Dissidia: Final Fantasy [PSP]
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: August 25th, 2009
The past two decades have seen twelve Final Fantasy releases—boy how time flies when you’re having fun! Unlike typical sequels, each was built from the ground-up, so no two are related. Different universes, landscapes, characters, storylines—you name it. Even the common denominator amongst these games, role-playing, has seen numerous changes. If you’ve been living in limbo and never heard of this sacred series, simply play five minutes of the first and last installments. You won’t believe that they come from the same lineage.
Pondering everything I’ve mentioned, Dissidia: Final Fantasy must have been a tough project for Square-Enix. How do you celebrate over 20 years of lore with just one game? It’s impossible to please everyone, hence why the company has shied away from crossovers and direct sequels until recently. With a venture like this, it’s vital to simply do what you know best and not give in to fan demands. After all, Final Fantasy is Square-Enix’s baby, so fans should trust whatever tribute pops up from their studios.
As critics, we understand this and accept Dissidia as it is. I won’t necessarily praise the game like no tomorrow, but it would be unfair to nitpick and/or bash its direction. If I insisted on questions such as, “Why isn’t this a full-fledged RPG?” or “Why isn’t Locke included?”, I would be insulting Square-Enix without merit. On the other hand, a homage game must bear certain cardinal features that resonate with fans as they play. Luckily, Dissidia: Final Fantasy does just that and then some. I can almost see the words “thank you” written all over it. It’s not perfect of course and can’t be given the aforementioned circumstances, but the message is loud and clear: we’re celebrating this franchise in a big way!
Even pinpointing the genre isn’t simple. Word emerged early in Dissidia’s development that it was a destined fighter, and truthfully I immediately became skeptical. Really now, when did Square-Enix last leave its usual element and colored us impressed? My answer: back in the PS1 days with the externally-developed Ehrgeiz and Bushido Blade. After playing Dissidia extensively, I let out a sigh of relief. The game doesn’t stray far from the role-playing and action strengths we all know and love.
Fighting and action are interchangeable—and exactly the case with Dissidia. If you’ve played Kingdom Hearts on the PS2, you’d feel at home with Dissidia’s 3D controls that feature simpler Smash Brothers-like input, a much better camera, and ten times the action. You could say that Dissidia flows like a playable Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Newton’s Law of Gravity does not apply here, as you fly towards foes, air- dodge like crazy, and perform amazing attacks. I’ll pay you ten gil if an apple falls from a tree in the world of Dissidia.
Where does the fighting come into play? Simple: one-on-one, last-man-standing battles. Never have a fighter without those, right? Knowing Square-Enix though, don’t expect the familiar “chop ‘till you drop” system. Yes, the goal is to drain your opponent’s health bar before he/she does so to you, but Dissidia brings a unique twist to this. It all comes down to your two attack types. Square button moves damage your opponent, while Circle attacks strengthen your offense for an opportunity to hurt even more with an “HP Attack”… hence the game’s terminology with “Bravery Attacks”. “Bravery Points” show your current attack power and are conveniently displayed above your health bar. To maintain balance and fairness, these accumulated points reset with every “HP Attack” executed. This well-designed, continuous battle for attack power injects a fun and dynamic strategy into the mix. My main criticism is that the points are shown in number form rather than a bar illustration of some sort. It can be extremely difficult to follow the “Bravery Pool” with all the action happening. Square-Enix’s RPG bias worked against them here.
Speaking of RPGs, what’s a Final Fantasy without role-playing? Say what, a Fighter/RPG? Nonetheless, it works a lot better than expected. In fact, this blend makes Dissidia even more appealing and keeps the fan-service alive throughout your playtime.
At first glance, a roster of 22 characters doesn’t sound very big. The hero and villain from the first Final Fantasy through X are present along with one guest character from XI and XII—let the whining begin. Where’s Cyan, Sabin, Shadow, Tifa, Zell, Biggs, Wedge, etc? That list can run forever. However, knowing that each character can be leveled to 99 and customized with new attacks, equipment, and accessories should make you think twice. RPG players should feel right at home here. Even Soulcalibur enthusiasts have a lot to like about Dissidia due to its similar concepts. I admit that it’s strange to have to unlock characters’ own move-sets…but it makes the journey more satisfying.
