Comic Picks By The Glick

Final Fantasy Type-0: The Manga

April 13, 2015

I don’t usually go in for videogame special editions, but the one being offered for “Final Fantasy Type-0 HD” had something that really caught my eye.  That would be a 200-page manga that (as of this writing) isn’t available anywhere else.  In addition to all of the other bells and whistles the special edition came with, it was this that I was most looking forward to checking out.  This is in spite of the fact that the track record for manga spinoffs of anime or videogames is even spottier for similar ventures in this country.  I was really feeling that in my first read-through of this volume before I started playing the game.  The funny thing is that after putting in over twenty hours into the game and familiarizing myself with its story and characters, the manga actually becomes a lot more acceptable.

The land of Orience is ruled by four nations:  Rubrum, Militesi, Concordia, and Lorica. While they have coexisted together for many years, the peace between them is shattered when Militesi invades Rubrum.  Thanks to the power of their magic jammer, which cuts Rubrum’s magic users off from the power of their nation’s crystal, Militesi expects an easy victory in this conflict.  What they didn’t count on was the presence of the crimson-caped members of Class Zero in this opening conflict.  Not only are these teenagers incredible fighters, they have the power to use magic in spite of the jammer’s presence.  It’s due to their efforts that Rubrum is able to repel Militesi’s attack, and now Class Zero is prepared to join the war effort to save their homeland.

Before it was a current-gen HD remaster, “Type-0” was a Japan-only release for the Playstation Portable that was passed over for U.S. release after the market for those games crashed over here a few years back.  Word of its quality quickly spread after its release and after Square Enix was made aware of the fan demand for an English release of this game the HD remaster was announced at E3 last year.  So far, I think the hype has been justified.  Even though its PSP origins are obvious, there’s still an incredible amount of ambition present in its visual and gameplay design.  It took me a while to wrap my head around all of the game’s various systems, but I’ve since gotten into a good groove with it and will be resuming my progress as soon as I’m done writing this.

One thing about the game that the manga struggles to deal with effectively is its utterly massive cast.  You have fourteen playable characters, each with their own unique weapon and fighting style, in addition to the supporting cast made up of the other classes in the Academia of Rubrum and the opposing forces in the other countries.  Even if there’s not a lot of depth to them all, the game has done a good job of making sure that all of the characters have clearly defined personalities and don’t come off as interchangeable cogs in a machine.

That’s something which really doesn’t come across in the manga if you read it before playing the game like I did.  While the story is mainly focused on Ace, the card-wielding member of Class Zero, and Rem and Machina, the new transfers to the class, everyone else is given short shrift in terms of exposure and importance to the manga’s story.  It’s as if writer Hiroki Chiba wanted to let readers know that there were all these characters with cool-looking weapons in the game, but couldn’t figure out how to work them all into the story he wanted to tell here.  He doesn’t stop there, though.  There are also additional characters in the form of people in power from Rubrum and Militesi’s government and armed forces, and a few more individuals who are present in the manga to add drama to the assault on McTighe in the volume’s second half.  Toss in a story that basically involves a lot of these characters shouting back and forth between one another and the special technology that each side uses to undermine the other, and you have what is essentially a giant mess of a comic.

At least, that’s how I took it on first read.  Giving it a second shot now that I’ve played the game, it’s a lot easier to keep the massive cast straight now that I know who everyone is.  Even the ones who only show up for a couple panels.  It was also easier to accept Rem and Machina’s involvement here as their status as “transfer students” had me assuming that they were created for the manga to allow the reader an entry point to this chaos.  Chiba’s additions to their backstories also wind up being the most affecting part of the manga.  Particularly since it’s not mentioned in the game, and the sequence is used to reinforce one of the key parts of the game’s world and narrative:  Whenever someone dies, the crystal takes away your memory of them, regardless of how important they were to you.  It’s a compelling narrative device, and one of the few things that I thought actually worked on my first read through the manga.

Going further, the volume’s second half is an adaptation of the first major mission you undertake in the game.  There are some significant differences, of course.  Nowhere do you encounter a red barrier that causes your magic to become explosively ineffective, or team up with the surviving defenders of McTighe to take it down.  Again, this all came across as so much chaos on my initial read-through and yet becomes incredibly clear after having played the game.  In fact, my main complaint now isn’t that the narrative in the manga is confusing as hell, but that it’s quite simplistic and predictable.  The additions to the game’s story are welcome, yet they don’t wind up in making this a particularly memorable experience.

The manga does feature some impressive art from Takatoshi Shiozawa.  He’s got a very clean style that captures the essence of Tetsuya Nomura’s character designs quite well, and makes the detail in his work easy to appreciate.  Witness the appearance of Odin on the battlefield early on as the moment comes off as quite epic given the physically small size of the volume.  Shiozawa is also good with the character drama and overall storytelling.  It was certainly a mistake to try and cram this many characters into a single volume, but the artist keeps things coherent as best he can on the page.

That being said, the physical product is a mixed bag production-wise.  I appreciate the fact that this volume comes with a dust jacket the way most manga do in Japan, and the bright white paper stock helps the art look even clearer on the page.  Unfortunately, the binding for the package is so tight that it’s hard to see the art when it’s close to the middle of the book and you can hear the pages creak and see them warp a little at the point where they’re bound.  Was this manga produced in Japan for the American market?  I’m not sure, yet I can’t think of any other explanation for this particular issue.  There’s also no credit given for the English localization which is just bad form on the company’s part.

While this manga was part of a limited edition, the fact that there were ten-thousand of them made means that it has a print run that most comics -- American or Japanese -- would envy.  Ultimately, it’s not bad for what it is and makes for a harmless addition to the overall collector’s edition package.  If you bought “Type-0” and didn’t spring for the collector’s edition but still want to read this, don’t worry.  I have a pretty good feeling there will be a lot of copies of this filtering into conventions, used bookstores, or online stores in the near future.

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