Back in 2006, Square-Enix had a grand vision for their future Final Fantasy titles: what if we came up with an actual mythology for those crystals that are in all of our games? What if there was an actual reason behind them?
The result was Fabula Nova Crystallis, which loosely translates from Latin as "The New Tale of the Crystal." This mythology forms the backstory for the Final Fantasy XIII subseries, which — back in 2006 — also included the games Agito XIII and Versus XIII. After numerous delays, these latter two games received name changes to Type-0 and Final Fantasy XV, respectively, in hopes that a name change would make people forget that they still come from the same basic ideas. (Square has since let us know that FFXV has now entirely deviated from this backstory. I find this hysterical, personally.)
Type-0 was originally released in Japan in October 2011, two months ahead of FFXIII-2's Japanese release. It was a PSP game, and at the time the PSP was near the end of its life cycle, so Square ended up not localizing it. It wasn't until March of 2015 that Type-0 saw a western release, this time as Type-0 HD for the PS4 and Xbox One. FFXV, of course, remains unreleased, but a demo was included with Type-0 HD to prove that it does actually exist.
Got all that? Great. This page discusses the connections between Type-0 and the FFXIII series in depth, and also compares Type-0 to the FFXIII games.
This page will completely spoil Type-0. If you haven't completed the game and don't want to be spoiled, do not read this page. There are also spoilers for all three games in the FFXIII series. This is the only spoiler warning.
In Final Fantasy XIII, becoming a l'Cie is about the worst possible thing that can happen to you. Sure, you get great magical powers, but you're doomed to either turn into a crystal or a zombie, and everyone in Cocoon wants to kill you. Not exactly something to aspire to.
Type-0 handles l'Cie in an entirely different way. Unlike in FFXIII, where the l'Cie have a time limit and their brand clearly changes to show how close they are to becoming a Cie'th, the l'Cie of Type-0 literally don't die until they complete their Focus, with some living hundreds of years. They're also far, far more powerful — a clash between two l'Cie early in Type-0 results in an enormous crater and casualties numbering in the hundreds of thousands. The humans in Type-0 fear the l'Cie, but their fear is out of a respect for their power; they don't persecute them the way they do in FFXIII.
The key difference, though, is Type-0's use of crystals. There are four crystals, like the Final Fantasy games of old, but unlike the older games where they were purely elemental, in this game they're based off of the Four Symbols of Chinese mythology. These crystals are the ones who bind l'Cie to their service, and while the crystals clearly have wills they're notably not fal'Cie themselves.
Type-0 does have fal'Cie, but you would never know it from actually playing the game. At no point does the game tell you that certain entities in the game are fal'Cie and that's why they're doing certain things. This is not a joke: the entire plot is due to the machinations of fal'Cie and the game never tells you.
I actually consider this the most important difference between FFXIII and Type-0. When I first played FFXIII I was obviously confused by the terms "l'Cie" and "fal'Cie" because they're thrown around a lot very early in the game and the expository dialogue is not very good. It's something I consider a big flaw of the game. You can open up the menu and read the datalog entries to find out what a l'Cie and fal'Cie are, but you shouldn't have to; the game itself should clearly tell you what these Plot Important Terms are through dialogue. That's how games should work.
However, FFXIII does this way better than Type-0, because Type-0 doesn't even tell you what a l'Cie is. Seriously. L'Cie show up in the plot multiple times before there's an optional, missable conversation with one of your party members that explains what l'Cie are in this universe.
SERIOUSLY. THAT'S IT. And it's in chapter 3 or something. There is no helpful datalog you can open at any time from the menu with a glossary of every term in the game. There's one missable conversation. If you never played FFXIII and you jump into Type-0 I can't imagine how confused you would be.
Astute players will also notice the emblem of Etro's Gate throughout Type-0 — although it's not hard, because it's pretty obvious. It's on the cover of the giant book in the Altocrystarium, it's on the cover of the Rubicus in the Crystarium, it's present when Bahamut ZERO is summoned, and so forth. We'll discuss this in more depth in the story section further below.
Gameplay is Type-0's strongest aspect; the actual mechanics of fighting are great, and the fact that there are 14 playable characters to choose from is awesome. It does show its roots as a PSP title in HD (the camera is terrible), but in essence it's what you would get if you took Crisis Core's engine and expanded it to have a full party.
Type-0 is fairly unique among the Final Fantasy series as a whole, but I actually think Lightning Returns ended up a lot like it. The battle system in LR is something of a single-player take on the ideas used in Type-0's battle system (with, obviously, a lot from FFXIII-2). Maybe it's just me, but I thought there were some interesting similarities between the two. I also think that Lightning's soul-collecting in LR seems to be directly inspired from Type-0's phantoma collecting; it's just done in the story and sidequests instead of through gameplay.
One thing Type-0 does falter on is party AI. Party AI is the crux of gameplay in FFXIII and FFXIII-2; the first game delved into it, but the second game really refined it with the -W and -X paradigms. In Type-0, however, you're given no way to control your party. Sometimes they attack the enemy and sometimes they just stand there doing nothing while you fight every single enemy on the map. They're good at healing, but other than that, they're very spotty. Even just an option somewhere where you could set whether you wanted your party to focus on offense or defense would have gone a long way.
