When you first start playing, though, it's tricky to see quite what's got the Japanese so excited. A typical role playing game with real time battles, Type-0 is a game that sounds good enough on paper - with cities to explore, folks to chat to, quests to complete, and plenty of familiar tunes and characters - it's a game that certainly ticks all the Final Fantasy boxes. But there's something not quite right about Type-0.
Perhaps it doesn't help that rather than have a fantastical setting, the game begins in a dank, brown cityscape, where the streets are soaked in blood. In an unusual move for a Final Fantasy game, Type-0 isn't exactly afraid of splashing a bit of claret - although it doesn't really add much to the atmosphere. After a depressing intro which starts with a man in a red cloak asking a woman wearing red cloak if she's seen a man with a red cloak (and the woman answers no, despite standing next to another man wearing a red cloak), and ends with a man and his loyal Chocobo (think giant yellow chicken you can ride) being murdered in cold blood, it doesn't exactly get the game off to a great start. Luckily, things pick up a little bit from here.
Most of your time in Final Fantasy Type-0 HD will be split between doing two rather different things - wandering around towns chatting to the townsfolk/completing rudimentary quests ("fetch me one red phantoma", "bring me a few tags from those who've fallen in the fields of battle"), and going on "missions" - more story driven, dungeon crawling levels that see you facing off against the enemy hordes head on.
The story here is one of a war amongst the regions, although if we're honest, it isn't exactly the easiest to understand. There's lots of talk of things called "l'cie", and plenty of chatter about crystals (each of the four nations has its own crystal, which grants them special powers), but nothing is ever really explained all that clearly (at least to begin with), which just leaves you ending up feeling somewhat out of your depth.
Cast into this mix are the game's playable characters, a group of fourteen students at a defence academy, known as Class Zero. A special, elite class, Class Zero are part of a secret project at the school, and first become known to the world after saving their kingdom from attack in the game's intro. Although the dastardly Milite forces (one of the game's three enemy factions) use a crystal jammer - a weapon that should block the students from drawing on the crystal's powers, and therefore being able to use magic - it turns out Class Zero are totally unaffected by the move, and can carry on using their magic as usual. Turning the tide, and more than a few heads in the process, the game then follows the experimental class, as they help lead the fight back against the other countries, and bring the war to a close.
How you do this is by going on the game's missions, which plonk you at the entrance of a town, fortress, or dungeon, and ask you to make your way inside. With no set battles (you don't have to bump into an enemy to start a battle), the combat here is in real time, and any enemy you can see is game to be beaten up, as you mash buttons to take out the enemy troops, and fight your way through. The only problem is, much like the plot, the combat here is all very confusing, and a bit on the ropey side.
With 14 characters on offer, each of whom have their own weapons, abilities, and level up individually, things were always going to be a tad complex, but Type-0 doesn't exactly make things easy. Rather than just having slightly different weapons (say, ranged or melee), or sticking to conventional battering equipment (like, you know, swords or bows and arrows), the game instead throws some slightly more left of field weapons in there - but doesn't actually tell you how to use any. So when you start the game as Ace, who comes with a pack of cards as his weapon of choice, or choose to put young leading lady Deuce into your team, only to find she comes equipped with a flute, you may struggle with figuring out quite what you're supposed to do with it (there's no "jab it in your enemy's eye" button for start).
Instead, it turns out, holding the attack button causes her to whip our her deadly flute and start playing a tune, with her playing apparently so terrible it causes physical harm to her opponents. Of course, the catch is there's nothing to tell you you have to hold the button in the first place (rather than just tap it), and nothing to explain how it works, or even what its range is, so you end up spending most of your first few battles with each character simply pressing, and then holding all of the buttons, before looking very, very closely at the screen to try and figure out what's happening.
Of course, with a screen full of baddies, some very subtle attack animations, and a party of "friends" who are constantly dishing out attacks too (there's a team of three of you on the field at any one time) that's easier said than done. Eventually, you should fathom it out, but it's still a lot more confusing than it should be. Sadly, even when you have figured out what does what, the battles don't get that much more fun.
Although the battles in Type-0 will take up the majority of your time, they're also the worst part of the game. Eschewing the traditional turn-based battles in favour of a more "modern", real time, button mashing approach may sound OK on the tin (after all, the Tales games manage it pretty well), but Final Fantasy games have never got on with anything that isn't turn based. With a camera that's zoomed in far too close, and a right analogue stick that thinks you slightly nudging it is an excuse to spin the camera round like it's at a disco, things can be a bit disorienting at the best of times - but there's a laundry list of complaints that make these rather poor.
For starters, your team mate AI isn't exactly all that great. When you come across a group of enemies, and your two team "mates" spend all their time running into the nearest wall, it doesn't exactly fill you with confidence. The way the game mixes holding and tapping buttons to perform moves doesn't help either, as too often you find yourself holding while you should be tapping, or vice versa. Then there's the ranged weapons. If you have a sword, you know pretty much how close you have to be to an enemy to do any damage (although seeing as most of the baddies you face off against come equipped with rifles, getting close is easier said than done, especially when a single hit from them is enough to send you flying backwards), but what would you say the average range of a flute, or a pack of cards is? We still don't actually know - and nor will you, as the game will let you lock on to an enemy, and happily fire away at it whilst blissfully out of range, without anything by way of warning. Even though it looks like the cards you fling are on track to hit the enemy, they don't actually do anything, mostly fading out just before they reach your foe. A range circle, or anything similar would help, but instead, you're left with guesswork alone. And that's assuming you manage to avoid the random obstacles on the battlefield that have an annoying tendency to get in between you and your enemy at just the wrong time.
Luckily, there are a variety of other bits and bobs to help you out should things take a turn for the worst. Each of your students has the ability to use a range of magic powers (although you can only have the one equipped at any one time), which dish out impressive amounts of damage, but can only be used a limited number of times before you totally drain your Ability Gauge, and have to refill it by whacking at your enemies in a more traditional manner.
Should that fail, though, you do still have one major back up plan - although it is an "only in emergencies" type job. When things are looking bleak, or you come across a boss you just can't beat, you can choose to let someone else to the hard work for you, and summon giant monsters known as Eidolons. If you've played any of the earlier Final Fantasy games, you may know these as "GFs" or sometimes just summons - essentially, they're big, brutal monsters that you can summon, and then control. With stacks of HP and dishing out tonnes of damage, they're a force to be reckoned with - but there's just one catch. In order to use them, you have to sacrifice one of your team mates. With it being tricky, if not impossible to revive your team mates once they've been killed, and with you usually losing at least a few as you make your way deeper into each dungeon, this is a tricky decision to make, and one that seems a little unfair.
Weirdly enough, it's the bits and pieces that come in between the missions that are the most fun. With plenty of people to talk to, and towns to visit, there's a whole world map to explore either on your way to missions, or in your free time, with side quests galore waiting to be done. Wether you're advising a guy about good chat up lines to use, performing basic fetch quests, or even catching and breeding chocobos, it's the side quests that give Type-0 its personality, and make it feel more like a proper role playing game of old. It's just a shame the missions are so poor.
Let down by a poor battle system, it's tricky to see what made Final Fantasy Type-0 such a success in Japan. While the side quests and towns offer a faint glimmer of a solid role playing game dying to get out, for the most part, Type-0 is a disappointment. Confusing and frustrating to begin with, and just awkward enough to put you off throughout, this is a disappointment to say the least. Let's hope Final Fantasy XV, which is also set to feature real time battles, does them a damn sight better than this.