The Importance of Party Size: mechanics and versatility vs. focus and intimacy in an RPG.


Now it’s a party!

In perhaps a blatant show of my gaming preferences and fan boy loyalty, I completed FFXV mere days after posting that Type – 0 review, and playing both games so close together got me thinking about an aspect of RPGs I had never considered: the actual size of an RPG’s party really does have an considerable affect, way more than I had given it credit for.

Before we dive headlong in, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. A ‘party’ in this context basically just refers to the main characters that take centre stage in a story, and in a game the party usually consists of the playable characters. HOW the party is playable usually varies depending on the game; sometimes the entire party is controlled by a single player, one character can go to one player each in a multiplayer game, or only one character is controllable while the rest of the party is handled by AI. To make things slightly simpler to compare, we’ll start with two games that both use the lattermost scheme for the most part (and came from the same company AND even the same series; I really lucked out with this analysis). After that, we’ll look at some more general examples, and how the sheer number of people in the main cast can affect the game they’re taking the limelight in.

With that out of the way, let’s compare the parties from Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy Type-0 from a narrative perspective:

I said in my review that I didn’t feel as if Class Zero from Type-0 ever really developed individually; they made a pretty cool unit of students, but the singular characters from the class mostly remained in the same state that we found them in. While they all went through a few motions as the story progressed (learning to better appreciate each other, and collectively learning that they didn’t have as much free-will as they first thought), their individual characteristics were fairly one-note even by the end. While this is a criticism, I understand the logic behind this outcome, namely that it would have been pretty difficult to fully flesh out and give a whole bunch of characterisation to over fourteen ‘main characters.’

In comparison, the four ‘Chocobros’ from FFXV are at least somewhat more developed by the story’s end, and a lot of that development is shown through their interactions with each other. Without spoiling too much, it definitely feels like the already tight-knit group had grown even closer by the time the credits were rolling, or at the very least the player had been made to understand their bonds by the end. The game goes out of its way to reinforce the intimate comradery between the four, and it really pays off. Likewise, the group feel like they had more character to show off through the run of the game; Ignis may be the most reliable and level-headed one in the group, but even he isn’t above teasing Prompto like the rest of the crew.* FFXV has an almost unfair advantage in this regard, since it only needed to characterise four main characters, but the difference is noticeable. It can also not be understated how much these characters endear themselves to the player, and how much they add to the ‘fantasy road-trip’ tone the early parts of the game has. Their interactions and banter with Noctis is always entertaining, and the game world would have felt much emptier without them following behind the player. Their open trust and appreciation of each other, even when they’re butting heads, creates a real feeling of intimacy with them: by the end of the game, you’re as glad that they travelled with you as much as Noctis is. Heck, the greatest criticism I can think of for the recently released ‘Moogle Chocobo Festival’ (which is otherwise good fun) was the fact that the ‘bros’ weren’t present.

(*I present exhibit A: )

So in terms of story and plot strengths, FFXV’s close-knit and forefront party feel more engaging and involved in the narrative compared to the more thinly spread Type-0’s. However, how do the different parties affect the actual game play in these video games?

While they all follow similar principles and a basic structure (namely, aim for the Killsights when possible, or use magic and abilities as your main source of DPS), the fourteen members of Class Zero all have noticeably different play styles, and a pretty varied set of abilities. To this end, there’s a play style for everyone in here, and you’ll quickly be able to pick out your favourites. If you want a precise ranged fighter that benefits from picking his timing carefully, you would look for Trey; if you want a character that just goes in swinging, and smashing the crap out of everything, Cinque is more your flavour. Likewise, since you can determine the three-person team that goes into battle yourself, there’s a number of team compositions that can be made, and even some effective team-ups that can be created: Cinque’s ability to stun from long range isn’t super useful by itself, since Cinque moves a little too slowly to cover the distance effectively, but having a much more flighty and quick character (like Eight or Queen for example) means that it be a pretty dangerous attack. The game even encourages this, to a certain extent, since you can only use two of a character’s extensive list of abilities, you greatly benefit from making sure your team composition is well balanced. Even if Class Zero’s characters aren’t the most developed ones in the world, you have to admit that the motley group make for some entertaining gameplay options.

