Just Another Day At Magic Battle High
FFT0 is an interesting experiment for the Final Fantasy franchise. In some ways it feels more FF than the FFXIII series in that it has a more familiar setting; chocobos abound, Magitek armor is disrupting the old world magical order, even the world map makes a comeback after its distinct absence for three games. However, the traditional turn-based combat has been ditched entirely for a real-time action combat system similar to the one used by Kingdom Hearts. It’s the strongest element of the game, as FFT0 gives you 14 main characters, each with a different weapon and combat style, so players are bound to find a few that resonate, although it’s always wise to include at least one ranged attack combatant for those hard to reach enemies. Combat is a mix of traditional random battles on the world map that whisk players off to another screen when invisible enemies attack, and instant combat with enemies you can see in the mission dungeons.
The good news here is that the each combat style feels distinct, and in true RPG fashion, there’s quite a bit of depth and customization to these systems. Players will need to come to grips with upgradeable and customizable combat skill and magic systems, along with the usual RPG cycle of trading up to better gear as and when it becomes available. There’s also some school/social-life time management similar to that of Persona 4, in that players can only do so much in the days leading up to a story mission. A bit of care is required in deciding which requests to take or even which NPCs to interact with as any “!” appearing over a character means the interaction will automatically deduct two hours from the game clock. The core mechanics are well implemented and a lot of fun.
Where things start to go off the rails a bit is in the proportions of these various game elements. HexaDrive was brought in just to spruce this game up for a console debut, but its portable design philosophy works against it in at-home-on-the-couch context. There’s a big world for players to explore, eventually using FF conventions like chocobos and airships, but the actual missions themselves were made for commuters in mind. Most of the story missions can be finished in 20 minutes or far less if you know what you’re doing, but jumping from one story mission to the next isn’t viable, because the level requirements go up dramatically from one mission to the next. So even though that first story mission only required you to be level three, the one after that wants you to be at level 12. How do you accomplish that?
You grind. The game is designed around the premise that the “comfortable” level requirement to finish a story mission is always going to be out of reach. This will require you to either repeat story missions over and over again, or go to dungeons and grind there, killing whatever monsters you find. This mindset of grinding permeates the entire game, giving players the option to tackle missions, and abort them at any time while still retaining all the XP they’ve acquired during that round. There’s even an option called “secret training,” where, when the game isn’t even being played, you can select one character to be auto-leveled in the hours between game sessions, so when you log back in, your selected character has gone up a few levels without you having to do anything. It’s both convenient and troubling that the game gives you so many options to get XP, because it knows you MUST do something in the meantime to whip your characters in shape for the next mission. This is especially true because, aside from some “classroom” XP bonuses, characters you don’t use don’t gain XP, so, you guessed it, you’ll have to grind again to raise their levels. This is going to be the point that makes or breaks the deal for many RPG fans.
The game recommends people play at the easiest level—rather the usual normal/intermediate suggestion—because the difficulty level will determine the amount of grinding you’ll need to do. If you just want to enjoy the story, then by all means, pick the easiest difficulty. If you’re not a fan of taking missions over and over again, as with Monster Hunter games, then that same sense of repetition will set in quickly with this game. That’s especially true because of certain critical story missions that require more than just a core team of three, so you’ll unavoidably have to grind a core group of six characters minimum to pick up the slack for those characters you don’t play with regularly.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, is very good portable game that’s been snuck onto consoles, and it feels like it. The need to retake missions so as to grind out a team of characters artificially lengthens what’s actually a relatively short main game. The story is actually better than that of FFXIII, but it comes at the cost of those steep grinding requirements. If you don’t mind that, then this $70 game will probably tide you over until FFXV, which, of course, has a demo code included on this game.
Read Wayne’s extended review in the March issue of CGM.