I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll go ahead and say it again for posterity’s sake: I used to have a PSP, but it decided to up and die on me. The likely reason is that its internal parts melted from overheating -- which is plenty feasible, considering how hot that sucker got when I used it. Incidentally, the last game I played on it -- and really, the only game I bothered playing on it besides a packed-in ATV racer -- was Dissidia: Final Fantasy. So I can’t say I shed any tears over the loss. I did have a DS to fall back on, after all.
I also can’t say that I look fondly on Dissidia. The idea behind it was certainly a good one, and some of the moves in it hit harder than a runaway freight train, but the gameplay system -- the Brave and HP gauges -- added a level of complexity that didn’t need to be there, and it was way too easy for things to turn into a button-mashy mess. I don’t think I need to tell you that the story didn’t hold up (unless you’re the sort who enjoys playing through the same character arc about nine times in a row), but that would have been okay if the gameplay left a strong impression years after its release. It didn’t. I played it plenty, sure, but probably just because of the novelty of the thing instead of the merit.
And that brings us to Type-0 -- a game that, once again, has a bad story. But this time, it’s starting to look like the gameplay really can’t make up for it. The novelty sure as hell can’t.
Part 5: Testin’ Me
(Or: Dogpile on the Dissipating Remains of Goodwill)
It’s pretty much a given that, in a lot of cases, games have diminishing returns. The more time you put into it, the more you start to notice the problems -- and they can get in the way of you and your fun. Those that have gone all in with Street Fighter IV can probably point out all of its issues, even if they go over the layman’s head; still, if the core game is good enough (or addictive enough), then it can help a player overlook those problems.
But when it comes to Type-0 -- or me and Type-0 -- then it’s hard for me to overlook the flaws because there’s nothing to compensate for them. I can tell you right now that it’s not compensated by the story (and don’t worry, I’ll get to that next time), but at this stage? I’m about ready to say that the battle system is one of the few, if not only things that the game gets right. And even then, it’s not perfect.
So here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll run through a list of gameplay aspects as quickly as I can. Some problems are big, and some are small. But no matter the size, know this: even the tiniest nitpicks can pile up. And when they do? Well, even a molehill can become a mountain.
Let’s get to it.
--Playing this game makes me miss Persona 4. As I recall, one of its minor features was the ability to press Square and bring up a menu that lets you travel to different areas in town or school in an instant. Type-0 really could have used something like that, because it makes moving through the home base of Akademeia a chore.
--There’s a portal set up in the center that takes you to the sorcery, the armory, the ready room, the lounge, the terrace, and the chocobo ranch -- any one of which could contain special events for you to watch. The problem is that (setting aside the fact that there’s no guarantee you’ll see anything) going from one area to another is cumbersome. If you want to go from the terrace to the lounge, for example, you can’t. You start at the main hall, warp to the terrace, then warp back to the main hall, then get to warp to the lounge. It adds steps to a process that didn’t have to be there.
--That sounds like nitpicking, I know, but when you’re desperately searching for characterization for these people, the seconds really start to add up.
--I don’t know if I should be thankful or disappointed, but the only classroom you can travel to is Class Zero’s. So if you want to see what makes the other cadet classes tick, you either have to get lucky and find someone who’ll give you a slightly extended bit of dialogue, or eat shit.
--While we’re on the subject of classrooms, I’m confused as to the mission briefings. So you’re telling me that after accepting a mission from the central command room (which includes a rundown of the mission before accepting it), I have to run all the way back to the classroom to hear almost the exact same thing parroted at me? And then I have to run back out to the main gate, going through several extra loading scenes to do so?
--Between missions, you can go to class to have lessons and boost your team’s stats -- but instead of using it as a moment to build characters, it just has a slow pan across the classroom with a single “joke”. That wouldn’t be so bad…except it’s possible to see the same joke repeated as much as three times in one go. It’s such a missed opportunity.
--That brings me to one of Type-0’s biggest problems: there just isn’t enough content to justify either its length or its downtime -- and the latter feeds into the former. The game leaves you under the impression that you’ll be spending time on sidequests and minor exploration, and outright recommends it via Moglin claiming that you should be a certain level, on average, for the mission to come. But as usual, the sidequests just amount to “kill this many monsters” or “fetch this item”; it’s a bunch of fluff designed to eat up real-world time, not in-game time.
