I think capes are stupid.
This isn’t just someone who lives in a post-Incredibles world. It’s just that I’ve never really seen the appeal of capes; sure, guys like Superman or Dracula can pull it off, but they’re just so gaudy and cumbersome. Now, something like a nice, long scarf? Not exactly practical in a fight, but still plenty cool. Capes, not so much. I mean, I’d prefer no cape to a costume over anything else, including scarves. See: more Kamen Riders than I can count, but let’s start here.
So I can’t say I’m too keen on Class Zero’s capes. They’re in Type-0 so that the cadets of Akademeia can tell at a glance what person is in what class -- and their home country has a high reliance on magic, so it fits the motif. Though that begs the question of why soldiers would go out onto the battlefield wearing prim and proper uniforms, and to a lesser extent takes some of the oomph out of their character designs. Then again, that’s a complaint you could lob at a lot of Japanese stories, and to be fair it’s not as if the fourteen characters’ uniforms are 100% identical. That’s a plus, even if they’re wearing stupid capes.
If it seems like I’m focusing too much on trivial matters like capes and uniforms…well, it’s because I am. So let’s switch gears and talk about Type-0’s gameplay. Hang your capes up at the door.
...Or just wear them anyway. That's cool, too. I don't even care.
Part 3: Play My Ass Off
(Or: YEAH, THAT MAKES SENSE!)
When someone says Final Fantasy, the mind typically jumps to turn-based combat -- allies and enemies in separate lines and adhering to unspoken rules of combat. But Type-0 takes a page from Kingdom Hearts; you’ll be able to take control of one of the fourteen (!) cadets of Class Zero and head off to battlefields alongside two comrades of your choosing. Fight your hardest and try to survive with your weapon of choice, magic, and special techniques -- and defend yourself with dodges, items, and support skills.
There are some important flourishes to the combat, of course. For starters, you can’t count on Phoenix Downs to bring back fallen comrades; they’re still in the game, but they’re extremely rare. So instead of relying on the same three characters, if someone dies you sub in another cadet. That sounds like a death knell for any player that doesn’t keep all fourteen cadets in top form, but there’s still an ace in the hole: the game’s combat revolves around Killsights, i.e. attacking an opponent at the right time (when a red reticle appears on them) lets you land an instant kill. Or if not that, then you can land a hit that does huge damage (via attacking an enemy with a yellow reticule).
I was a little wary of the Killsight system at first, because -- hey, killing enemies in one shot? Where’s the fun in that? But having put some time into Type-0, I can say with some confidence that it’s one of my favorite battle systems in any Squeenix production. Why? Because it turns the JRPG into a fighting game.
I’m not even joking. It’s not as execution-heavy as even the most basic of fighters, but it has a lot of the same principles -- to the point where you could add in fighting game terminology and get the same effect. Example: the Killsight system may sound like a revolution, but it’s not at all removed from the counter-hit and punishment systems of any fighting game worth its salt. To wit: attack an opponent at certain points of their moves (ideally the startup), and you’ll land a counter-hit which can do more damage, increase hitstun duration, or just open them up for big combos.
That’s some excessive stuff, but one of the most basic elements of a fighting game is punishment; if an opponent does something that they’re not supposed to (a fireball thrown at the wrong time, for example) and you defend against it, then you can seize the opportunity and land some attacks of your own. Killsights may not let you bust out hundred hit combos just because you land one clean hit, but they cut out all the guesswork and instantly waste anyone who makes a wrong move. In other words? If you want to make fights easier, you have to be paying attention. Watch and know your enemy, and fight efficiently.
By extension, that means you have to know each character fairly intimately -- know their ins and outs so that if you have to use someone like Jack or Deuce, you can actually stand a chance. It’s not enough to just have them leveled up and equipped with the right skills and gear (though that helps); you have to know how to move with them, what their ideal ranges are, their strengths and weaknesses, and how to land those Killsights. By extension, that means learning about spacing, footsies, mobility, reads, and defense. The melee characters may not have projectiles by default, but if you can learn the properties of their attacks, you can land a poke that shuts down an opponent’s offense. And life.
It’s kind of a drag that (outside of the occasional EXP boosts you get from going to class), the only way to level up your cadets is to take them on the battlefield -- which is kind of a problem when you can only have three on the field and you’ve got fourteen people to micromanage. Thankfully, there’s an arena in Akademeia that lets you take control of a character of your choosing and manually level them. But more importantly, the arena is the JRPG analogue to training mode (lovingly referred to as the “combo lab”, in some cases). Want to use King but don’t have the confidence to throw him out on the battlefield? Combo lab time!