In comparison, FFXV’s four protagonists are more limited. You’re stuck playing Noctis the entire game, and while he does have access to every type of weapon possible, they all function almost identically (and your enemies will always be weak to a particular one, which will often be the deciding factor in which one you use more than your preferences). Aside from some underwhelming ranged weapons, your tactics will ALWAYS be ‘run to the rear of the enemy, hold circle and hope for a Link-Strike,’ regardless of weapon choice. The three bros are similarly more limited in their load outs, being able to equip only one technique out of a middling pool of options, and with no way to control what actions they take otherwise (at least until the DLC drops). While their AI controlled move sets do improve as you sink more Action Points into them, and the game occasionally spices things up by adding a fifth guest character, it feels like your working in a pretty limited environment. There IS an insane attention to detail, such as how every single member of the group have different animations for their Link-Strikes with Noctis and how they all have voice lines for damn near every status effect in the game. This even extends to the guest characters, which are often present for less than an hour at a time. It’s actually a pretty impressive way to characterise the heroes even during gameplay, but doesn’t do much for the otherwise pretty limited system.

Now these are only two, very specific examples. I’m not going to make any broad stroke claims like party size is always going to be indication of where a developer’s focus laid, or that a large party can’t be well developed or vice versa. Heck, just for the record, I came to really appreciate Class Zero by the end of their game; for all their faults, they’re a likeable group, and their story becomes pretty compelling by the end. But there’s no getting around that the number of characters in an RPG’s party creates different problems, and likewise make certain challenges easier. Having more characters accessible at any one give times allows a developer to specialise each character to certain play styles without risking the player getting stuck: if a single character isn’t viable or fun for the player, they can simply be switched out for a different one. On the other hand, having a large cast can make it difficult to give each and everyone an equal amount of plot relevancy. Some RPGs will just have a core cast that actually matter to the story, and all of the supporting characters are there mainly for gameplay purposes (see the Suikoden series, which has you collecting over 108 characters for your merry band).

There are games that have the best of both worlds, in one sense. The old Final Fantasy games and the more recent Bravely Default games use a ‘job’ system that allows the player to customise the four-person party in numerous and often drastic ways, allowing the story to keep a sharp focus on four key characters without sacrificing the possible gameplay variety. This system does offer its own problems, since it can make it feel like none of the four main characters have much of an ‘identity’ in how they’re played, and raises the question of just how the hell these four chuckleheads learn all these different classes so quickly. Still, it’s a happy middle ground that, while not perfect or recommended for every game, I’m glad has made a minor comeback with the Bravely series.

On the other end of this entire spectrum, it’s worth considering the effects that having no party at all can mean in an RPG: the Dark Souls series has your character go through most of their trails completely alone, a single person going up against horrific beasts and fallen god-beings. This ties very well into the games’ melancholic and lonely feeling, as well the high difficulty the games are known for, since having just one travelling companion would drastically change the tone the game has. While you can summon NPCs and other players to help you, the fact that they often appear as extremely out-of-place glowing figures (unless equipped with certain rings and such) helps reinforce the idea that they’re not natively part of the player’s world. The fact that you have to summon someone through time and space just to fight with you creates this feeling that even though there’s someone actively trying to help you, you’re still very much doing this adventure alone.

I’ll freely admit that I made this loose analysis more for my own sake than anything else, since I had never stopped to think about just how much of a game’s entire gameplay and story were affected by the seemingly simple number of characters that make up the playable/main cast. This is definitely something that can only really be judged on a game-by-game basis, there is no inherently superior way of making a party composition. Here’s a fun idea: the next time you’re playing an RPG, try to image the game with a larger or smaller party than the one that’s currently present, and how much that would change. Would the story be any different, or would the gameplay be heavily affected? Would those changes make the game anymore fun to play, or would it take something away from the experience?

Thanks for sticking with this little splurge of thought; next week we’ll return to our usual scheduled review. Get those colourful suits and impractically brutal Heat Moves warmed up, because we’ll be stopping off into the wonderful world of Yakuza 0.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD review

          You’re just my type


Back in 2011, Square Enix released a game for the PSP by the name of Final Fantasy Type-0 to its home Japanese audience; the latest game in the insanely successful Final Fantasy franchise. It was a game that followed the trend of many of Square Enix’s handheld Final Fantasy games in that it was an action RPG that forewent the turn-based style of its predecessors, focusing more on the player’s dexterity and reaction times than their lateral thinking.

It looked like quite the unique experience, since as well as being a fairly difficult game where even a single hit from an enemy would send the player to near death, it also promised to be one of the darkest games that had been released in the series at that point: it would be set in a land torn apart by war and bloodshed, where the use of mere teenagers as soldiers for the front line was not only common, but the recommended strategy.