--Weirdly, the in-game clock gives you too much time on your hands. Leaving Akademeia shaves six hours off, but you really only need a few trips out to be combat-ready. You run into monsters going from the academy to any given town (and the other towns, by extension), so leveling up pretty much comes down to grinding in the fields. The rewards’ worth is debatable in a lot of cases, especially given the legwork they expect of you. It’s to the point where I’d say you can do all right if you ignore the sidequests; just head to the last town you unlocked and fight around there.
--It doesn’t matter how much time you spend outside Akademia, or how far out you venture; when you return, only six hours will have passed. So does that mean that Class Zero is a bunch of time mages that can circumnavigate the world and go back home in the span of six hours?
--There’s a world map in Type-0, but don’t expect to do anything substantial with it. Akademeia is your home base, meaning that if you want to trigger the next event, you’re forced to return there. The joy of discovering new places takes a pretty big hit when you’re chained to some static academy -- but the world at large doesn’t justify the effort needed to reach it. The first few towns you go to have the same assets with a slightly different layout; in fact, it might be a good twenty hours before you see a different type of town, and you only stay there for about five minutes. And it’s got to be about thirty-five hours in before you can go to another different looking town.
--As usual in a JRPG, towns are few and far between. But Type-0 doesn’t make the journey to them worth it, because it’s crippled by a severe lack of enemy variety. Flans show up in virtually every area, no matter how little sense it makes; the biggest variation between the blobby beasts is what color they are (to be fair there are giant flans, but that’s hardly a game-changer). Little worm things, flying eyeballs, bombs, plant guys; you have to go well out of your way not just to see some “variety”, but some different battle arenas besides “grassy plain”.
--Part of the thrill of the combat system is figuring out how to take down an enemy efficiently -- but the game doesn’t capitalize on that nearly as well as it should. If you’re fighting nothing but the same enemies over and over again, you learn their weaknesses and exploit them until it becomes boring. Run in front of a Flan, then move aside to let it attack and open itself up for a Killsight. Repeat. Get right in a soldier’s face and wait for your chance for an instant kill. Repeat. Do the same things over and over as you try to level up for the next mission. Because some stupid Moogle told you that you’re not strong enough.
--I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Type-0 isn’t nearly as difficult as it needs to be. The “difficulty” it espouses is less of a challenge and more of a nuisance; unless you scrounge up the right equipment, Class Zero is made almost entirely out of cadets with glass jaws. You can lose half of your health in one go if a distant enemy lands a pot shot on you, or if something you’re fighting up close uses some cheap attack. And that includes characters you’ve built up to the target level -- because the game throws enemies that are an even higher level at you during missions…and being even one level below them means taking some heavy hits.
--That is not difficulty. That is just frustration.
--Like I’ve said before, you have to manage fourteen cadets separately -- not just their moves and equipment, but their levels as well. That means that if you rely solely on a core team of three, eleven other cadets will go untouched and become under-leveled. Having played enough of the game at this point, I can say that that was a terrible idea.
--Here’s the thing: in Final Fantasy 12, you could only level up the three party members fighting in the field. But it worked there because if you wanted to sub in, you could in a matter of button presses -- and more importantly, you had the opportunity to. You traveled in a continuous world on your way to the next objective; progression in the story meant progression in the game, and progression in the party. In Type-0, however, you don’t have that luxury. If you want to sub out characters while leveling, you have to go back to the academy or a town, go to a save point, and micromanage every aspect from there -- from changing team members to changing equipment to unlocking abilities, all the way down to equipping those abilities. It slows down the process on multiple levels.
--But there’s a bigger problem. If you’re doing exceedingly well with your main team -- say, Eight, Trey, and Cinque -- then there’s neither a reason nor an ability to switch to your B team (in this case, we’ll just say Queen, Ace, and Jack). So there are two problems. First, if for any reason you run into some ol’ bullshit and lose Eight, then you have to switch to a Queen that hasn’t been gaining the EXP that Eight had during that mission (or out in the field, by extension). Second, even if you succeed with the main team, you’re crippling the others by not giving them a chance to gain that EXP -- meaning that in the future, there’s going to be a disparity that can only be handled through more grinding.
--Sure, you may think that you can get past that by having just one super-powerful team, but that won’t work. You WILL run into situations where your team gets slaughtered , almost by no fault of your own --- and since you can’t reliably bring them back mid-mission, you have no choice BUT to have almost a dozen alternates on standby. A dozen fully-leveled, fully, armed alternates. At all times. Can you see how this might create some pacing issues?
