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Monday, March 28, 2011

Review: Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy - the best, and worst fighter of all time (PSN - PSP)

Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy is simultaneously the greatest and worst game I’ve ever played. Somewhere under the whirlwind mash-up of fighting game and hardcore JRPG is an addictive and nearly endless experience, but getting there is like trying to dig through solid granite with a plastic spoon.

Oh c'mon... Vaan? Really? Not Ashe, or even Balthier?


Part of the problem is a woefully inadequate tutorial system, which tries to introduce you to one element of the gameplay at a time, but in effect streams “advice” at you for the first couple of hours of gameplay. Every menu, every fighting strategy, every little side feature requires explanation to figure out where it fits into the grand scheme of things, but even with those explanations, you’ll be struggling. I still hadn’t figured out how the Chocobo graphic in the menus worked with the main game until much later after it was introduced.

The game features multiple currency systems, multiple ways to unlock items, a hugely complex skills menu (which is different for each and every character), and an equipment system that is uneven in execution (some forms of armour will actually drop your defence rating, although boost hit points, for instance). Once you break through that surface and understand what you’re doing, it’s a system that provides unprecedented customisation; if you like statistics and maximising your characters, then you’ll lose yourself completely in this game.

There’s a great sense of progression, too. Levelling up happens quite quickly, and each battle victory brings a stream of goodies. Of course, unlocking everything is going to take hour upon hour of gaming (this is Square Enix, after all), which balances out the sense of reward somewhat.

It also means you’ll spend half your life wading through menus (thank god digital downloads minimise loading times). You’ll be tweaking your special attacks, your assist characters, your equipment and buying and selling stuff from the shop all too often – as nice as the customisation is, when the combat in a fighting game starts to feel like an afterthought, there’s a problem.

The little fellow represents Final Fantasy XI. He's kinda cool, but hardly as memorable as the others

And compounding that, the frequent story expositions draw even more of your time away from the actual fighting. They’re long winded in the extreme, and proof that the folks to write the Final Fantasy stories have become afflicted with a Shakespearean Complex. Although the overarching plot is straight forward (two rival Gods summon heroes from across the universe to duke it out), the dialogue is so leaden with false weight and gravitas that it is hard to sympathise with the characters (a big problem for a game that is essentially fan service).

Worse, the dialogue and character motivations don’t even gel with the games these characters are pulled from. Kefka was a genocidal maniac in Final Fantasy VI. In Dissidia, he’s little more than a clown. Lighting from Final Fantasy XIII has gone from conflicted to just plain cranky. Character motivations are all over the place, which does reduce the game’s value as fan service.

Also – and this is just a pet gripe – the actual range of characters is limited, and while this is the kind of game that would do well to have DLC character downloads, there’s no sign of that on the horizon. One or two characters from each Final Fantasy game is disappointing, especially when some series favourites are ignored. There’s no Black Mage, no named character from Final Fantasy III (Rufia?), no Edward, no Rikku or Princess Ashe from the later games. No novelty characters such as Chocobo, Moogle or folks from the Crystal Chronicles spinoff games.

While it is of course unreasonable to expect everyone’s favourite character to be represented, the lack of DLC announcement around additional characters is a missed opportunity for Square Enix, and (for the third time in this review) dampens its appeal as fan service.

And yet, it’s still awesome

After reading all of that, and seeing the score at the end of the review, you’ll probably wonder what the heck’s going on, but the truth is, despite the many flaws in the game, and despite being so bloated, Dissidia is a fighting game with few equals when it comes to depth.

Once you do get into a fight, there are two main forms of attack – one that won’t do damage, but will boost your Bravery Points (BP), and one that will do damage depending on how many BP points you have. So there is an immediate degree of strategy involved in timing, and balancing the non-damaging and damaging attacks, while at the same time dodging your opponent’s.

Each of the playable characters are nicely different to one another, too, and while their personalities might have been altered when they were pulled into the world of Dissidia, their combat styles have largely been unchanged. Lighting, for instance, is able to switch between various “paradigms,” just like she was in Final Fantasy XIII. Kain from Final Fantasy IV, in true dragoon style, is good in the air. Cecil from the same game is able to switch back and forth from Dark Knight to Paladin classes – each with unique abilities. Fighter, from Final Fantasy I, is a relatively straightforward combatant with some deadly melee strikes.

The visual style of this game is truly awesome


The same is true for the evil side – Ultimecia from Final Fantasy VIII is a demon with magic attacks, and Garland, from Final Fantasy I hits slow… and hard.


And it’s just as well there are enough gameplay modes to take advantage of this, too. The main story itself is expansive, but acts like a glorified tutorial. Beyond that there’s arcade modes of various difficulties, and online battles where you’ll really get to test your skills out. For people who haven’t got the time to develop their characters to maximum level and obtain the rarest of the rare equipment, Square Enix has even been thoughtful enough to offer a “stock character” option where the combatants will be evenly weighted.

And there’s even more – Dissidia dips its toe into player created content. It’s possible to create scenarios of your own, complete with plot, and share them with friends. Whilst it’s not the most in-depth character generation available, it does add further depth to an already impressive package.

In terms of presentation, Dissidia is every bit the Square Enix production. Character models are as food as anything you’ll see on the PSP, and the arenas you fight on are large, detailed, and strongly reminiscent of some of the more memorable locations through Final Fantasy history.

Special props to the music, too. Easily the best part about the whole series, Dissidia’s track list is a “best of” compilation, and with earphones, is of superb quality.

Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy suffers from bloat. While the ideas are all sound in isolation, putting them together has built a hugely unwieldy game that will put many people off before they can properly understand how the systems work together.

Once you get there, though, it’s also, by far, the most rewarding fighting game out there. The detail and passion for the project are abundantly obvious, and as the systems start to fall into place, it’s hard not to get pulled in completely and find yourself playing the PSP’s battery to death.

The next step would be for a PS3 version with DLC characters, and perhaps a rethink on the bloat – there were definitely some systems in this Dissidia we didn’t need.




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Review: Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy - the best, and worst fighter of all time (PSN - PSP)
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