When the Fabula Nova Crystallis: Final Fantasy games were announced in 2006, the future seemed bright. Square-Enix announced both Final Fantasy XIII and a new action-RPG (designed by the same guys that made Kingdom Hearts) called Final Fantasy Versus XIII. As what appeared to be an afterthought, Square also announced a little title for mobile phones called Final Fantasy Agito XIII. Compared to the console big boys, Agito had a lot to live up to, and most gamers didn’t expect it would.
Fast-forward to December of 2009. Regardless of whether you thought Final Fantasy XIII was a great game or a horrible one, it’s pretty safe to say that it was most certainly a divisive game. I found it to be disappointing, but many others loved it. Despite the mixed reception, gamers still waited in anticipation of Versus XIII. As the future of Versus grew dim, the announcement of Final Fantasy XIII’s direct sequel (cleverly titled XIII-2) stole the spotlight. Meanwhile, Agito remained ignored. But, like the craftiest of supervillains, Agito was merely biding its time until it was ready to strike. Rechristened Final Fantasy Type-0 and moved to the PSP, it released in October 2011 to an unsuspecting populace — an unsuspecting populace who weren’t at all prepared for the awesomeness that Hajime Tabata’s team had whipped up in those few short years.
It begins in a world called Oriense. Four countries each hold a crystal named after a classical Chinese god that grants a special power. The Empire of Milites holds the Byakko Crystal, which bestows the power to create various forms of high-tech weaponry. Under the leadership of Cid Aulstyne, Milites begins invading the other nations in an attempt to seize their crystals. Their first target is the nation of Rubrum, a land guided by the power of magic that the Suzaku Crystal holds. Using a piece of technology called the Crystal Jammer, the Milites army interrupts the flow of magic from the Suzaku Crystal, allowing them to lay waste to the mage-soldiers of Rubrum. But all hope isn’t lost. The Peristylium Suzaku Magic Academy’s elite “Class Zero” remains unaffected by the Crystal Jammer, and it’s up to them to take the fight back to Milites.
And take the fight back they shall. Final Fantasy Type-0′s cast of a staggering fourteen characters brings no shortage of methods to slaughter their foes. Unlike other recent Final Fantasy games, where each character feels like a carbon copy of the last, Type-0′s characters each have their own quirks and mechanics. Playing with every character and learning how each one alters the battlefield is a fun and rewarding experience. With the card-carrying Ace, you can pull cards from his deck, which then float above his head. The cards’ color determines the effect: recovering hit points, dealing damage, holding an enemy in place, and so on. Holding multiple cards of the same type increases the effect’s potency; however, since drawing from the deck produces a random color, you’re forced to choose between unleashing the power Ace has currently built up, or pressing your luck just one more time for an even greater effect. You can equip abilities that’ll make Ace’s deck favor certain colors, but that comes at the cost of versatility. Likewise, the fiery redhead Cater can stop shooting to charge her magically-powered uzi. Although Cater can’t move while shooting, she can either launch powerful charged shots, or she can spray a weaker rapid-firing burst, which is followed by a large shot. When playing as Cater, you’re often forced to pick between power and mobility in the heat of battle. In the world of Oriense, everything is give-and-take.
When you kill an enemy, you can absorb the Phantoma — their lifeforce — from their body. There are multiple colors of Phantoma, and they serve as currency to enhance your spells. Multiple aspects of each spell can be altered, but each upgraded trait has a tradeoff. You may increase the spell’s attack power, but it comes at the price of a greater MP cost. Likewise, spending Phantoma to reduce the MP cost will reduce the range of the spell. Fun fact: Killing an enemy with an ice spell leaves the enemy as a frozen statue, and absorbing their Phantoma in that state will shatter the ice in an explosion of countless shards. While Final Fantasy XIII presented a beautifully detailed world that was ultimately lifeless, Type-0 uses weaker hardware to create a world that ultimately feels richer.
It’s a very surprising world, where nothing is as it seems. You may look at the flute-playing Deuce and laugh at her for her choice of “weaponry”, until you realize that her attacks ignore enemy defense. While the manly, spear-wielding Nine’s attacks are effortlessly repelled by a big blue blob, Deuce is striking the beast down with the power of music. When the eternally quiet support character Aria finally opens up, she reveals that beneath the layers of shyness, she was a chatterbox all along. Also surprising: despite its tendency to follow in Final Fantasy XIII’s footsteps by using a lot of in-world terms (like “l’Cie”), Type-0 actually takes the time to explain just what those terms mean through the story, not through a giant glossary (although there’s one of those, too). When you’re told that an early mission will send you to the Peristylium Byakko, there’s no confusion — you know you’re heading straight to the heart of the enemy, because your own base of operations is called Peristylium Suzaku.
The mission-based progression is perfect for gaming on the go, and missions can be repeated as often as you want in the quest to obtain better rankings, more items, and of course, more experience and money. There’s also an online multiplayer aspect, where friends can jump into your game for a few minutes to provide assistance. Doing so is beneficial for both parties; the person that needs help gets it without putting the lives of their own party members at risk, while those who join will earn currency to purchase items from a special shop. This is also required in order to complete one of the multitude of sidequests scattered throughout Oriense.
As you may expect, your missions will take you all over the world — but what you might not expect is just what the missions will have you do. On top of the typical “go-here-and-kill-this” style of mission, you’ll encounter infrequent airship battles that feel like an underdeveloped version of Panzer Dragoon. You’ll also be thrust into RTS-style battles that let you control the flow of Rubrum’s soldiers while simultaneously doing your personal part to interfere with foes. These scenes aren’t particularly in-depth or common, but they help mix things up. The inclusion of an unlockable alternate ending is icing on an already versatile and varied cake.
When first announced, Final Fantasy Agito XIII had a lot to prove. Final Fantasy Type-0 proved it.