When it was finally released in Japan (after several delays and at least one re-naming), it received very positive reception. It was praised for its quick and responsive combat and it’s refreshingly grim storyline, and sold well above expectations. Naturally, a lot of gamers in the Western territories assumed that it would eventually be translated and sent their way. While a fair number of Square Enix’s more niche handheld games were never released outside of Japan, this game was definitely one of their larger products, and one that outsold expectations. People were confident that the English version of the game would be released before the end of 2012.

It wouldn’t be until March of 2015 that the game was ever officially released outside of its homeland of Japan. And even then, it would only be the HD re-release for the PS4; the PSP version is forever out of reach.

So, after such an oddly long delay between creation and translation, how does the product actually look? Perhaps more importantly, did it survive the transition from the PSP to the PS4? Why did it take Oliver an ENTIRE YEAR to actually get around to completing a game he had practically been salivating over? All these questions and more are answered below…

Game play:
 A tricky but satisfying system, Type-0 offers game play that is always interesting, despite the bloat surrounding it.

In Type-0, you take control of one character from a group of fourteen students from the rather intimidatingly named ‘Class Zero.’ Every character follows some basic rules: no matter who you are, you have access to a simple physical attack, two special skill slots that you can switch and arrange depending on the character’s available skills or magic, and you always have access to a defensive or healing skill, as well as a dodge roll. In addition, you will have at least two other AI controlled buddies to back you for at least 95% of all encounters in the game. Said encounters usually consist of travelling through various areas and rooms, fighting off both humanoid foes and monsters alike.

While simple in principle, Type-0’s game play really shines in its swiftness and brutality. On the first point, neither you nor your enemies have large pools of health; even the tankiest of your controlled characters and the heaviest of enemy units can be fairly swiftly felled. While your characters are naturally a bit squishy (considering they’re all teenagers going up against giant robots and man eating monsters, it’s understandable), the main source of death for your enemies is going to be the game’s ‘Killsight’ system. Simply put, every enemy in the entire game has a moment where they’re more vulnerable to damage, notified by a distinct yellow or red mark appearing on them. Attacking in this instant will not only briefly stun them, but also knock off a HUGE portion of their health, as well as refill your capacity to use your more heavy hitting skills. Mastering this system is not only the key to mastering the combat, but is immensely satisfying: learning when a particularly tough enemy is weak will bring them down in short order, and make fights tense do-or-die affairs. Adding even more depth to the combat is the game’s fourteen playable characters widely varying move sets and special abilities: since you can switch between the fourteen characters almost freely, there is a good chance you will find at least one character that fits your preferred play style.

However, the game’s simple but elegantly brutal combat is hampered by unnecessary fluff surrounding it. During missions, you can receive bonus objectives that will boost your overall rating at the conclusion of the mission. This would be perfectly fine, but objectives are often given to you during combat, and the game doesn’t pause while you accept or decline it. Since the game is quick to punish slip ups, it becomes a frantic couple of seconds while you try to read the parameters of the bonus objective, and decide whether it’s in your ability to complete, while dodging enemy attacks. This is not even mentioning the pretty perplexing RTS-lite elements that crop up every couple of missions; while they definitely help to sell the idea that your part of a much larger, continent spanning campaign, they are neither deep enough or fun to ever feel welcome. At best, they feel like minor ‘puzzles’ that never really expand beyond they basic premise, and at worst they just feel like busy work that gets between you and the much more engaging ground combat. These fluff elements aren’t really deal-breakers: the bonus objectives are manageable most of the time, and the RTS-esque moments are rare enough that it doesn’t become too intrusive, but their presence is questionable.

Music and Sound:
Featuring both some entertaining remixes of classic tracks and some moving original pieces; Type-0 can be proud of its musical selection and sound direction.

Fans of the series will be happy to hear that this game has gone out of its way to include some great remixes of old classics. In particular, it’s worth mentioning that the game’s main hub-area has part of the ‘Opening’ theme (the song that’s present in more or less every Final Fantasy game*) worked into it, and the triumphant return of the track ‘Battle at the Big Bridge’ (featuring a certain character that long time fans will be fond of). The chocobo theme also makes a return in a catchy remix, although that might just be the conditioning talking: you’ll be very familiar with this theme by the time you’re done with the game.

