It’s funny how a game can wear down all your optimism and goodwill, isn’t it? But, here we are.
…Yeah, this game sucks.
Part 6: Unlimited Resources
(Or: Those Who Don’t Learn From History…)
It’s worth mentioning right off the bat that the datalogs are back. For those unaware? The datalogs were a set of texts in Final Fantasy 13 that contained valuable information about the world, past events, characters, and more. Contrary to popular belief, you didn’t need to read them to understand (most of) the story; really, anyone paying attention to the cutscenes could grasp some of the (stupid) concepts in a matter of minutes.
The problem with them, as many have said before, is that they take all of the details that could have made that game grander in scope or enriched a player’s understanding of the world, and cram them into a bunch of text files that no one in their right mind would bother with. It showed a severe misunderstanding of what a feature like that is for; Mass Effect’s codex was there on top of a world and culture fully-developed in-game, while FF13’s codex was such that it gave Squeenix the “excuse” to fill its hours of cutscenes with spectacle, melodrama, and plain old drivel.
And it’s back again in Type-0. It’s like…do these people never learn? Are they really that deep in the vacuum? Maybe they are -- because this time around, it might be even worse.
I don’t know how many hours I’ve put into the game as of this post. I know it’s a lot. More than I care to admit -- and that’s time that’s keeping me from playing other, better games. I’ve given up on a lot of games since this console generation started, but I told myself that I would finish this one -- if not for the sake of my writing integrity, then for my pride. (I couldn’t beat either FF13 or 13-2, but not because they were too hard.) And I guess I’m too far in to just drop it now.
Here’s the thing, though: my brother asked me fairly recently how far I was in the game, and how close I was to beating it. I didn’t even hesitate to give him an answer: “I have no idea.” And I meant it. Because long before that point, I realized something: I had no idea what the objective was. I had no idea who I was fighting and why. I had no idea who the majority of the characters beyond Class Zero were. I had no idea about the make of entire countries. I had no idea why there was a war in the first place. I had no idea what it would take to end the war. I didn’t know anything -- as if I’d fallen asleep through every cutscene up to that point.
But that’s the sort of game Type-0 is. Unless you’re willing to scour the datalogs -- which actually has its own physical room in-game, just in case you want to do the reasonable thing and check it out at your leisure while in the fields -- then there isn’t nearly enough context to answer the most basic questions of the game’s premise.
And that includes the big question: “Why are we at war?”
There are a couple of cutscenes when you boot up the game that explain the creation mythos and the start of the war. From what I can gather, the Militesi Empire pulls the trigger first; they march on Class Zero’s Rubrum and push all the way into Akademeia with soldiers, war machines, and magic jammers. It’s all a big spectacle, with more death and destruction than FF games usually see -- but having put hours upon hours into the game, I still don’t know why the Empire started this mess in the first place (though now I’m wondering if they even did start it).
There’s an offhand mention of an energy crisis, but in light of the Empire shown in-game, I have a hard time seeing their issue. Considering how many tools of destruction these guys throw at you in missions and sorties, they clearly don’t have any problems in terms of infrastructure or economics. Hell, it’s safe to say that Militesi is already the strongest country out there; another offhand comment says that the Empire doesn’t rely on crystals and magic, but in the same space the guy laughs at them for being worse off for it.
So a guy from a country that’s struggling to reclaim stolen territories is making fun of the country that’s powerful enough to take on multiple countries solo and drop nuclear bombs at leisure. Huh.
I don’t get what Militesi wants out of the other countries. What sort of assets could Rubrum, Lorica, and Concordia possibly offer to the country that’s already at the top of its game and light-years ahead in terms of R&D? Is there some natural resource or produced goods that the Empire so desperately needs? If it’s not after that, then I guess the next logical step is for them to want land -- manifest destiny, imperialist sentiments, whatever. But is it worth it if it means heading to war? If we assume that Militesi wants all four of Orience’s crystals -- one each country is built around -- then why is that a sufficient enough motive to slaughter people in droves and nuke an entire civilization? Especially when the Empire clearly doesn’t need a crystal for anything more than bragging rights?
I only ask this because Rubrum and Concordia both show that they have nuclear deterrents; the l’Cie in this game have been upgraded to DBZ levels of destructive power, and several of them have shown the ability to summon massive creatures. That’s the entire basis of one of the later missions: Rubrum has a l’Cie that summons FF mainstay Alexander, and according to the text that follows the cutscene, the Empire lost nearly two hundred thousand people in one attack. That’s a hell of a lot of death to tally up when the sole obvious reason for this fight is “because we’re the bad guys.”