So you know what? Let’s go over Class Zero right now. Starting with my favorite of the bunch.
Eight: It’s hard to say whether or not he’s the best character, but to me he’s the character that feels the best to play. He’s not much in the way of range, and his magic’s not the best, but he’s an offensive juggernaut who can handle damn near any situation. His basic attacks flow perfectly into his special attacks, the majority of which are extremely useful. He can self-heal, stun for free with one of his normal attacks, close the gap in an instant, has a dodge mechanic built into his other normal attacks, and his combos generate meter perpetually -- meaning that he’s got nigh-infinite fuel for his specials. Learning Eight means learning how to excel at Type-0…to say nothing of actually using him.
Cinque: She’s a slow mover, and her attacks are by far the slowest of Class Zero’s; the tradeoff is that only the heaviest attacks can stop her once she’s in motion. (That’s sort of true for most characters, but given how much it figures into her style I’m about ready to say she’s got hyper armor.) Even for a heavy hitter, her attack power is disproportionately high, and only gets higher once you unlock her charged hits. Cinque seems like bottom-tier material at first -- and probably is ultimately -- but once you figure out how to use her and buff her up, she’s THE heavy hitter; she can stun distant enemies, kill multiple foes at once (even without specials, thanks to disjointed hitboxes), and regenerates health by landing hits. Could it be that she’s secretly broken…?
Trey: In the wake of a Dragon Age: Inquisition run I’ll never finish, I felt compelled to play as another archer. Trey’s arguably one of the slower ranged characters in terms of his rate of fire, but he makes up for it by being able to charge up his arrows for extra power. He’s got a handful of moves to cover himself, and he’s got a support move that puts Killsights on enemies. I haven’t tested it out to be sure, but my theory is that Trey’s the heaviest hitter of the ranged hitters; his Dynamite Arrow may take a while to detonate (and can miss entirely), but when it goes off it does OBSCENE damage.
Seven: She looks like a white-haired Lightning, so I’m conflicted about using her -- but her attacks are so useful that I can’t give her the cold shoulder. Her whipblade (straight outta Soulcalibur) lets her fight at close range and mid-range, though her attack speed makes her slightly better at the latter. Whatever the case, she’s great for harassing distant enemies and can score some very easy Killsights with one of her default moves on reaction; on top of that, she’s got some really good crowd control with both normal and special moves. Definitely a good character to have around.
Cater: If Trey’s the heavy-hitter of the ranged characters, then Cater’s closer to being the speedster. Her shots charge automatically -- though they can come at the end of her basic combo -- so she has a perfect way to deal with enemies that get close to her…on top of her full mobility during her gun attacks. Her special moves are pretty versatile, but I’d like to think that she’s got a special knack for debuffing enemies; she can spew poison from her palm and give enemies a bunch of diseases to deal with. Couple that close-range move with Hawkeye -- which turns her into a sniper -- and you’ve got a character that can handle any situation.
Jack: He shares a spot with Cinque as the team’s heavy-hitter, but he works in a dramatically different way. His katana attacks are incredibly fast and absurdly strong, but the tradeoff is that he’s got no range…and worse yet, his movement speed is utterly abysmal. When you’ve got his weapon out, he can only move at sub-walking speed, meaning that you have to A) spam his dodge roll or B) switch between sheathed and unsheathed modes to reasonably make your approach. Luckily, Jack does so much damage that he doesn’t even need Killsights to win -- and that’s exacerbated by having a hard-hitting combo unlocked a little ways into the game. All told, Jack makes for one hell of a pinch hitter.
Ace: I consider him the main character of the game, but he’s no Ryu. His card attacks let him fight at long range, but that’s not all he’s got; holding down and Square lets you fire off a charged shot that not only batters opponents with multiple card attacks, but holds them at bay so you can make your approach, fall back, or attack another foe entirely. (Think of it as a Marvel-style assist, in a way.) You have to unlock his close-range attack, but once you do he does some surprisingly-good damage. He can also heal himself with one move and set traps with another, but Ace’s attacks are such that you almost don’t need anything else -- especially since some of them have multi-stage setups.
