[If you're wondering what this blog post series is about, read the introduction. This article only talks about the game's opening; therefore I don't consider any of its contents to be spoilers.]
I long assumed Final Fantasy Type-0 to be a game that I'd never play. Released in Japan for the PSP back in 2009, it was never announced for release in the West. And that was okay, since I half-suspected the game to be a third-rate cash grab.
That all changed when I saw the opening cinematic.
Thereafter it became the game I had to play someday, the game I might even learn Japanese for. Thankfully, Square decided to release it in the West after all, and I was spared a flashback to the humiliations of my high school language classes.
I'm going to narrate my impressions of the opening cinematic below.
00:00 - 01:54: Okay, this part is definitely skippable. It lays the foundations of the world of Final Fantasy Type-0, but does so by using incomprehensible words while barraging us with bizarre names - not a good recipe for understanding. That's okay; it's not the game's world-building that impresses me.
I will say that melding each of the four nation's symbolic animals with their flags is very cool.
01:55 - 02:42: This narration is much better. It clearly establishes the key conflict of the story - the Militesi Empire's invasion of the Kingdom of Rubrum - and zooms in on a specific event - a sneak attack on Rubrum's capital. So much less confusing than what came before!
The documentary affectations - the naming of specific dates, the newsreel filter applied over the cinematic, the dispassionate voice of the narrator - also lend the cinematic an interesting ambience. It gives the audience some distance from the proceedings, while simultaneously giving the event the weight of history.
Incidentally I think that this initial 'distance' is an important narrative trick, one that helps enhance the theme of the game.
02:43 - 03:21: The neutral narration continues as the violence begins. We have the faceless troopers of the invading Milites against magic-wielding teenagers and their powerful summons. In the real world this result in horrific tragedy; in a video game, sure, it's fine. The plucky kids and their magic always win.
03:22 - 03:35: Okay, maybe the kids will suffer a minor setback, but...
03:36 - 03:37: !!
03:38 - 04:32: This slaughter is one of the most horrifying scenes I've witnessed in a video game. It's bloody and unrelenting and cruel and unfair. Sword-wielding cadets are gunned down; the wounded are executed; cries for mercy are unheeded. And in the background the narrator continues his unrelenting catalog of events, refusing to judge what the audience is seeing as if to say, This is simply what happened; this is just the way the world is.
04:33 - 04:43: I think a scene like this - a prayer to forces unknown and unseen - can only work if the audience feels the desperation behind it. And all I can say is that it worked for me.
04:44 - 04:49: The music turns, promising that not all hope is lost. The narration disappears, not to be heard again for the rest of the cinematic. The audience is drawn closer to whatever happens next.
04:50 - 05:03: This part of the cinematic is witnessed through the invaders eyes. This shift invites the audience to understand, and maybe even empathize, with the fear of the Militesi soldiers as a mysterious blade plunges out of the heavens and into their midst. And it reminds the audience that the powers being wielded here are not only wondrous; they're terrifying as well.
05:04 - 05:13: It's okay if you don't think this part is cool. If you don't, show it to some children, watch their faces, and maybe you'll remember what it's like to live in a world of wonders.
05:14 - 05:47: Do we immediately identify with this stranger? I think we do. Why? Because the cinematic thus far has been cleverly designed to push the audience to a point where they're aching to find someone with the power to destroy the Militesi invaders. And because of that...
05:48 - 06:02: ... his words, which can reasonably be said to be laughably devoid of meaning, instead become imbued with an almost mystical weight...
06:03 - 06:22: ... and the final reveal of Class Zero becomes an iconic "F-ck yeah!" moment rather than a "Why the hell are they posing on a battlefield?" moment.
This opening cinematic ends on an incredibly heroic note. The next cinematic, which plays once you actually start the game...