Review: Dissidia: Final Fantasy (Sony PSP)

des_wrap_0006_r09.inddDissidia: Final Fantasy
Developer: Square-Enix
Publisher: Square-Enix
Genre: 3D Fighting
Release Date: 08/25/2009

A fighting game featuring characters from the Final Fantasy series might sound like a recipe for disaster after the horror that was Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring (a Square-released title that featured several characters from Final Fantasy VII), but there’s been a ton of buzz surrounding the game thanks to its wide cast of characters and unique fighting system.

Normally, this kind of thing wouldn’t interest me at all. I’m not a big Final Fantasy fan and have only finished a handful of the games despite starting nearly all of them at some point. Still, the fact that this was a PSP exclusive and one of the few major titles announced for the system at that point. (this changed by E3 much to my satisfaction.)

Also, as I mentioned in my preview back in July, I really wanted to kick the crap out of Tidus over and over again. If any of you perchance remember the feature we did where we each named our most hated gaming character of all time, he was the subject of my hate filled rant.

Anyway, 3D fighters in the vain of Dissidia are usually some of the worst games ever crafted. When I think of Barbarian or Celebrity Deathmatch, I cringe inside. Still, there is always Powerstone to give us hope that someday, somehow, someone could get it right again.

While Dissidia may not have gotten the gameplay as good as it could have been, it more than makes up for that by offering one of the most complete packages I’ve ever seen for a game.

Story/Modes

So how do you justify bringing the heroes and villains from one of the longest running fantasy series in history into a fighting game? Its actually pretty easy. There are two gods: Cosmos and Chaos. Hopefully you can figure out which is the good one and which is the one trying to bring destruction to the world. Anyway, both gods call forth warriors to take part in their conflict After an epic battle that sees Chaos gain the upper hand, only ten warriors of Cosmos are left standing. Conveniently, they’ve all been the main protagonist of a Final Fantasy game. Anyway, Cosmos sends her champions in search of ten crystals, one for each, that will give them the power to make one last stand and defeat Chaos once and for all.

What this all means is that you’ll get ten separate stories to play through. You’ll guide each of the FF heroes through five levels of a chess-like map in order to confront their corresponding antagonist and claim their crystal. The plot itself is pretty thin, mostly because the characters are relegated to overlong dialogue that doesn’t usually go anywhere, but some of the interactions are just plain fun. Kefka steals the show every time he appears and the connecting tales of Terra and The Onion Knight are actually kind of touching. Oddly enough, my favorite story was that of Tidus, as he was one of the few who didn’t mope around like an emo kid off his anti-depressants. (i.e, CLOUD.)

Still, the story itself is pretty poor and not nearly up to the typical FF standards. The game makes up for this by virtue of sheer story content. After you complete one of the story modes, you unlock another that completes the main plot. Then you unlock two more story modes that allow you to get two bonus characters. Beating these will unlock yet another story mode that presents the game’s ultimate challenge. You also unlock secret areas and treasures after beating a story mode, so you’re encouraged to play through them again to get everything.

There are also several other modes worth mentioning.

Quick Play allows you to chose a character, who you fight, and set the parameters to your hearts desire. You can pick what level your opponent is at, what kind of gear they wear, their strategy, what map you fight on, and of course mess around with your character’s abilities and equipment. When you need to level a character or just screw around, this is the place to go.

Duel Arena pits you in a never-ending battle against enemies in the pursuit of medals that can be spent to purchase treasures you might not be able to find elsewhere in the game. There are different courses you can take, depending on what you’ve unlocked and what level character you’re using.

dissidia1Arcade is yet another option for play. Here, you select pre-built characters from the pool that you’ve unlocked and battle a succession of battles until you reach the end. There are two difficulty modes and you’re rewarded with PP (I’ll get to that later) for your efforts.

If that weren’t enough, you have a museum option that allows you to view any of the cut scenes, music, character profiles, icons you’ve unlocked an videos you’ve saved. You can also edit your videos with a well crafted editor and then upload them to your computer if you wish. Youtube is already full of these, and some of them are quite awesome.

When it comes down to it, any shortcomings the plot has is made up for by the sheer number of ways you have to play the game. All of these are fully realized and are fun to play. Basically, you’ve got all the staples of a fighting game with a few extras to push it over the top.

Graphics

Much like Crisis Core, Dissidia is a great example of what the PSP is capable of when a developer actually puts some effort into the visuals.