The focal point of Dissidia’s fan-service lies in the “Story Mode”. You’re treated to an extensive narrative, amazing audio-visual production values, and distinctive progression mechanics. Talk about overwhelming! As with most crossovers, however, it’s far from a perfect world. Nevertheless, let’s dissect that plot. The backstory is a mere excuse to pit these classic heroes and villains against each other. While it becomes interesting near the end, the general presentation feels repetitive. Each hero struggles with various abstract elements like “light”, “darkness”, “courage”, “fear”, “willpower”, “peace”, “chaos”, and a few others. As such, these words are constantly written in the script, adding a cryptic and slow pace of sorts. Moreover, despite the top-notch graphics and audio, most cut-scenes lack the dynamic edge that Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII had. Despite sharing the same engine, Dissidia is shafted due to poor cinematography, mediocre directing and lacking lip animation. The team could’ve done a lot more to spice things up.
Never fear though, for there are diamonds in the rough. The characters are represented wonderfully. Their model [re]designs, attacks, EX special transformations, voice acting, battle cries, theme songs, battle music, back stories and personalities—everything is so cool and pure fan-service. While certain personas from IV, VII, VIII, X, and XII have set 3D models and/or voice actors, it’s nostalgic to see and hear from them again (though Squall’s voice has gone nasal compared to his Kingdom Hearts counterpart, eh?). Out of these, I especially enjoyed Final Fantasy X because Dissidia captures the vibe of the original game perfectly. Tidus narrating his struggles again simply clicked with me. Accordingly, the remaining FF’s enjoyed modern updates for the first time in Dissidia, and with staggering results I might add. Even those I’m not familiar with surprised me. For example, Onion Knight’s [FFIII] EX special is a hilarious callback to the turn-based battle system, while Bartz’s [FFV] “Mimic” makes him interesting to use as he switches between the weapons and attacks of all the other Final Fantasy protagonists. I also have a favorite from the “newly-updated” series: Final Fantasy VI’s Terra and Kefka. They pack quite a punch with their cool attacks, faithfully-updated models, and surprisingly talented voice actors. Terra’s Esper form is classic, but the full praise goes to Kefka. He’s the highlight performance of Dissidia due to similarities to Mark Hamill’s Joker in the Batman Animated Series. It’s not a rip-off per-se because Kefka’s dialogue is more appropriate and his updated iconic laugh is so well-done. The coolest aspect about the plot is when these characters interact with each other. Who wouldn’t want to witness Terra having a conversation with Cloud or Tidus giving Cecil advice?
Now let’s delve into “Story Mode” progression. It’s split into two parts: Destiny Odyssey (pick a hero and play a Mortal Kombat-like campaign) and Shade Impulse (the ultimate battle between good and evil over five episodes). Regardless of your choice, you won’t be fighting arcade-style. Instead, Dissidia employs a chess-like, ‘strategy-lite’ setup that bears its own rules. Each chapter has a total of five “grids” to finish. You can engage enemy pieces (if you do, it’s instant fighting mode), open chests, obtain potions, and finally face off with the big piece to finish a level. The learning curve is somewhat high and would take me ages to explain, so just know that everything works well. To obtain every bonus, you’re encouraged to consider your route every step of the way. You’re constantly conflicted to ponder between obtaining everything on a grid immediately, and playing conservatively to obtain other bonuses in the long run. All in all, the rules greatly promote replayability due to: a) no set way of finishing, b) evaluation by your end-of-chapter performance, in turn unlocking new areas and bonuses in subsequent playthroughs, and c) exclusive “grid” characteristics depending on the character or mode you pick. Repetition does creep up when playing Destiny Odyssey, but Shade Impluse stands out due to the variable behaviors of the battle arenas.
As you may have guessed, Dissidia‘s length and value are backed by its RPG and fighter elements. Around 20 hours are necessary to finish Story Mode. Include the option to replay chapters and your overall time would easily double. Furthermore, perfectionists will enjoy buying every piece of equipment, unlocking every achievement, and leveling up all the characters to 99. Oh, did I mention the in-game item creation system that depends on your actions in fights? These items are character-exclusive and can be used to create powerful accessories. If you criticize fighters for being too overwhelming on the single-player front, then Dissidia takes the cake as it doesn’t cater to fighter veterans looking for straight-forward matches with friends. Though unfortunately, “Arcade Mode” is too archaic, and the lack of online play/ad-hoc sharing is really disappointing.
Problems aside, here’s to another 20 years of Final Fantasy sequels! Just give us one for Dissidia soon, Square-Enix…not after Final Fantasy XXIV!
Overall (Not an average): 8.7/10