Review: Final Fantasy: Dissidia

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Genre: RPG/Fighting

Platform: PSP

Players: 1 , 2 (Ad Hoc Online Play)

Developer: Square-Enix

Price: $39.99 (USD)

Final Fantasy: Dissidia, is a rather easy game to describe, but a son of a gun to review.

The easy, is it’s premise: The Gods Cosmos and Chaos are battling it out for supremecy, but both are too evenly matched to make any headway. It’s a stalemate on a godly level, no pun intended. To try and tip the scales to their favor, however, they begin to recruit warriors of great strength. Of course, for the sake of the video game, the warriors are characters from 20 years of Final Fantasy history, from FF1 through to FFXII.

Bam. Easy premise, and honestly, the attention paid to the story is almost too much for what pretty much amounts to an epic bit of fan service from Square-Enix. Don’t get me wrong, I like that there’s a story, I’m just not used to having such a large amount in a fighting game. Of course, calling Dissidia a fighting game is almost doing it a disservice. The game is an RPG through and through, and that’s the part that makes this game a son of a gun to review: It’s BIG. There is so much gameplay and nuance in this title that I don’t know if I can properly do it justice in review form, but I’ll do my damnedest.

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The core gameplay is straightforward: Players progress along what is, essentially, a game board, with enemies and treasures placed upon it that players can collect, and or, engage in battle with. When engaging in battle, the fights are purely 1 on 1 affairs, pitting your chosen heroic Final Fantasy Alumni with either a doppleganger of another hero (and even the player himself), and most player stories culminate in a battle with that character’s particular nemisis from their respective FF adventure, who is fighting on the side of Chaos.

Battles take place on a 3D field, and players are able to manuever, run along walls, ride slipstreams of light, and cause damage to many of the environments in an attempt to KO their foe. Unlike other fighting games, the combat system in Dissida is rather different. Using various combinations of the analog stick and the Circle button, players must first drain their enemy of “Brave Points,” which, in essence, are like a shield, or armor. You can’t chip away at the player’s Hit Points until you drain their Brave Points. You can use HP draining attacks at any time, even when you don’t have any BP drained from the enemies, but the trick is that everytime you drain an enemies BP, you can inflict that amount of HP damage to a foe. So it pays to hammer away at their Brave Points, then unleash an HP attack to damage their health significantly.

Of course, it’s possible to drain an enemy of his BP totally, which leads to a “Break” scenario, in which it is possible for your next HP attack to completely decimate the enemy and win the match. It sounds complicated, and it is, but after playing a few rounds, you get familiar with this mechanic, and find yourself strategically mixing BP and HP attacks to take out your enemy.

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However, that’s not even half of what Dissida offers. On top of that basic combat mechanic, each player has an EX Gauge, which, when the gauge is full, allows the player to transform into an even more powerful version of themselves, and allowing them to pull off uber attacks called “EX Bursts,” which, generally, ends a match when successfully pulled off (each EX Burst is different, but they generally revolve around the player having to input a series of button presses). Be warned, however: enemies can go into EX Mode also, which can lead to some damn frustrating matches, as it’s possible for an enemy to drain your BP, go into EX Mode, and finish you off at practically the START of the match.

But again, we aren’t finished yet. Like a true RPG, players are able to find, and buy new items, accessories, armor, and weapons that boost their chances to win. Not only that, but each character can earn a wide arsenal of skills that get unlocked as they level. It is more than possible for a player to sink over 20 hours of gameplay into leveling up just ONE of the characters to full skills and unlocks. Considering that there are over 20 playable characters in the game, to say that Dissidia is a long game is a gross, gross understatement.

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Also, and exclusive to the North American release of the game is the “Arcade Mode,” which, essentially turns the game into a traditional fighter, removing all RPG elements and stripping down players skills to a more balanced level. Beating the arcade mode will reward players with items they can use in the Story Mode. All characters, heroes and villains, are playable in Arcade mode.

Additional items, costumes, and extras can be purchased in the PP Catalog in the main menu. Getting back to the fan service, this game is simply a smorgaspord of Final Fantasy history. All of the tutorial menus are presented by characters from the broad history of FF, right down to the original sprites used in those classic games. Being a fan of the series since 6 (3, here in the States before Final Fantasy: Chronicles on the PS1 gave the game it’s proper 6 label), I absolutely adore the presentation, which is full of humor, and even self deprecation (there’s some rather funny comments by Penelo of FFXII, as she writes notes on all the characters, in particular Cloud and Sephiroth’s writeups).

The PP Catalog also plays host to a museum that allows you to view the various character models in the game, a video editing mode for replaying any battles you have saved, and converting them to videos you can post anywhere. A screenshot function, a movie theater for watching all of the games cinematics, and listen to the excellent soundtrack (which features many a remix of some of the best songs in the series), and so much more. As I’ve stated before, the game is big. Overwhelmingly big, actually.

There’s even an online mode allowing players to enjoy matches with friends using either local connectivity, or Ad Hoc online.

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The game won’t win any awards for it’s narrative, which is distinctly Japanese and melodramatic, and every much like an anime written by fan fiction writers, but it certainly won’t have you cringing in disgust. In the end, it didn’t matter what narrative tool they used, as long as I get to see my favorite FF characters duke it out (I mean, how awesome is it to have Terra lay the smackdown on Sephiroth or Kuja?). The gameplay controls well, and only gets frustrating when encountering a character that is so much stronger than you that they defeat you in a few seconds flat (generally, this is remedied by playing a few other rounds to level your player up). The game has tons of depth for RPG fanatics that will literally keep you playing for dozens of hours, and the battle system is both unique, and enjoyable.

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The visuals in the game are spectacular, and while it’s said a lot for just about every big PSP game released, it’s still surprising to see how adept the handheld is at pushing out PS2 quality visuals in such a small package. Character models are detailed and colorful, looking like they were rendered with the Kingdom Hearts engine (or at least the same engine used in that other Final Fantas PSP gem, Crisis Core), and backgrounds are also impressive, often large, and detailed as well. It also must be said that Dissida has one of the most kickass CGI opening sequences of any game, ever, and it’s enough to make FF fans squee in delight. All the little sprites and character pictures from previous FF games add to it’s charm, coming off as a visual compedium for how far the series has come in it’s 25+ years.

VERDICT: BUY – I’m almost a little split on this, because it’s such a hardcore bit of Final Fantasy nostalgia and fan-service, but fighting game fans may also find it a nice change of pace and breath of fresh air. It’s a satisfying experiment, and could coax a few RPG nuts into the fighting game genre when they normally wouldn’t give it the time of day. At the least worth a rental, but FF fans (and in particular, completists), shouldn’t hesitate to add this game to their PSP collection.

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