Note: I'm about 10 hours deep into Final Fantasy Type-0 HD and have not completed its story yet.
Type-0 is a weird Final Fantasy game.
Originally released on the PSP in Japan back in 2011, the game never made it to US shores despite a lot of demand from fans. It's now been ported and HD-ified to the PS4 and Xbox One, but its roots are crystal clear: This is a handheld game running on modern hardware. That doesn't make it bad -- I actually enjoy it quite a bit -- but you should know what you're getting into. Type-0 is not the huge, technically impressive Japanese RPG we all hope Final Fantasy XV will be.
It's got most of the the trappings of a Final Fantasy game. There are chocobos and crystals and moogles and remixes of classic songs... But Type-0 also had a more action-heavy, mission-based gameplay style that gives it a different feel from anything else in the series. It's darker -- a bloody story of war with a grim tone.
It's also focused on more bite-sized (relatively speaking) missions than a continuous sprawling adventure. Sure, there's still an overworld with a lot of towns to visit and random encounters to fight your way through, but the main structure of the game is self-contained, repeatable missions that can often be completed in half an hour or less. They're mostly linear battlefields, and the goal is typically "Defeat all the enemies on your way to the destination," though things are sometimes changed up a bit with things like time limits or other restrictions.
There are also interesting overworld-heavy missions that are almost real-time strategy game-like in structure (or, in a weird way, Dynasty Warriors-like). In these, you have light command over troops that pour out of controlled cities, with the goal being to help them conquer other cities nearby. They won't blow you a way in terms of gameplay, but they're an interesting change of pace from the standard battles.
Lack of a jump button aside, there were times when playing Type-0 reminded me of another Square-Enix series, Kingdom Hearts. Maybe it's the fact that you're almost always in a team of three, or maybe it has something to do with how some of the spells worked, but in any case: Type-0's combat is more Kingdom Hearts-like than Final Fantasy VII-like. It's real-time instead of turn-based, with every face button tied to an attack or spell. Rolling away from enemy attacks (with proper timing) is important to success in battle, as is locking on to targets.
There's a large ensemble cast of 14 characters -- the teenage students of Class 0 -- who each have their own strengths, weaknesses and weapons. You can have up to three active at a time and switch between them freely in battle, while the rest can be on standby as part of your reserve. If one of your three fighting members goes down and you can't (or don't) revive them, they can be swapped out with another character immediately.
Mostly this is cool, as it provides a lot of variety in the combat and allows you to mix and match characters to your liking. On occasion, though, the system has quirks that can be frustrating. Say, for instance, you don't have a long-ranged character in your party at the moment (you should always try to, but maybe they died earlier in a mission?), but you encounter enemies that can only be hit from far away. You can't switch out any of your three active party members without one of them dying first, so you're stuck wishing your Fire RF spell traveled just a little bit farther. This isn't something that comes up often, especially if you're good at preparing your squad before each battle, but it can be a nuisance.
Between missions you're free to roam around the school or the world at large, but you have a time limit before the next mission begins. During these periods you can interact with other characters, venture out into the world to try to finish side quests, breed chocobos, take classes (which mostly give you instant stat upgrades) and more. The catch is that most of this stuff takes a certain number of hours out of your day (apparently letting a fellow student say he has a crush on you takes up two hours? Who knew?), so managing your time wisely becomes an issue. This element of the game gave me a real Persona vibe, though you could also compare it to the time management in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.
Another downside of the large cast of characters is that it's harder to make you care about all of them. You can care about them as a group, and you may like a few better than the others because of their fighting style in gameplay, but each can only get so much time in the spotlight during the game's story. Even if you're doing your best to see every piece of NPC dialogue and side content, you might only care about a handful of these kids.
There are a lot of good things to say about Type-0, which is why I intend to keep playing it and possibly even go for the game's platinum trophy on PS4 (which doesn't seem too hard to get). But let's cover some of the bad stuff:
The localization of Type-0 feels a bit like a rushed, cheap job ... or perhaps just a job that was originally intended for a portable (and for the time of the PSP, more forgiving) audience. Some of the dialogue is painful (Nine's lines stand out as particularly bad. Yo.), and much of the English voice acting doesn't do it any favors. The lip-syncing obviously wasn't altered for the English voices, as it often doesn't match (and is badly off, in fact).
While the character models typically look nice, most of the game's environments say, "Yep, this was a PSP game." It's not the ugliest game in the world by any means, but it's not pretty by the standards of many other games on the PS4 and Xbox One. Even the way the camera moves (oddly quickly, and not very smoothly) feels like a holdover from the portable system. Type-0 HD certainly looks better than the original PSP release, but don't expect jaw-dropping visuals.
Had Type-0 been translated into English on the system it was originally designed for, I imagine we Americans would have been very impressed with the way it looked and felt. As a full-priced ($59.99) game on modern consoles, however, I won't be surprised if its reception is more lukewarm.
Still, as someone who has been wanting to play the game since it was announced in 2006, I'm personally quite happy with it. It may be a weird kind of Final Fantasy game, but it's one I like -- and one I wouldn't mind seeing more of.