--Okay, yes. You can replay missions to gain levels and such, but that doesn’t seem like much of a solution. It’s just substituting one method of grinding for another. Plus it’s greatly overestimating the quality of these missions; while I’m not saying that they’re uniformly terrible (on the contrary, there’s some cool stuff in there), they aren’t to the point where I’d want to replay them over and over, especially if it means taking away parts of what made them special in the first run.
--More to the point, there’s another big problem with Type-0. Yes, it’s got some cool missions in there, but only half of them are like that. The others may as well be filler content -- by which I mean for every mission with a boss fight or a story event or some nice level design, there’s another one right after it that has you going through a drab environment and killing enemies on your way to an underwhelming conclusion. And then it’s right back to the grind.
--And then there are the sortie missions. Oh God, the sortie missions.
--In an effort to increase the scale of the conflict (and not make the good guys’ army look like a bunch of bumblers), there are sortie missions that have you taking part in a large-scale operation to capture domains and territories. You take a member of Class Zero and control him/her directly on the world map, while Rubrum soldiers march on to take key strategic points. They clash with enemy forces along the way, so it’s up to you to help them make it to those territories and seize them, all while making sure your home base doesn’t get wrecked.
--It’s really not a bad idea (if an unwelcome one, since the game needs it as much as Tomb Raider needs multiplayer). The problem is that the execution is absolutely terrible. The most control you have over capturing territories is deciding which units go where, and sometimes you don’t even get that; even if you do, you just send your forces out on a set route so they can clash with enemy units moving on their set route. They clash, and unless they have type advantage, it ends in a stalemate where both of them die. And unless you intervene, they’ll kill each other over and over and over again. And you have to wait for the troops to move back into position…and they’ve got the agility of a dead turtle.
--There’s not even any strategy involved here. I did one of the late-game sorties with Trey, in the hopes that I could give my troops an advantage by sniping enemies from afar. As it turned out, that was the wrong approach; just run up to them with Eight and hold Square. Even if they attack you -- and they will -- Eight can counterattack with a Shoryuken and do enough damage to lay waste to everything. It makes the sorties trivial, and a test of patience; the sheer lack of speed and control turns it into a hands-off approach at best. This is no Advance Wars.
--The saving grace of the mode is that in some cases, you can send Class Zero into some areas to engage in the game’s standard battles…or skip the mode entirely, albeit with less rewards apparently. For completion’s sake I decided to play through them anyway, in the hopes of them getting better. They didn’t. It’s a sluggish and braindead mode that sees fit to not only throw in super units with superior mobility that will thwart your efforts until you get lucky (or better yet, rush your base), but also kill off your precious teammates just ‘cause.
--I don’t understand why this mode exists. Sorties come up with such infrequency that it was weeks in real-world time between my first experience and my second. It didn’t have to be there, because A) it takes away development time and resources, B) it detracts from the already-solid battle system in place, and C) it’s just so bad. And it wouldn’t be so bad if it was over and done in a flash, but one of those sorties took me forty-seven minutes. Either I really suck at video games, or somebody didn’t know what they were doing.
--And as much as I hate to admit it, that extends to the battle system. Sure, playing as these characters is really cool, but it’s got the same problem that Hyrule Warriors did: there’s no one to really test your skills against. Again, the challenge in this game doesn’t come from getting the most out of your increasing skills and knowledge of the mechanics; it just comes from taking one nasty hit and being forced to switch to someone else.
--Type-0 tries its hardest to not only make you avoid combat, but actively makes it unenjoyable. In one of the early missions, you unlock your first Eidolon -- but first you have to deal with a golem stomping around. Play around with it, and it’ll immediately kill your party -- maybe all three in one swoop. So once you get your Eidolon, your instinct is to summon it and fight off the next golem, right? Nope; Ifrit gets wrecked just as quickly as one of your cadets.
--What’s really insulting is that the boss of that stage doesn’t even put you in such dire straits as to need your new Eidolon. All you have to do is use Cater and shoot at the mech to land a critical hit; that’ll ground him, and you can keep shooting to score half a dozen critical hits in a matter of seconds. Such riveting gameplay.