King: Another ranged character, and one of the only two with enough sense to bring guns to the battlefield. He’s not as fast as Cater, but by default he’s better at long-range action because his bullets move WAY faster. The notable thing about this character is that he has a reload mechanic; you can manually reload with down and Square, but once he goes from his (default) twelve to zero, he’ll be a sitting duck temporarily. It’s a small price to pay, considering that with his Point-Blank Shot he can do massive damage to nearby enemies, too. Interestingly, King can shoot immediately after a dodge with a different animation and a slightly-faster fire rate.
Nine: Probably the most straightforward and “honest” character of the bunch. Nine doesn’t have any fancy tricks; he just needs to get in and skewer enemies with his lance -- the range of which is pretty good, even if some of its packed-in attacks are slow on the uptake. In terms of his special moves, I’ve barely felt the need to experiment with anything but two: his default Jump, which does really good damage and avoids enemy attacks, and White Knight. It puts up an anti-everything shield to keep enemies out, and heals allies standing inside. Seems pretty broken, if you ask me.
Queen: The wiki suggests that she’s a good character for beginners (she’s one of the starting three, after all), but I’m not sure I agree with that. She’s got the normals to support her, but some of them ask for a bit more planning and finesse. On top of that, some of her moves are less about “direct damage, now” and more about supporting the party; her starting move is Divine Judgment, which looks impressive and covers a huge area with a spinning cross, but it’s not a practical move to be throwing out all willy-nilly. And while she can regenerate MP for her teammates, she has to sacrifice HP to do it -- and that depends on how much you value magic attacks in your arsenal. Whatever the case, she’s got a teleport that lets you zoom in…and exploit Killsights.
Sice: “Dark and edgy” in physical form. Sice and her scythe feel unwieldy at first, and still kind of do well into the game -- the reason being that her attack motions are bound to a direction and Square. So if you want to jump in and land a Killsight on a distant enemy, you actually can. That’s pretty useful. The other attacks (the two sides in particular), not so much -- and even then, her basic attacks are lacking in speed. In any case, she has a special mechanic that lets her get powered up the more she kills, and she can release that energy with some of her special moves. Sice can do some serious damage immediately or over time, especially since one of her early attacks is to toss out a tornado of darkness that homes in on enemies.
Deuce: She’s one of the characters I use the least, and arguably for good reason: she seems like a character designed to stay back and support the others. Her flute “attacks” generate a spirit that fights on your behalf, so it can cover you even when you’re getting hit; the issue is that even if she’s kinda-sorta long-range-focused, she’s got some of the slowest attacks of the bunch. Conversely, she’s one of the few characters with buffs to the party. You can balance that out by giving her access to magic, but on the other hand, that makes her heavily MP-dependent. If she lands in the party, I tend to let the CPU handle her.
Whatever the case, I feel like I’ve spent an undue amount of time taking characters to the arena -- and I haven’t regretted it in the slightest. It’s like hitting the Survival Mode of the average fighting game -- you get to learn the ins and outs of your character in a pseudo-combat situation, and get more comfortable as a result. I wish that said arena had more variation in enemies than just “gun-toting soldier”, but it’s still fun to land those counter-hits and capitalize on punishes.
And that usually extends to the full game. I remember playing the first story mission and waltzing up to an elevator, only to have a genuine “OH SHIT” moment when a two-story mech rode up it and stood five inches in front of my face. So I made my way through the arena amidst its barrage of gunshots and missile fire, weaving through shipping crates on my way back in to start an offense. And when I won the fight I had a realization: the terrain actually mattered in an RPG again. And I thought to myself, “This is exactly what I wanted.”
It’s true that you can go on autopilot more than a few times in Type-0 (the terrain typically mixes up during big story missions, but the game’s pacing puts those few and far between), but the defensive options are still as solid as they are appreciable. For one thing, every character can Dodge Roll by default by running and hitting Circle, which is HUGE for me; more to the point, dodges can be used to cut attack animations short. That’s a really good thing to have, especially for a slow-starter like Cinque.
On top of that, you can choose what defensive option each character has mapped to Circle. For example, Eight comes with Block set by default, which does exactly what you expect it to -- good for characters that don’t have the biggest MP count. In contrast, Ace comes pre-loaded with Wall, which sets up a towering magic barrier to cover him -- perfect for long-range characters like Trey or King. As always, Cure is a viable option for anyone to have (though it takes a little while to charge up).