The character models are all fantastic not only in how well they look and match their original designs, but also in how they move. They are honestly on par with the best the platform has to offer, though this isn’t as good as it sounds, as those games were released last year. Still, seeing Garland in motion is a sight to behold, and the first time I’ve actually believed he’s as good a swordsman as Final Fantasy proclaimed.

The effects are also top notch. Every character has a myriad of both magical and physical attacks that involve water, fire, lighting, ice, energy, lasers, etc. You name it and there’s probably an attack that uses it. All of these look great. Even if it is just Squall rapidly beating down on an opponent with a string of physical blows, it looks awesome.

The downside is that some of the backgrounds are kind of bland. Several are nothing more than a few set pieces stuck in what appears to be a giant void. For most of the levels, the sky is filled with strange colored clouds of some color or another, but it gets old really fast. There are some exceptions though. Ultimecia’s level is a visual wonder with moving gears, a stairway that is constantly falling apart and then putting itself together, and several nooks and crannies to explore. My personal favorite is the lunar level, because of the brilliant sea of stars in the sky as you battle.

The best part is that despite the hectic action, there is almost never any slowdown.

When it comes to graphics on the PSP, this is one of the best examples you can find.

Audio

Let’s just get the music out of way early. It rocks. When you have music from twelve games all renowned for their musical prowess, its hard not to have an amazing soundtrack. There are roughly three or four remixed tracks from each game and a few new tracks for Dissidia itself, mostly for menus and cut scenes. It’s all good.

The sound effects are another strong point because they play on nostalgia as well. You have the well established menu sounds, the cry of a chocobo, and the little chirping noise whenever you have to perform a QTE during EX Mode that might as well be you selecting your attack. The various sword slashes and magical blasts all sound great as well.

The only part that isn’t completely solid is the voice acting. I noticed they used previous voice actors for those who had them, and those guys do the same job they’ve always done. Although, I’ll admit Tidus’ voice didn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to. (Which is probably because I discovered it was the same guy who does Ratchet.) A few of the voices are off; Cloud still sounds like a slightly more chipper Eeyore, but for the most part they’re solid. The real problem comes in the direction. In order to get the words to match mouth movements, many sentences are broken, leading to characters speaking in staccato. It can get really annoying at times.

The best of the bunch is Keith David as Chaos. You might recognize him as the guy who does the voice for all of the Marines commercials or perhaps any of the several movies he’s been in. (Usually as a military guy or a drug dealer.) It goes to show you how you can correctly use celebrity voice acting in a video game, unlike Mandy Moore as Aerith in Kingdom Hearts.

So, apart from a few missteps in the voice acting department, which we all knew would happen anyway, the sound for Dissidia is as great as you’d expect it to be. Its par for the course for Square-Enix.

Gameplay

This is not your typical one on one fighter.

Instead, you’ll do battle in a fully 3D environment, complete with structures, hills, plateaus, giant clock gears, thrones, etc. You can interact with the environment using the triangle button. You’ll run up walls, grind up and/or down rails, or feel the sting of a giant spike ripping through the ground at you. (This only happens on the evil version of some maps.)

dissidia2Combat itself also has a unique premise. When it comes to attacks, you have both the square and circle buttons to use. Circle will use a brave attack, which depletes brave points from your opponent’s total and adds them to your own. When you use an HP attack with the square button, the amount of damage you inflict will equal your total brave points. After the damage, you’re brave will reset to zero and slowly climb back up to your base amount. If you manage to beat your opponent’s brave to below zero, he/she will enter break status. This offers you a great advantage. For one, there is a pool of neutral brave in between you and your opponent’s. When someone is knocked into break status, the other is granted this “stage brave” as a reward. The stage brave is often extremely large and can lead to massive amounts of HP damage if used properly.

You also have defensive maneuvers you can use. Timing a press with the R button can lead to you blocking attacks and even deflecting some projectiles. While it isn’t important to use this early on, it becomes necessary during the game’s upper levels. Also, whether in the air or on the ground, using the R button and X button together in combination with the analog nub will allow you to dodge. Not using this means certain defeat.

The game is definitely going for the Advent Children feel. You can zoom towards your opponent when you’re locked on, you can maneuver gracefully through the air, there are attacks that allow you to knock your opponent away and the chase them to try another attack in a little minigame that might as well be a game in and of itself given the timing and strategy involved. You can also collect what are called EX Cores that build up your EX meter. When this meter is full, you can go into EX Mode. You’ll deal critical hits more often, and HP attacks can allow you to use an limit break of sorts that deals massive amounts of damage and can often lead to victory or defeat. When these cores appear, there is a mad dash to them that can be downright thrilling. Another way to build up your meter is simply by attacking. When you land successful hits, small blue specks of force fly out and can be collected. These give you a little bit of a boost. Even still, the EX meter isn’t always the end all be all of a match, so there is still strategy required. Also, if you can’t land a hit during EX Mode, then you’ve wasted it.