It would make such an incredible difference if one of the guys in charge -- in this case, Type-0’s iteration of Cid -- to just say “We have to conquer Orience because _______.” That’s it. That’s all they have to do -- all they should have done at the outset. Imagine my surprise, then, when Militesi doesn’t just decide to invade Rubrum, but Concordia, a third party to the conflict, suddenly decides to form an alliance with the Empire and march in tandem. What? I mean…fucking what?
Okay, context. At about the twenty-hour mark (after Machina’s little shit fit), the queen of Concordia gets assassinated. How that happens is left a mystery -- not just by virtue of being off-screen -- but the important thing is that Class Zero gets accused of being behind the crime. So basically, they’re labeled as terrorists, and they have to make a hurried escape from the Empire and go into hiding…for about ten minutes before they get carted right back to Akademeia for more non-action. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand since Rubrum is pretty much abetting terrorists (whether they’re innocent or not), they’re just making the situation worse.
So basically, the game turns into a Percy Jackson movie. You know. The bad one(s).
All right, Concordia. I’ll play your game. Let’s say that Class Zero -- a bunch of young cadets, two of which are the resident idiots Nine and Cinque -- is responsible. Okay, how? Motive, opportunity, modus operandi; you need, at a bare minimum, those three things in order to pin someone as a potential criminal. Class Zero has none of those.
It’s thanks to Concordia and its queen that they made it out of a bad situation alive, and the former’s attempts at peace/a truce only make it an ally to Rubrum. Beyond that, Class Zero was under close surveillance with a limited range of motion the entire time -- that time being the brief period where they were deep in enemy territory but protected by a declaration of a ceasefire. Only about four members of the class can fight at range, meaning that if they did mount an assault on the queen, they’d have to get in range -- AND in range of her majesty’s royal guards.
What could possibly justify such a leap in logic? Why would Rubrum -- Class Zero or otherwise -- launch an attack on the country that’s trying to save them? Why suspect the dozen people in soft captivity when the queen is in enemy territory surrounded by potential enemies? Does it not strike them as strange that the country that started the war in the first place wants to continue its advance on Rubrum, and now wants to (and does) add Concordia to its task force just so it can continue its invasion while also extending its dominance of the world via an alliance? Am I the only one paying attention here?
But wait! There’s more! After summoning Alexander and wiping out a bunch of the Empire’s forces (and doing even more damage to their territory), it looks as if Rubrum’s done enough to bring an end to the war. That’s especially true, because the mission parallel to it has one of Concordia’s best weapons -- and their advance in general -- stopped cold. But then a voiced-over cutscene after those missions says that Rubrum is going to invade and occupy both capitals so it can “unify Orience”. Huh? Was that the plan all along? Was that the Empire’s plan, or Concordia’s plan? Was that why the Empire nuked Lorica? Have I been playing Sengoku Basara this whole time and no one bothered to tell me?
I mean, does Rubrum even have the manpower to mount military campaigns on two fronts? I thought it was the weakest country, what with the whole enemy invasion. So how did they regain the resources to fight back? Have they instated a draft that turned civilians into soldiers? Even if they did, what are they going to do, as a military force that relies on magic and melee combat, against an enemy that uses modernized equipment, guns, and magic jammers? And more importantly, why is the war still going when the countries have effectively unleashed their nukes and more or less shot for mutually assured destruction? Do they not care about the losses incurred? The collateral damage? The ruined economies, political strife, or social unrest?
I don’t know what’s worse: the fact that Rubrum goes for it, or the fact that -- thanks to the player’s input -- it actually works out OK.
If it seems like I’m ignoring huge chunks of the story, then that’s because by and large there is no story until Machina’s little fit twenty hours in. I’m not even joking; the number of relevant, plot-shaping events after the opening mission can practically be counted on one hand. Oh, sure, there’s a lot of pomp and circumstance given to baddies and mysterious figures across the board, but nothing really comes of it. The whole thing plays out like some kind of History Channel special, which is cool in theory -- but in practice, it takes events that could be great to experience firsthand (or at least given more weight) and makes it all a bunch of voiced-over non-content. It does a lot of telling, but not a lot of showing.
What really gets to me is that there isn’t a single character besides Machina and Rem (and even then…) that gets the time or development they desperately need. Class Zero’s “mother” hasn’t been relevant since an optional sequence at the start of the game. Rubrum’s heads of state and Akademeia officials are just stuffy window dressing -- and some of the latter don’t even get names.
There’s a host of military dogs on the Empire’s side -- up to and including the game’s big bad, Cid -- that have yet to do anything besides say or imply that things are about to heat up. Concordia’s queen is alive and dead within the span of a half hour, with more time given to Machina’s “conflict” than a damn monarch. And worse yet, she’s replaced by some sniveling pansy who’s so obviously underqualified that he only gets to show up in one scene.