In addition to remixes of old songs, Type-0 features some fairly potent original scores. A heavy theme throughout is a lot of Latin singing, and some tactical application of an electric guitar, but it always manages to feel appropriate and executed to perfection. When it’s needed, the music can be grand and sweeping, and can sell the idea that you’re watching some amazing piece of history unfold before you. Likewise, it can be introspective and uncertain, such as when the characters are discussing the ramifications of the kinda twisted world around them. Annnnd, it can be kind of stupid. There’s a dedicated, light hearted ‘comedy’ track that plays during the more fun scenes in the game, but also plays at least once at an inappropriate moment. Apart from that, I have no complaints. (Just for the record: yes, the music that played in the credits, Zero by Bump of Chicken, does make me tear up just a little bit, thank you very much).

It’s a subjective concern, but it might be worth bringing up the voice acting for a moment. The game comes with both English and Japanese voice acting, but I stuck with the English dub. I won’t lie and say it’s the best dub I’ve ever heard, but it’s far from the worst. While some lines are awkwardly delivered, you can tell everyone in the cast is giving their 100% to sell the characters. I mostly give them credit for having some of the most genuinely sibling-esque voice acting I’ve heard in a while: a lot of it comes from the writing, but just the tone of voice Queen has when she berates Nine, or how the usually jokey Jack’s entire tone of speaking shifts when he’s trying to be serious kind of reminds me of my own experience with two brothers. Basically, it’s probably not as bad as people will make it out to be, and everyone involved deserves at least some credit.

*Except II, for some reason.

Graphics and Aesthetics:
A definite update to it’s handheld origin, though it didn’t survive the transition completely unscathed.

Considering the fact that the version I played through was literally called the ‘HD’ version, I guess there would definitely be a certain level of expectations on this part of the game. It first needs to be said that Square Enix definitely did some serious work when they ported the game from the PSP to the PS4: every major character was freshly remade with a HD model, the use of colours was expanded to look slightly less washed out, and the lighting engine was remade from the ground up. A serious amount of effort was made to try and bump up the graphics of the game to be truly worthy of that HD title, and it shows a pretty impressive dedication from Square Enix’s part. HOWEVER, there are some jarring leftovers from its PSP version. For example, while all the major characters have been fully remade and all minor characters have at least been fixed up slightly, there is a jarring difference in quality between our main fourteen heroes and everyone else. There’s several scenes where members of Class Zero are on screen, in all their shiny, pretty glory, and then the screen will cut to the NPC they’re actually talking to and… it’s really obvious. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty common in a lot of video games for the actual characters you play as to be much better looking than some random NPC you can talk to, but it’s usually not as obvious as it in this instance. Likewise, some environments can look a little polygon-y, with the same jarring effect against the HD playable characters.  Despite that, the game still succeeds in looking like a visual improvement over the handheld version, and it’s easy to get used to the odd differences in quality.

That all being said, that’s just the pure graphics; the aesthetics of this world is another matter entirely. The game uses a noticeably dark colour palette: while the time you spend wandering around the relatively lightly coloured academy that makes the game’s hub offers some relief, the game is otherwise in love with a lot of dark reds, murky browns and grim blacks. This definitely feels like a deliberate choice on the developer’s side, considering this game is one of the darker entries in the series (and was the first game in the entire series to receive an M rating in America). Even when using other colours, they tend to have negative connotations attached to them: the clinical whites and greens of the opposing Empire tend to come off as harsh and intimidating, even when put against our main hero’s red and black uniforms.

Story and

While messy in many places, Type-0’s story is a compelling one that is set in a fascinating world.

The story in Type–0 is a bit of an odd one, in both its contents and how it’s told. In many respects, it has its roots in the tried and tested formula that many classic Final Fantasy games are based on: there’s a set of big ol’ crystals which is integral to the plot, a country being invaded by an opportunistic empire, and it comes down to our plucky group of misfits to save the day. But the similarities start to fade and become muddy when examined with greater scrutiny: the crystals which are so important to the plot are seemingly conscious entities all on their own, and work in oddly binary ways to both help and hinder the very people trying to protect it. Likewise, while the attacking empire is indeed the primary antagonistic force, the protagonist’s own government is full of schemes and plots almost as dangerous as the empire that’s battering down the door. And finally, the group of heroes setting out to save the world consists of 14 playable characters, many more than the usual ensemble, while also being much less autonomous than previous protagonists. A lot of what Type-0 tries works out pretty well: the story progresses along at a fair pace, and is full of enough twists and turns to keep one’s attention.

