'Final Fantasy Type-0'

"Final Fantasy" may be the best known and most beloved Japanese RPG series out there. It certainly seems to be the first name to come to mind when people consider the genre. There's certainly no doubt that "Final Fantasy Type-0," the next "Final Fantasy" title to be released for the PSP, is a game many fans of the genre and the franchise are looking forward to. If you've been wondering what to expect, you're in luck because we have our hands-on impressions after getting some time with the newly available Japanese demo.

"Type-0" is part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis subseries, which also includes "Final Fantasy XIII" and "Final Fantasy Versus XIII." The Fabula Nova games supposedly all take place in the same world, but during different time periods and featuring very different casts and stories...

The game is set in the Peristerium School of Magic, and the playable characters are all students in Class Zero. It's a world full of several factions that are supposed to be at peace with each other, but Cid Aulstyne has broken that treaty and seems determined to take over the world. There's certainly more at stake and something else going on behind the scenes, but players will have to wait for the game's release to find out what it may be.

Upon starting the demo, one of the first things any player will notice is how good the game looks. It is easily the best-looking game on the PSP, and the game's pre-rendered cutscenes wouldn't feel out of place on even the PS3. It looks stunning and is definitely a visual high note for the PSP to end on, given that this may be the last big game for the system.

Even so, the real point of interest with a demo like this is the gameplay, and "Type-0" more than delivers on this front. It's unique, fun, and provides a sizable challenge, which should make players of all types more than happy.

The combat is real-time action, similar to that of "Kingdom Hearts" if one had to draw comparisons. Players can lock-on with the right trigger, and their basic attack is executed with triangle. One interesting twist on this is that players actually hold the basic attack button to keep a combo going, as opposed to repeatedly pressing it.

At times, enemies will make themselves vulnerable to a critical strike. The game communicates this by a changed targeting reticle. If players are able to quickly attack and land a hit when this happens, the damage they'll do is staggering. This serves as a sort of balancing factor that keeps players from relentlessly holding down the attack button.

Each character has a special ability that is unique to them. These abilities are mapped to circle and come in a variety of flavors. For example, Nine wields a spear and does a ground stab with area of effect damage. Machina does a forward thrust where his weapons spin like drills. Characters can also equip a variety of attack magics to the square button, and these magics aren't just the same elements players have come to know from the franchise.

The elements are still present, from lightning to fire and more. However, there are also magic types, like rocket, missile, or shotgun. The first is one players actually have to aim before firing. It does powerful damage, but is definitely less useful against fast enemies. Shotgun type magics do low damage per hit, but can hit multiple times and have a wide spread that lets players attack multiple enemies at once. Missile has to be charged before it can be fired. There are even more types beyond these.

The "X" button is multipurpose. Players can hold still and use it to block an attack, or they can use it while moving to evade. However, one of its most important uses is healing, which players have to hold still and charge. The longer they charge the more MP the healing spell uses and the more it heals them. It's an interesting twist on healing and forces players to think about when it is safe to heal and how long to do it.

All this would be an incredibly amount of depth in its own right, but upon pressing the left trigger, a handful of new options are present. Your main party can only be composed of three members at a time, but players have access to a much larger team for the mission. If a slot in the party is vacated, usually due to team member death, players can hold the left trigger and tap up on the d-pad to open a list of surviving party members and choose who will fill the vacancy. Left trigger plus right on the d-pad lets players switch which member of their current party they're controlling.

Of course, every "Final Fantasy" needs to have summons, powerful deities or spirits that can aid the party, and "Type-0" doesn't disappoint. Players choose one at the start of a mission, and are then able to summon it by holding the triangle and circle buttons at the same time. However, they do this at the expense of the party leader's life, and these beings can only be controlled for a brief time before vanishing. At the same time, it's important to use them semi-regularly as they do level. If they aren't used often enough their utility will diminish.

"Final Fantasy Type-0" experiments a lot with the standard gameplay, but that's not all that's new. It introduces two leveling systems that players should find very engaging. As a character levels, he or she is awarded with Ability Points (AP). At save points, players can spend that AP on special abilities, which can range from more health to even more ammo per reload for a certain character's guns. This AP system also applies to summons as they level. It's a solid system for individual character growth.

In addition to this, when an enemy is slain, players can target their body and press circle to draw "Phontoma" from the corpse. Phontoma are special elemental items that are used to power up spells. Players can reduce the MP cost of a spell, lower the casting time, increase the range, or any other number of boosts as they choose. It's a unique system for improving the magic, and since characters can, for the most part, have any magic type equipped to them, these improvements benefit the party as a whole, as opposed to a single character. Unfortunately, players are unable to take advantage of this system in the demo I played.

One last special treat are the Special Operations. During missions, players will receive letters marked "S.O." These letters are optional bonus objectives that players have a limited time to complete. They can range from "Kill 10 zombies" to "Kill this Behemoth." They seem a small part of the game, but their inclusion is more than welcome.

The demo gives an intimate look at the upcoming "Final Fantasy" game. Though there's only been an official release date for Japan, Square Enix has confirmed they're looking into overseas releases. "Type-0" looks to be one of the best "Final Fantasy" games in recent memory, and it would be a shame if U.S. audiences didn't get a chance to play it. It's an incredibly fun experience, and, if the story lives up to the gameplay, it will easily be one of the best games released on the PSP. It's certainly a high note for the PSP to end on with the release of the PS Vita quickly approaching.

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Video Games: 'Final Fantasy Type-0'