There are too many characters in Type-0, and it’s patently obvious that the devs had no idea what to do with them. The sheer number of supposedly-important players who drop in and drop out without notice is staggering. You would think that if these countries have access to human WMDs like the l’Cie, the game would try a little harder to make them matter. But if anything, they’re the worst offenders; I’d love to tell you more about the woman who summons Alexander, but the most she does is stand around, walk out of a scene, and spout some cryptic nonsense to Rem (in an optional cutscene, natch, and Rem pretty much just goes “Duhhhhhhhhhhhhh”). And then she turns into a crystal, dies, and promptly exits the game.
In all honesty, there was one moment a ways into the game where a character from earlier showed up -- and I almost shouted out “WHAT? Didn’t you DIE?!” She was the l’Cie behind Concordia’s Azure Dragon or whatever, and the cutscene prior to its entrance made me think that she turned into it, what with her diving off a cliff and then the dragon takes to the skies. And in the boss fight that follows -- an unwinnable one where your input and skill never really mattered -- some allies summon Bahamut Zero that lets you nuke her ass with Tera Flare. But then she’s A-OK a little later? What? When? How?
Oh, right. The l’Cie are immortal in this game, at least until they fulfill their Focus. That…that opens up more problems than even I can go through, so let’s move on.
If there are l’Cie and Focuses in this game, then inevitably there are also fal’Cie. My guess at this stage (and you know you’re in for a good time when you have to guess world-building elements) is that the fal’Cie are also the crystals scattered throughout Orience -- or more specifically, the crystals each country is built around. So I suppose that people use the crystals -- sentient beings that they are -- as a fuel source.
In turn, the crystals choose people to become l’Cie and defend it from invaders…even though that didn’t work out too well for Lorica, but whatever. Still, the theory breaks down when you realize that only the l’Cie are given a Focus, not the average townsman; as such, there’s no holy order from God telling these people to fight in wars, meaning that there’s still no motivation behind anything that goes on in this game besides “just ‘cause”.
There is one thing that the crystals (fal’Cie?) legitimately do in the story. See, there’s a quirk of Type-0 and Orience that affects everyone: when a person dies, the crystal takes away the memories that people had of them. The records still exist, and it’s not as if the people forget the mere presence of those people (Machina knows/finds out he had a brother, even if the details are muddled), but it still means that those who die become unknowns.
Don’t worry, though. Nothing substantial comes from it.
It’s pretty much used only three times. The cleverest use of it comes when Class Zero tries to figure out who’s died and who hasn’t -- the queen of Concordia, in this case. It kinda-sorta comes into play when the time comes for Machina to heap his hate on Class Zero, but that’s more about the principle than the actual memories. And when Class Zero’s CO Kurasame bites it -- because he raised his death flag a mile high -- it’s one of the few instances where the class actually gets to show concern…or at least a fraction of the class gets to. I guess nobody else had anything to say.
But really, it’s all a bunch of background noise. It doesn’t amount to anything besides being an easily-overlooked detail -- even if the game reminds you fairly often, i.e. the definition of lip service. We never get to see Kurasame bond with Class Zero to a level that would justify them caring about him pre- or post-death; even in the scene where they “mourn” him, they’re more confused than concerned about the man who was for all intents and purposes their teacher. And really, there’s something about the whole situation that doesn’t sit right with me.
Based on Kurasame’s quasi-funeral, Class Zero is -- based on my interpretation -- distraught because they feel bad for a person they don’t even know. If I’m right on this, and if this is something that everyone in-universe struggles with, then it strikes me as a worldwide lack of empathy. I mean, think about it: do you necessarily need to know someone personally to feel bad about their death, or even a single misfortune? You don’t have to know every soldier in the recent wars to feel sympathy for them; sure, you may not know them personally, but merely the fact that they put their lives on the line makes them worth praise and respect. You don’t stop caring about them just because you never met them -- whether they make it back home or not.
It seems like Type-0’s world is built on a fundamentally-wrong mindset. It’s mentioned offhandedly that soldiers can willingly throw their lives away because “death doesn’t have meaning” or “no one will remember them when they’re gone”. Setting aside the fact that, again, the records of these people still exist, they SHOULD care by default because they still have a chance to live if they fight well enough. They shouldn’t have to expect or welcome death, no matter how incompetent or nonsensical the war may be. But even if they do die, it’s not as if their sacrifices are in vain; they’re doing their part to win the war, and people will honor that. A dead soldier won’t be remembered personally, but they’ll be remembered conceptually -- and in a sense, they’ll gain immortality in their own right.
To the game’s credit, there’s a scene where Ace sings a hymn in Akademeia’s cemetery. I’d like to think it was for the soldiers -- friendly or enemy -- that lost their lives, but it could have easily been about soothing his comrades’ concerns; either reason has its merits. Either way, death means something to him, and in the brief glimpses we’re given of him, he shows that. Because of that, the audience gets to understand, however briefly, the lives that have been taken for the sake of a war that doesn’t make even the slightest bit of sense.