There are only a couple of problems I had with the combat. For one, the camera tries to stay behind you at all times and can get downright stuck if you get in a corner or behind certain walls. This was especially a problem during chase sequences, as you need the timing to be perfect. On more than one occasion, both characters were behind a wall and I had to play it by ear. Also, the attacks characters start out with are extremely limited. Many only have one or two HP attacks and since you have to use them to damage your opponent, it can get old real quick. You do learn new attacks as you level, but it can take too long for some characters. Firion doesn’t get a second attack until level thirty, for example.

Still, the gameplay can be downright thrilling, even if it isn’t all that deep. When you’re racing around and environment playing a game up tug of war with your brave points, the intensity is definitely there. Also, each character has unique styles and attacks that make you play them differently and also play against them differently.

Character progression is handled neatly through an RPG-like menu and equipment system. You’ll need to equip various armor and weapons to boost your stats. (Sadly, this will not alter your look in battle.) You can equip various accessories that can boos just about anything from damage, defense, speed, to the amount of gil, ability points, experience, or items you win. There are also accessories that boost your existing accessories based on preset conditions such as what level you are or whether you’re fighting in the air or on the ground. You can also equip summons which are used in battle to affect either you or your opponent’s bravery. You can only take one in battle, and after its used up it will need to recharge, but you’ll also be able to set reserves that will take their place automatically.

Abilities and attacks can be reassigned at will as well. Like in Kingdom Hearts, each action or support costs a certain amount of ability points to have equipped, and you can equip up to your maximum amount. As you gain AP during battles, these abilities will gain experience and eventually become mastered. When mastered, their costs are lowered, allowing you to equip more. Also, some attacks will learn branching techniques that allow you to create devastating combos. Some even allow you to go from bravery attack to HP attack.

There’s also a shop where you can buy new equipment and accessories. Thankfully, equipment is shared amongst all characters, so you won’t need to buy new stuff for each hero. Of course, some characters have limits as to what they can equip, so you’ll need to plan for that. Also, there is a system called battlegen that allows you to create items during battles by carrying out specific tasks. Usually, you don’t even have to try and you’ll get something anyway. Most of the time these are small accessories or bits that can be traded to get better weapons. The trading system in the shop is quite good and rewarding.

Basically, the combat system is fun if not flawed and a little shallow. Still, the framework around it is top notch. You can truly customize how each character is played so that it works the way you want it to. The accessories also add a lot this customization aspect. Unless you are expecting a technical fighter, you’re probably going to enjoy it.

Replayability

This is where Dissidia really shines.

Each of the story modes can take anywhere from one to two hours to complete the first time. When you figure there are about twenty or so of these chapters to complete, you’re already talking about a good game length. When you factor in the duel Colosseum, arcade mode, quick battle, time attack, and versus options, the game’s length flies into the stratosphere.

dissidia3Right now, I’m well over thirty hours into the game. I’ve completed the main story modes and unlocked all of the characters. I’m still having a blast because there is still so much more to find and play around with.

The game also has an accomplishments feature. By completing various tasks, you’ll earn accomplishments. These aren’t merely silly things you can look at. They also reward you with a ton of useful support accessories. I’ve never been an achievement hunter, but the rewards are actually worth the effort here.

The game also rewards those who play every day. You get mail from Moogles that grant you bonus PP used to unlock all kind of goodies, as well as some nifty items. You also have the Chocobo Path to think about. As you fight battles, the little chocobo will start walking down path, occasionally finding treasures and granting you experience boosts. There are differing plans depending on how often you’re going to play, but you’ll be rewarded no matter what you do.

You can easily get get over fifty hours on this game and still have plenty to do. Once you factor in the versus mode, you can sink even more time into it. There is more content on this disc than I’ve seen on any UMD apart from a few RPGs and maybe Tekken Dark Resurrection.

Balance

Thanks to the brave system, the game actually has a pretty decent balance at time. You can and will beat enemies that are are at a higher level and you also can and will lose every once in a while to a lower leveled enemy. What wins you the game for the most part is preparation and strategy. Still, the game does put in rewards for higher leveled characters. They get a small brave boost at the start of the battle.

