People have been playing Final Fantasy for over twenty years now (some of you may have actually even completed one or two of them in that timeframe). To commemorate the big 2-0, Square Enix has released Dissidia: Final Fantasy, an RPG/fighting game hybrid featuring the lead heroes and villains from the first ten entries in the series. The game certainly is loaded with familiar faces, but will the RPG loving fanbase find a fighting game to be too much of a grind?
First of all, you’re probably thinking a story involving twenty-two different Final Fantasy characters in the confines of a fighting game must be pretty convoluted. You’re 100% correct. Apparently two gods (Chaos and Cosmos) tie all the Final Fantasy worlds together (all this time I thought Chocobos and Cid were the common bond). The heroes and villains collide in Secret Wars fashion as the tides turn heavily in Chaos’ favor. In order to restore the balance between light and dark, the ten heroes are required to collect their own unique crystal. Along the way they battle against not only the big baddies like Sephiroth and Ultimecia, but also against shadowy versions of the entire roster known as Manikins. Perhaps this is some sort of metaphor about the heroes’ internal struggles as many of the characters’ stories deal with trying to get a grip on what motivates them to fight in the first place. Like I said, the whole premise is pretty convoluted, but the game definitely brings across plenty of Final Fantasy personality with its vaguely comprehensible script, lengthy CGI scenes, and characters that really up the stakes on who can be the broodiest.
The main story mode of Dissidia involves playing through each of the heroes’ story arcs. You can play the stories in any order that you wish and the difficulty associated with each is clearly labeled. In a smart move, fan favorites like Cloud and Cecil are among the easier storylines to progress through, so you’ll most likely want to start there. Once you begin you’ll be presented with a grid-based map similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, but very little strategy is involved. You will learn various skills that will zap enemy HP prior to battle or heal your wounds, but there’s really not a ton of depth to this part of the game. Generally, you just move towards the enemy you want to fight and then you are taken to the battle arena.
The 3D arenas have some similarities to games like Power Stone (though the game play varies greatly), but the environments lack much personality. There is a lot of verticality, but the stages all tend to feel similar and all have a “rectangular structures hanging in a void” aesthetic. Later in the game you get variations on these levels that add a little flair with sections that will vanish and reform while you are fighting and areas that affect the fighters’ abilities. The areas do provide you with plenty of opportunities to create battles similar to those choreographed in classic cutscenes as you can run along walls and have suspended midair fights.
The fighting mechanic actually plays like a more evolved version of the battle system found in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. To fight well, you’ll have to perfect the art of dodging, blocking, and countering as the fights rely heavily on timing. If you try to handle this title as a typical fast-paced fighting game, you will quickly have your ass handed to you. Each move takes a small amount of time to recover from, so wildly slashing about leaves you open for counter-attacks and you’ll likely find yourself getting juggled up into the air and smacked back down to earth.
What makes the fighting system fairly unique is that it breaks down the fighting into two separate attacks: HP attacks and Bravery attacks. HP attacks obviously deal physical damage, but Bravery attacks increase HP attack damage and reduce the damage of your enemy’s HP attacks. It’s almost a tug of war as you’ll trade blows trying to build up more powerful attacks to finish off your opponent. You can map six different HP and Bravery attacks (three ground-based and three aerial), but to start the game your move set is extremely limited.
While a fighting game at heart, there are several aspects of the game that are clearly RPG-based. The first lies in the game’s cinematics. For every minute you spend fighting in the quick bouts (some only seconds long), you’ll spend five minutes in either menus or cutscenes. While fighting fans may see this as a negative, I actually think this five to one ratio is one of the best aspects of Dissidia. This caters to the RPG nature of the fanbase. The leveling and customization systems are ridiculously in-depth, which will also please the RPG lovers. The game tracks every little detail and rewards you with new skills, attacks, equipment, and summons on a regular basis. There are even rewards for playing on certain days that provide you with more money or experience and you can even boost the level of these rewards. It’s the type of game that constantly dangles carrots in front of you encouraging you to play a few more rounds to unlock that new bracelet, save up for that new sword, or see what skill modifier you’ll receive once you master a certain attack.
In addition to the main story mode, Dissidia also contains a more traditional Arcade Mode, a Quick Battle Mode that lets you level characters outside the story, and an Online Battle Mode. I tried out each of these modes completing the Arcade Mode with Cloud and fighting a few Quick Battles with Sephiroth. I attempted to find an online match a couple of times, but didn’t readily find any matches. I’m sure this isn’t a problem once you’ve traded Friend Cards, but this isn’t honestly the type of game I would actively play online, so I didn’t pursue it heavily.
Dissidia does have some drawbacks including some camera issues related to the geometry of the arenas. Your view will often be blocked by structures and it is easy to get disoriented when running up or along a wall. Fortunately, the game does feature a lock-on system, so you’ll never lose track of where your opponent is and it’s easy to work around the camera angles once you’ve become accustomed to the game. Another issue that may concern some players is the loading screens when transitioning from the map to the menus and into the fights. While not as lengthy as early generation PSP games, the frequency of them does add up, so I highly recommend using the games optional data install feature to copy over the 542MB to your memory stick. This takes about an hour, but really speeds up the overall experience. One last minor squabble is that despite all the character customization on the back end, the overall look of your fighter is not affected. You can purchase an alternate look for each character, but that’s just a visual difference that has no impact on stats or game play.
All in all, Dissidia: Final Fantasy is a strong bit of fan service with plenty of content to keep players returning on a daily basis to fight a few quick rounds with characters they have spent hundreds of hours with in the past. Fighting fans without previous love for Final Fantasy may not quite get it, but if you’ve ever wanted to pit the Onion Knight against Kefka, Dissidia might be your new portable addiction.
Outstanding | Very Good | Fair | Poor | Awful
Recommended Buy Price: $35.00
Current MSRP: $39.99
Dissidia: Final Fantasy was provided for review by Square Enix. The game's main story mode was completed in twenty-three hours (about two hours for each hero's campaign and then three hours for the end game campaign). The majority of the game was played using the Warrior of Light because I am currently playing through Final Fantasy I as well. I've played the game for a total of twenty-seven hours and have currently only unlocked 15% of the extras. Dissidia: Final Fantasy is available exclusively on the PlayStation Portable.