IGN Review of Dissidia: Final Fantasy
As excited as I was for Dissidia Final Fantasy, I certainly had my reservations. After all, developer Square Enix is quite well-versed in the art of crafting RPGs, but designing a fighting game? I feared that Dissidia would rely too heavily on its inclusion of classic Final Fantasy characters and fail to deliver a truly engaging gameplay experience. Fortunately, all my fears evaporated when I began playing Dissidia. This is one of the most robust, well-thought-out games on the PSP to date and my favorite game on the platform overall. Even if you're not a tremendous fan of the franchise, you'll be missing out if you leave this game on store shelves.
Dissidia Final Fantasy combines heroes and villains from the first 10 proper Final Fantasy titles (with some secret characters to boot) and mashes them together in a sprawling battle of light versus darkness. In the world of Dissidia, the Goddess of Harmony, Cosmos, is waging a desperate war against the God of Discord, Chaos. Cosmos and Chaos have summoned warriors from across time and space to do battle, but as the forces of Chaos employ sinister tactics, the warriors aligned with Cosmos are on the brink of defeat.
Although Dissidia is most commonly referred to as a fighting game (I call it that myself), a more accurate classification of the game would be "one-on-one action." This is not a fighting game in the traditional sense, as it doesn't require elaborate directional inputs and it isn't quite as precise as modern fighters like Street Fighter IV and BlazBlue. It's not even similar to 3D fighters like Tekken, Dead or Alive and Soulcalibur. Instead, Dissidia plays like a fully realized version of Kingdom Hearts, but without the menu interface. You roam around a massive arena and send visually spectacular attacks at your opponent with just a few simple button presses.
While this might sound like a shallow system, Dissidia requires a respectable amount of skill to play. Battles call for specific timing, especially when engaged in an attack/counterattack dynamic. Players must also learn to effectively dodge, block and gauge distances when executing special techniques. In this way, Dissidia is still very much like a fighting game, but the complete free-roaming nature of character movement gives it a unique feel.
The battle system can be very overwhelming at first, but it becomes second nature after you spend a few hours with the game. Each character has a pool of Bravery Points and Hit Points to keep track of during a match. By using Bravery Attacks (with the Circle button), you increase your character's Bravery while lowering your opponent's Bravery. Once the time is right, you execute an HP Attack that damages your opponent's HP in the amount equal to your current Bravery. If the attack connects, your Bravery resets to zero and you start the cycle again. In this way, Dissidia is all about the constant balance between Bravery and HP as well as keeping the scales tipped in your favor.
I found this Bravery/HP system to be very interesting and I think it suits Square Enix's style nicely. But of course this one system is just a very small piece of the entire experience. Characters also have an EX Gauge that fills gradually during battle (by collecting particles of light called Ex Force). Once this gauge is filled, each character can transform into his or her EX Mode and dramatically boost his or her stats and abilities. During EX Mode, if you land an HP Attack and follow-up with an additional tap of the Square Button, your character will perform a unique (and breathtaking) EX Burst attack, which -- nine times out of 10 -- can end the battle.
These various systems, combined with the stylish wall-running, grinding and flying that characters can do, make Dissidia battles a real treat to play -- and even watch. These mechanics are brilliantly complemented by an incredible cast of familiar faces: one hero and one villain from Final Fantasy I through X. Legendary warriors like Terra, Cloud, Squall and Tidus will meet their equally reputable nemeses in the form of Kefka, Sephiroth, Ultimecia and Jecht. Their fame isn't the only thing to enjoy, though, as each character has a fairly unique play style to experiment with. For example, the Warrior of Light is best suited for close-range combat, while the Emperor sets traps in the ring and draws his foes closer with treachery galore.
What makes Dissidia stand out from other fighting/action games is its tremendous RPG component, coupled with an insane amount of customization options. Characters can grind to level 99, armor and weapons can be equipped (purely for statistical purposes, not aesthetic), summons can be used and accessories can be discovered. As a character grows stronger, he or she will learn more abilities which can be equipped in the customization interface. Players can tweak a character to their liking, which is really great to see in a fighting game.
If there's anything about Dissidia that outshines the engaging battle mechanics and robust character customization, it's the overall presentation of the entire package. Dissidia has more modes, options and polish than any other PSP game I've ever played. To name just a select few examples, there's an in-game calendar (that rewards you for playing on certain days); a catalogue of unlockables to spend points on; a Museum filled with character files, moves and music; as well as a full replay editor (where you can actually edit the camera and cut up footage to make your own custom movies). To think that all of this content fits onto one UMD -- it boggles the mind.
Players will spend most of their time in the Story Mode, however, which is split into two main parts: Destiny Odyssey and Shade Impulse. Destiny Odyssey is broken up into 10 chapters and describes how each individual hero obtains his of her crystal of light. These all run parallel with each other, so it's really only telling one story -- but from 10 different perspectives.
Shade Impulse, however, is a linear story that takes place after the events of Destiny Odyssey. Although you're free to select your hero, you'll see the same basic outcome.
The biggest complaints I must level at Dissidia spring from these story modes. Playing Destiny Odyssey 10 times in a row (for hardcore folks like myself) just isn't that rewarding, as the stories all play out in a painfully similar fashion. I also found the entire plot setup to be poorly executed. Characters generally stand around very vapid environments and ruminate on their current condition, without developing any real personality or player/character attachment. Each hero almost sounds like an echo of the previous one. I think the developers relied too heavily on the fact that these characters all have complex histories outside of the Dissidia universe, and the game suffers because of it.
However, once you enter Shade Impulse, things get really interesting. I won't go any further than that, but the plot felt much richer and the gameplay mechanics are made fresh in a variety of ways to keep you going. This was a huge relief, as the rest of Story Mode was somewhat disappointing to me.
I'd also like to note that Dissidia ends with one of the most frustrating (yet unbearably epic) boss battles I've ever fought. When I finally triumphed in battle, I felt like I just cured caner. That's how frustrating (But rewarding?) it was.
The voice acting in Dissidia was also a sour point for me. Yes, there were some great performances speckled throughout, but I seriously had to question some of the talent involved. The overarching vocal narration is one of the most poorly paced voice tracks I've ever heard -- it was almost shocking. And as there's no option for a Japanese language track; gamers will just have to grin and bare it.
Dissidia also has some impressively rich multiplayer functionality to its name. Although everything you'll find here is Ad Hoc, being able to battle other players' customized characters is a huge draw and you'll even accumulate experience as you go. There are plenty of neat details to go along with these multiplayer matches too, like exchanging friend cards and earning artifacts. Artifacts are passed from player to player and the history of their creation is actually carried with the item, amazingly enough. So you can actually equip this special item and see all the hands it passed between to get to you. Awesome.
Multiplayer runs quite nicely, though there's noticeable slow-down when a good amount of EX Force is present on the battlefield. The slow-down, fortunately, is tolerable, so it won't ruin your experience. All in all, this multiplayer is an excellent addition to an already astounding package.
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