What really works for me are the choices you have to make in each battle. If you use a HP attack when your brave is really high, it will take longer to recharge than if you used it when your brave was low. This leaves you susceptible to easier break statuses. Also, if you find your brave is really low, and HP attack might just help you rebuild it faster. So, you can save your brave for big attacks or even just chip away in a bid to avoid break status. Thanks to EX Mode and summons, the game is further balanced.

Still, on harder levels of play it can really feel like the computer can block every attack you throw at them and then come back with a vicious counter. Once they start getting in long chains followed by HP attacks, you’ll start to get frustrated every once in a while. Still, you can do it to, so skill is still the best way to win.

The basic rule of thumb is never fight anyone ten levels or more higher than you and you should be able to come out on top with smart play. The game rewards strategic thinking and punished mindless attacking.

Still, its not perfect, and you’ll find a couple of characters that just aren’t as good leveled up as others.

Originality

There isn’t a combat system quite like this anywhere I’ve seen. The constant struggle for brave and the decisions regarding when to use HP attacks are truly a unique experience to Dissidia.

However, there is way too much influence by Tetsuya Nomura for me not to mention it. A lot of the customization aspects are akin to Kingdom Hearts, such as the ability points and the way accessories work. The story also feels like Nomura had a big hand in it. The dialogue was such that I thought I was watching members of Organization XIII talk for a little while.

Its not like fighting games featuring non-fighting game characters is anything new. Just look at Super Smash Brothers and Marvel Vs. Capcom to see what I mean.

In the end though, the combat system is unique and does enough to help this game stand out from the pack.

Addictiveness

This game hands out rewards like candy, and the incentives given to play for long sessions are so tempting that you can easily lose hours at a time playing Dissidia.

dissidia4Each victory awards you with gil which can be spent in the shop, experience to level up your character, ability points to level up your abilities, and purchase points to unlock new material. Also, the battlegen system can grant you all kinds of goodies. The thing is, the game has so much stuff to give, than even all of the reckless giving it partakes in doesn’t mean you’ll run out of things to get any time soon.

I mentioned the accomplishments earlier. These are rewarding as hell to get and, along with unlocking all of the characters, bonus arenas, new speech for the characters, boosts, player icons, bonus modes, alternate costumes, music, and a ton of other stuff make it fun and addicting. I usually hate grinding in games, but even the best RPG I’ve ever played didn’t do so much to entice me to do it.

Appeal Factor

Let’s get one thing straight. If you are not a Final Fantasy fan, or at the very least someone who appreciates the FF multiverse, you probably won’t have nearly the the amount of fun that I had with this game. This is clearly a fan service game and you shouldn’t expect it to be by any means.

If you’re looking for a deep and engaging fighting system, you need to look elsewhere. If Guilty Gear and KoF is your thing, this is not the game for you.

Also, be warned that the plot is not up to FF standards. If you’re expecting a ton of character development and great writing, you are solely mistaken.

Still, for anyone looking for a fun game with a ton of content, this is worth a look. If you get into it, it will reward you like none other.

Miscellaneous

I really didn’t think I’d end up liking this game when I played the demo back in July. The combat seemed shallow and the progression wasn’t showcased at all. I haven’t been this wrong about a game in a while.

Let me state once more that I am not that big a fan of Final Fantasy, Square, or RPGs in general. For stuff they’ve put out, I prefer Kingdom Hearts because of the Disney characters (Without them I wouldn’t touch the series) and Final Fantasy Tactics because of the gameplay. I haven’t finished most of the FF games, and there are still a few I haven’t even tried yet, although I do have most of them and will get them in due time if only for the sake of playing through them all once. I have a respect and appreciation for the series, even if I hate most of its fan base.

Even still, this is one of my favorite games this year, and one of the few PSP titles in recent memory to actually give you your monies worth in terms of content and playability.

For any FF fan, this should be a game you go out and try.

The Scores

Story/Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Great
Audio: Incredible
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Good
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Great
Final Score: Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
diehardjackDissidia: Final Fantasy works because when any one piece starts to get old or doesn’t hold up, the rest of the package is there to keep the experience a good one. The plot isn’t all that great, but the sheer amount of story content and modes to play around with are superb. The combat is a little shallow, but the customization is top notch. There are very few games as rewarding as this out there on the market, let alone for the PSP. I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend that you give it a try. If you end up liking it, you’ll have a game that can sit in your PSP for months before you see all there is to see. This is what happens when fan service is done right.

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