(I realize, obviously, that they're different games and FFXIII is a more turn-based game while Type-0 is an action RPG, but party AI can make or break a game, and my characters in Type-0 spent far too much time standing around doing nothing. The paradigm system in FFXIII is a set of commands that the AI strictly follows so they're not just standing there and you actively change it as a battle progresses.)
If gameplay is Type-0's strongest aspect, then characterization is its weakest.
As much as I wish this wasn't the case, there's no getting around it. I really did end up liking all of the members of Class Zero, at least the ones who weren't named Machina. Unfortunately, Machina is the only character who gets actual character development. This character development was apparently written under the theory of "well we named him after a deus ex machina for a reason." (Rem gets development too, but the majority of it is focused on Machina. The rest of it deals with her illness.)
It's not good. There are NPCs written better than the playable characters. I mean, here's the thing: to have character development you need an arc: a defined beginning, middle, and end. There are multiple NPCs who have this in Type-0 and they're even told well. The same cannot be said for the vast majority of the playable characters.
If you've read my article on linearity in FFXIII, then you already know that that game has plenty of character development. Whether you actually liked that character development is irrelevant: my point is that it's present in the game. All six playable characters undergo significant changes and develop through the course of the story, and the same goes for several NPCs. The same is true in FFXIII-2 — Serah and Noel have a lot of development over the course of their journey.
Did Type-0 fail in this because it had such a large cast and could only focus on two of the characters? Probably. The other members of Class Zero do have personalities and we get to see multiple sides to them over the course of the game, it's just that they don't have any individual roles in the plot and they're easily switched out.
Each game in the FFXIII subseries tells a different story. FFXIII is about a small group of people cursed with a terrible fate who manage to overcome it against great odds. FFXIII-2 is about paradoxes and time travel, which doesn't logically follow at all from the last game but whatever. LR is about the end of the world caused by said time travel shenanigans.
In contrast, Type-0 is a dark story about the realities of war in a world where there are people who can use magic, and also an army that has 4,000 dragons. (Not an exaggeration. That is an actual statistic that appears during the game.) People start dying before you even get to the menu screen and start a new game.
For the most part Type-0 plays it fairly straight — I mean, as straight as a Final Fantasy game can play it. There's a war, people die, every time things start to look up something bad happens, and so on and so forth. A lot of the game is predictable, but because of the way it interprets familiar motifs like the traditional four crystals and the l'Cie mythology, it's a fresh take on the whole idea. It's pretty neat, all told.
That is, until you get to the last chapter of the game. At that point, Type-0 completely throws any sense of continuity out the window. Here's what happens: you beat the general who's been your secondary antagonist throughout the whole game and you've conquered the rest of the world. You figure that the main antagonist has some final plan up his sleeve, but you have no idea what it is. There's some prophecy about Tempus Finis, but you don't know what it means.
Oh, what's that? It means that suddenly an immortal army is going to appear from LITERALLY NOWHERE and start killing everyone in sight and a convenient final dungeon just appeared out of nowhere and none of this has been remotely foreshadowed at all?
Oh, and this game is actually a timeloop, and you have to play it twice to find out what the fuck is actually happening.
Yeah. Let me put it this way: FFXIII-2 makes more sense than Type-0 and FFXIII-2 doesn't make any goddamn sense.
The actual reason for all of this appears in one entry in the game's Rubicus (the datalog) if you beat the game twice. Square, I have given you a lot of slack over the years, but COME ON. Basically, this is Type-0's connection to the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythology: there are two fal'Cie who are trying to open Etro's Gate. One of them seeks to open it by slaughtering everyone in the world, and the other nurtures a group of souls who will open it through their efforts. The former is aligned with the deity Lindzei, and the latter with Pulse. That immortal army I mentioned is summoned whenever one country conquers the other three, and this has apparently happened 600 million times. Why they haven't changed it up in that many iterations, I have no fucking idea.
It's basically the same idea behind FFXIII itself, in that the Pulse l'Cie (the main characters of the game) are the chosen ones who will open Etro's Gate through their efforts, while Lindzei seeks to sacrifice all of Cocoon for the same goal. Of course, the difference is that this was actually made clear in FFXIII. Etro's Gate itself doesn't overtly come up in the first game (though it's there if you look), but it is really made clear that the Lindzei fal'Cie (Barthandelus) seeks to destroy Cocoon.
The later games in the FFXIII series explored in depth what Etro's Gate actually is (it's the gate to the afterlife), and its destruction is what causes the end of the world between FFXIII-2 and LR. Because, you know, the gate to the afterlife is important.
I had a lot of fun playing Type-0. I mean, I must have, or I wouldn't have beaten it twice. It is not, however, a good game. I get that Square was trying something new and different, and in that they certainly succeeded, because it's new and it's different. But the game itself is a clusterfuck. It does some things right, and a lot wrong. It's fun to play, but the characters and story are a mess, and so much of the actual content is hidden in the game's Rubicus and not actually told in the game itself that it's absurd.
As an entry in the Fabula Nova Crystallis series... I actually do like it. I mean, after so many years of the FFXIII games (which I obviously like, or this website wouldn't exist), it's really cool to have a totally different take on the same ideas. I just wish the actual mythology wasn't so obscured by Type-0's terrible storytelling. I find the entire idea of crystals choosing the l'Cie fascinating, and the way they're respected and feared is really cool, but there's just so much else the game does badly that it left a sour taste in my mouth.