The problem is that the entire concept -- every concept, and every facet the game has to offer -- doesn’t get the time it deserves. Nothing gets fleshed out. Nothing gets explained. Really, I would be fine with the distorted, empathy-free world of Orience if the devs went further with it. If they did more than just imply (and poorly) the ramifications of their world, then it could have made for an immensely-stronger game. If they didn’t, then they could have fallen back on the war angle and developed it in full. And even if they didn’t do that -- if they wanted to make the large-scale conflict part of the background so they could focus on small-scale conflicts -- then they could have made things more personal. They could have used Class Zero, from Ace to Queen, to its fullest.
But they didn’t. They didn’t do anything.
There was a moment where I seriously considered dropping the game and never looking back. Thanks to Class Zero, Rubrum manages to storm the capital and seize it as their own (without conflict, resistance, or even a satisfying boss battle, because it’s a filler mission); as such, the stage is set for what I can only assume is the game’s final battle. In a desperate attempt for some last-minute character insights, I scoured Akademeia for the members of Class Zero, in the hopes of getting something substantial from them.
As it so happened, I ran into Ace. But I didn’t get to trigger a cutscene -- just an extended string of dialogue boxes to advance the in-game clock. What did he say? He talked about how Class Zero had been through a lot, and how they came together as a team. How they butted heads, how they laughed and cried together. How they sat around a campfire and traded stories. How apparently, everything I wanted out of them happened off-screen.
If you’ve played a JRPG before -- or experienced any story prior to this one -- then you know the drill. It’s the reminiscence before the final battle. The whole “hey, remember when we…?” song and dance that reminds you of the good times before it all comes to an end. It’s happened plenty of times before -- undoubtedly, in every Tales game to date, just to start. But it didn’t happen here. There isn’t a single moment in the entire game up to that point where the whole of Class Zero comes together and talks to each other. There may not even be half a dozen scenes where even half a dozen members are in the same conversation. Whatever I have found has been optional. Skippable. Easy to miss. And not at all substantial.
This game is nothing but a waste of time -- and it doesn’t even have the self-awareness to know that. I mean…really? How? How? How do you mess up this badly? How do you make a game that’s this long and yet have nothing to digest? Nothing to say? Nothing to show? Nothing, nothing, nothing? I just…I don’t…this is just…
Final Fantasy Type-0 was announced back in 2006, as part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis project. Back then it was set to appear solely on mobile devices, but apparently a PSP title was always planned for release. Somewhere along the line -- by 2008, at least -- the game got a name change (from the previous Agito 13) and was repurposed into solely being a PSP game. And sure enough, it saw release in Japan on October 27th, 2011.
Spearheaded by director Hajime Tabata, the intent with Type-0 was to tell a more mature, more adult story -- one that showed the weight of war, death, and life. One set in a cruel world full of conflict. They didn’t want to have a main hero, but instead focused on a strong ensemble cast; they geared the characters so that any one of them had the potential to be a lead. While Tabata confessed after release that he wished the game could have had more thorough and easier-to-understand storytelling, he’s also on record of saying that he was pleased with the results -- with the characters, first and foremost, but undoubtedly with the game as a whole.
All of that was a summary of the wiki page.
None of that makes the game any better.
YOU FUCKED IT UP, SQUEENIX.
YOU HAD FIVE YEARS, AND YOU FUCKED IT UP.
You had this thing in the bag. You had all of these wonderful toys to play with. You had the elements, the ideas, the tools, the mechanics, and the resources to make whatever you wanted -- and all of the pieces were just sitting there. Just sitting there. But you didn’t do anything with them. Nothing -- nothing but the most bare-bones, mind-numbingly stupid things possible, as if you thought a five-year old was up to the task. And you thought that your audience was a bunch of four-year-olds. Do you have that little respect or trust in your fans that you can just throw whatever you make out there and wait for the money to roll on in? Or are you just telling me that the modern-day Squeenix, the home of Final Fantasy, is okay with pushing out stories that fall apart the second someone asks basic questions that should have been solved before word one of draft one?
How do you fail this hard? How? You can’t even blame it on the technology this time; FF13 may have had troubled production, but that was because the PS3 specs were still up in the air. You KNEW going in what the PSP architecture was like. You had every advantage under the sun, but you screwed up every chance you got. You screwed up the gameplay. You screwed up the story. You screwed up everything on a large scale and everything on a small scale. You even screwed up getting the game to the west until the time came to shill another long-delayed product.
You fucked up, Squeenix. And you’d better realize that soon -- because if you don’t, you’re going to run out of fans to sucker.