Since there’s a fair share of downtime between main missions, the game even spares an admirable amount of effort to try and flesh out its characters and settings, in particular the game’s fascinating subplot about the crystals’ power to erase the memory of the dead. As soon as a person dies, everyone who knew them looses their memory of them, almost as if the deceased had never existed. Many rationalise this, saying it’s a blessing the crystals give humanity, so that the living aren’t shackled by the memory of the dead. But others point out that the idea of being simply forgotten when you pass away- all memory of your achievements and life’s works gone with you – is a terrifying one. It’s a great piece of setting, and almost makes up for the fact that the main cast (which again, is fifthteen characters strong) never get enough screen time to really develop their characters as individuals. Outside of maybe two cases, none of the members of Class Zero really grow out of their one-note characteristics. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re fun characteristics, and watching the students bounce off each is always great to watch, but the group only really grow as a group. My personal feeling is that this might be enough, since the lovable bunch of maniacs are almost defined by their identity as a singular unit, but I would fully understand if others thought it made them less interesting for it.

As previously stated, another point to consider is Type-0’s method of actually delivering this narrative. Some of the various military and political movements that shape the events of the story are told through what I can best describe as a fake history channel documentary: a narrator walks us through the various happenings as an animated map visualises the events. They even use old grimy static images on screen, as if they were using some old war photography, and bring up the (fictional) months that events took place in. The effect is actually kind of neat: it creates this impression that you really are watching some grand event from history unfold before your eyes, even though it’s crazy fantasy history. In-between this kind of presentation is the more standard story telling method of just being present for the events as they happen, but the combination of both keeps the pace moving without sacrificing the feeling that the player is actually taking part in the story itself.

There is one particular point regarding the game’s story that I want to mention before concluding. At the end of the third act, there is a twist that appears with such force that I almost got whiplash from how heavily the tone shifted from its sudden appearance. Without spoiling things, it almost becomes a different kind of narrative because the already grim nature of the game’s world gets jacked up several times.*2 While there are a few hints to this twist coming, most of them are buried behind text logs and files, meaning the average player will have no chance of seeing this coming. While the nature of the twist leads to some interesting narrative ideas (and indeed the most disturbing way to justify a New Game + I’ve ever seen), it’s overall a little too sudden and perhaps sloppily delivered to be effective. Despite that blemish against it, however, the fourth act of the game also has some of the strongest characterisation in the entire game, and I’ll freely admit that I got a little choked up at the ending.

*2 Kind of weirdly appropriate that the game shipped with a demo to FFXV, now that I think about it…


Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is, in many ways, a messy game. There are a lot of ideas in there, and not every single one of them works. It’s a melting pot of creative systems and functions, all held together by the smaller budget that came about because of its handheld origin. It’s a list of references to other Final Fantasy games as well as a whole other list of completely new ideas, and it’s a game that risks having fourteen main characters in an already over-crowded cast. It’s a messy, messy game.

And you know what; it’s actually kind of great because of that. I love the main games and will defend them to my last breath, but Final Fantasy (even at its riskiest) wasn’t exactly opposed to the idea of playing it safe. Type-0 feels like it had risks not for the sake of having risks, but because the creative team behind it truly wanted to try something different while also making one big love letter to the franchise. This game has faults, sometimes really stupid ones, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t have a lot of love poured into it too.

The best example of this is probably Class Zero themselves: the characters never really have that much individual growth, and they definitely don’t have enough screen time each to truly endear themselves to the player, but it’s hard not to love those maniacs regardless. You’ve played as each and every one of those characters at least once, and you only realize how much you wanted them to succeed by the time the credits are rolling.

Type-0 is an odd game, and far from a perfect one, but it’s a game that I would heartily recommend.


Fun fact: in the four year gap between the original Japanese release and the official English version, a group of die-hard fans were determined that the game would see a translation, and began to do the arduous process themselves. Line by line, scene by scene, they translated the whole thing (including the novel’s worth of bonus supplementary text). It was a crowning achieve that showed their sheer determination, and was finally completed after years of hard work by the now exhausted group. They could now rest, and could be satisfied that they had brought the game into the hands of many fans who would have otherwise not been able to play it.

…They could be satisfied. Until four days later, when the official translation was announced.

Square Enix had the fan translation discontinued, and the whole thing was swept under a rug to avoid hurting the sales of the official release.

Better luck next time, folks.