--Actually, I’m starting to suspect that the ranged characters are pretty overpowered. Sure, their defenses and mobility aren’t the best, but that’s almost trivial when they can stunlock bosses from afar. Hell, you pretty much have to use a ranged character to beat a dragon rider. If you play as Eight (or other melee types, most likely), they can’t land the Killsight on the rider that’ll end the fight…even though Killsights had never been a required gameplay mechanic up to that point, but whatever. Play as Trey, however, and the entire boss fight becomes trivial.
--Exploiting critical hits is pretty much the only way to do anything in some of these boss fights. Gilgamesh shows up at random (because they needed to shoehorn in a reference to an old game), and you can only stop his blind rushing and huge swings by sniping at him with Trey. The other party members are pretty much distractions -- which also means they’re pretty much screwed.
--There’s a big mech boss early on in the game that I’m surprised I even beat; it’s got enough firepower to lay waste to your team unless you cower in fear on the other side of the arena; beating it, however, just comes down to it sliding into attack range (or shooting it with King, IIRC) and attacking when the magic yellow reticle appears on its body. Done deal. Who said boss fights need to test the player’s skills?
--Minor tangent, but I can’t think of a single JRPG that throws in as many “this enemy will kill you instantly” encounters as Type-0 -- and random ones, at that. Seriously, there’s a crazy guy chasing you in one mission, some l’Cie dude drops in for a random instant-kill in another, there’s that golem, a dragon-unicorn thing that fires off deadly lightning, a hopeless boss fight against that l’Cie dude, and another hopeless boss fight against another l’Cie that turns into a giant dragon. Don’t use your items, kids. It’s all for nothing.
--To be fair, though, that last one lets you use Bahamut Zero to charge up an instant-kill of your own. And yeah, it’s pretty good.
--But I have to cut the praise short, because -- again -- the game seems eager to contrive ways to let you not play. Setting aside the fact that even the fields have enemies that’ll instantly kill you by virtue of being max-level, some of the missions won’t allow you to fight either. You’re lucky to step into an arena during sorties, but one mission in particular turns into -- get this -- a stealth mission. And a bad one at that. I…I don’t even know how you pull that off. Or maybe why you pull that off is more appropriate, given that even if you use the ability that turns your ranged characters into snipers, you can’t even step into an area without someone tripping an alarm. What an amazing gimmick!
Sooooooooooooooo I have a question: how good was the PSP?
I didn’t get much out of it, but that doesn’t mean others didn’t. I recognize that it was a good system with its fair share of good games. The technology behind it might be dated now, but once upon a time it could hold its own. People could still count on it to do something.
Something, but not everything. And that brings me to my point: I think Type-0 would be leagues better if it cut out some of its content. Maybe half of it. Maybe -- just maybe -- Squeenix shouldn’t have bothered making it an RPG. Pare it down until it’s an action game with a few frills (a smaller hub world, like that cabin Class Zero used as a temporary hideout) and focus on making the few elements tighter, instead of throwing in a bunch of elements and having them hurt each other.
Half the missions are filler, so just axe them. The sidequests are just busywork, so axe them. Clearly they didn’t get the most out of Akademeia or the world map, so axe those too; focus solely on Class Zero and have them converse almost exclusively with each other, and turn the world map into a simple menu. There’s a pretty strong argument that you don’t even need half of Class Zero, for all they add to the story or gameplay. I can think of some dead weight right now that could use a good axing.
I guess what I’m getting at here is that Type-0 has a serious problem with scale. It’s trying to be a full-fledged RPG with a massive scope, but as-is? Games from entire console generations prior did a better job of that. As much as people clamor for good JRPGs (then or now, take your pick), I think that we as hobbyists can take a game that isn’t quite so large. We can respect a little focus -- a smaller and simpler experience, but one that’s more airtight as a result.
But Squeenix didn’t opt for that. And it hits this game hard.
The gameplay has too many issues to ignore. When it works, it really does work -- but it’s still way too easy to come across moments that sour or even sabotage the whole experience. Even so, it’s the story that brings Type-0 to its knees. It has these big ideas, but no idea how to make them come across in a cohesive, thoughtful, or even sensible manner. The fact that Machina and Rem are at once the main characters and background noise is proof enough, but there’s way, way, way more than that.
Or to put it a different way? As of writing, I think I’m approaching the final battle -- and I have no idea what’s going on.
See you next time.