2011 for the PlayStation Portable handheld game console.
Type-0 HD is set in the steampunk world of Orience, where four states are at war. You take charge of a class of 14 (yes, 14) playable gifted school cadets from one of the states in the war effort against opposing forces.
The premise means that you take on missions to liberate towns from invading troops and infiltrate enemy bases, but with the high-school high jinks popular in anime and a mature, gritty edge.
Having 14 playable characters seems daunting at first, but it works out. Each has unique skills and gameplay styles, giving the game flexibility and replayability.
Feel like beating up enemies up close? There is the sensible boxer. Prefer shooting monsters from afar? The smart-talking archer is at your beck and call. Even so, levelling up and outfitting each character can be a bit tedious.
Speaking of battles, they are a fun and fast-paced action fest. Unlike the turn-based combat Final Fantasy is known for, Type-0 HD's fights unfold in real time. You can deftly dodge enemy swipes and time critical hits to instantly kill weaker foes or deal massive damage to stronger ones, which makes for a very satisfying experience.
The controls are mostly responsive, with my main gripe being the sometimes wonky camera and auto-targeting system.
You can usually take only three characters into battles, controlling one character at a time. But swopping to either of the other two is easy with just a button press. This is great at times when you need to use another character's skills, such as a teammate's ranged gun attacks to take out a pesky flying enemy your current sword-wielding character has trouble hitting.
The game also does a decent job controlling your other teammates, like healing party members in trouble.
A huge roster of characters does mean that, except for some, many don't get much character development. That said, each one is fairly distinctive, if a bit cliche.
The plot and missions are a tad slow-going initially, but things pick up towards the game's midpoint, with more interesting and impressive areas and quests.
And there is a lot to do in-game even early on, wandering the halls of your school. You can read unlocked book entries and talk to people to learn more about the world and the latest high-school chatter, which the loremaster in me enjoyed. You can also breed ostrich-like mounts to explore the world, command troops in war missions and take on other side quests, although some tread into fan service territory.
But the game isn't done after its roughly 40-hour run. New missions unlock on a second play and you're treated to a new ending after completing the game again. As much of what you acquired in the first playthrough carry over, you can tackle high-level areas and quests.
Augmenting your journey are cool graphics and music.
The visuals have a lot more polish than the already flashy original, such as better lighting effects and sharper graphics. Still, the game's handheld roots are evident - several characters still look flat and some textures are quite blurry. Music-wise, many tunes are memorable and add punch to the scenes.
Despite some drawbacks, Type-0 HD is a fun romp, offering many more hours of gameplay than it may initially suggest. And it seems there is a sequel in the works, so stay tuned.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD for the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One is available in stores at $79.90.
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