After the button-mashing bonanza of Kingdom Hearts II and the auto-battle drudgery of The Lightning Saga (yes I know Squeenix has put out more games than that, but work with me here), it’s good to have a JRPG from the company that actually feels fun to play. Good mechanics, good options, good balance, good flow -- there’s a lot to like. It reaches the ideal state: if at any point I have to grind, Type-0 is built in such a way that it (usually) makes the grind fun.
With all that said, I still have some complaints. The biggest thing that holds the battle system back is the control scheme; this is one of the areas where you’re reminded that you’re playing a PSP game, not a PS4 game. As you’ll recall, the PSP only has two trigger buttons instead of the consoles’ four, and no attempts were made to take advantage of the additional buttons.
L1 brings out/puts away your weapons, while R1 is for targeting; what this means is that you only have two buttons mapped to your character’s magic or techniques, and you’ll be rolling in them before long. I find myself wishing for Kingdom Hearts’ shortcut system, where you hold a trigger and queue up a list of moves to activate with a face button -- and they could have added that here if they took advantage of the hardware. It’s a hard limit to the amount of variability and experimentation you could have with a character.
But it’s not just about being able to equip more moves. Using items is much too clunky for the type of game it’s striving to be. Sure, you can have one item assigned to down on the D-pad, but if you need to heal a hurting party member or take a status effect off of you, you have to open the menu, scroll over to items, find the item you want, choose who you want to use it on, and then use it. God help you if you want to use a Phoenix Down to revive your leader, because you only have a short time frame to do that before they fade out. Why the devs were so afraid to use a system long since proven to work is beyond me.
I’m also not too keen on the ability meter that fuels characters’ techniques. It’s true that it can empty, and you have to refill it with normal attacks/Killsights, but it’s a rare moment when I actually have to worry about how much I’m using at once -- and that’s only when I’m spamming a technique like crazy. To be fair it puts a stronger emphasis on in-their-face action, but takes away some of the resource management that makes an RPG what it is; if they had merged that meter with the MP meter, then it’d make me more conscious of my attack patterns -- especially since (thanks to the hard limit on move slots) I barely even bother with magic/MP.
The biggest moment-killer in terms of the combat is Phantoma. It’s not a bad concept; you get ghostly, colorful orbs from downed enemies and use it to power up magic (and earning enough with individual cadets nets you special bonuses). The problem is that in order to pull it out of baddies, you have to defeat them, stand in place while locked-on, and press Square, AKA your default attack button.
That wouldn’t be so bad, except that you come to a complete halt and can’t do anything else until you harvest the Phantoma or target something else. You don’t know how many times I’ve taken a beating because I suddenly went into harvest-mode -- and that wouldn’t be a problem if they just added one button to harvest it when you have a moment to breathe. It’s like they’ve never even heard of Onimusha.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that mentions of Type-0 being “hard” are greatly exaggerated. You have more than enough tools to dominate opponents, and the only real issue is that all of the cadets have glass jaws. If one of them takes a hit, they tend to get hurt bad -- or put in a situation where they’ll continue to get hurt. That doesn’t really amount to much of a challenge; it just means that enemies can do lots of damage, or they’ve got some cheap move that you have to deal with unless you want to get wrecked. And contrary to the game’s insistence that you take it easy, getting wrecked is usually only possible when there’s some ol’ bullshit thrown your way. (Remember this for another day.)
All things considered, though? I’m happy with Type-0’s battle system. Pared down to basics, a JRPG needs to get two things right: its story and its gameplay. And of that gameplay, the battle system takes up a huge slice of the pie chart; it’s what decides whether or not a player gets to have fun, and whether they will have fun dozens of hours from starting out, or grinding in fear of the next big boss. By and large, Type-0 passes the test. I’ve always believed that anyone who constantly runs or skips battles is doing the game a disservice, and that’s definitely the case here.
It’s just a shame about the story.
Type-0 got off to a good start, but immediately dropped the ball in favor of, well, pretty much nothing. To call it “insubstantial” would almost be too kind -- because even if it is such a nothing story, the parts that do have substance are so infuriating it takes me right back to the dark days of FF13-2. I wish I could say I was joking, but I’m not. Nothing I’ve seen as of writing compares to a certain subplot from that game, but the tradeoff is that there are more scenes that try to reach those lofty heights. I’ll explain why in the future, but before I do there’s one thing that I can’t overlook. Or rather, two things.
Say hello to the two characters that ruin the game. And get ready to learn why…next time.
Steel your soul.