When Square Enix originally announced it was releasing a fighting game starring its beloved Final Fantasy characters, eyebrows were raised (Ed: what, nobody%26rsquo;s old enough to remember Tobal 2?). But 2009%26rsquo;s release of Dissidia proved the RPG veterans are more than adept at handling the fighting genre, creating a game with solid scrap-happy mechanics and a fresh take on the Street Fighter market. A year later and we%26rsquo;re fresh from a good hands-on session with the forthcoming sequel, which is due for release in Spring 2011.
Above: Tifa wasn%26rsquo;t our favourite of the new brawlers, but something tells us she%26rsquo;ll still be popular
The sequel stays close to its predecessor%26rsquo;s template. To be honest, if you%26rsquo;ve already played Dissidia, there%26rsquo;s not a lot here that%26rsquo;s fundamentally different. The fighting is still fast-paced, there%26rsquo;s a wealth of customization options and chances are it%26rsquo;ll take you a few rounds to get to grips with the breathlessly aerodynamic action. But the tweaks that are present improve an already stellar foundation. For instance, the scrapping feels tighter, and there%26rsquo;s a more distinctive difference between different characters%26rsquo; fighting styles.
For instance, there%26rsquo;s a new Assist Mode, which %26ndash; as you may have guessed %26ndash; allows you to call on an AI friend to help out for a few seconds. After choosing your partner pre-battle, you%26rsquo;ll need to build up your Assist Gauge (achieved by simply landing blows or taking damage). Once it%26rsquo;s full, tap the left shoulder button and square, and your friend will swoop in to save the day. Use this wisely, and you really can turn the tide of battle. For example, if your warrior requires more time to charge up a killing blow, bring in the Onion Knight to keep your enemy at bay while you warm up the light show. But be careful %26ndash; your foe can also call for back up, and it%26rsquo;s best to hightail it out of there when this happens.
Above: Fill up your assist gauge, and you can call on a friend to help out
Another new feature makes use of Dissidia%26rsquo;s EX Gauge system. In the first game, you could trigger the powerful Ex Burst mode after fiiling the relevant gauge (by collecting silver bells and pulling off combos). EX Burst boosts your attack and defence stats, and allows you to land an explosive final blow, similar to FF%26rsquo;s Limit Break.
You%26rsquo;ll still be able to Burst it up, but if you find yourself being attacked relentlessly, triggering Ex Revenge mode will bounce the enemy%26rsquo;s attacks back on themselves, swinging the odds back in your favour.
FFVII%26rsquo;s Tifa, FFIV%26rsquo;s Kain, FFXII%26rsquo;s Va%26rsquo;an and FFXIII%26rsquo;s Lightning have all been announced as new fighters joining the existing line-up, and we managed to get to time with them all.
Above: Kain is surprisingly nippy even in his Dragon armor, while Va%26rsquo;an is as slow as mud
Disappointingly, Cloud%26rsquo;s childhood friend Tifa seems incredibly average at first touch. When not battling against her own impressive breast physics, she fights with a mixture of both magical and physical attacks. We%26rsquo;re hoping she%26rsquo;s one of those characters like Street Fighter%26rsquo;s boxer Balrog, who seems shallow and boring initially but is actually one of the game%26rsquo;s strongest characters once you learn him well.
Kain is by far the easiest of the new characters to master. He%26rsquo;s fast, hard-hitting and has a solid mix of both short and long range attacks. Final Fantasy fans will be especially pleased to see him executing typical Dragoon class moves, such as soaring jumps and lance throws.
Above: Va%26rsquo;an%26rsquo;s attacks usually take time to charge, but they are murder when they go off
Of the new characters, Lightning is by far the best in show. She%26rsquo;s just as quick and limber as she is in FFXIII, and equally as stylish. Many of her HP attacks see her wielding Odin%26rsquo;s double-ended sword, cutting through cascades of rose petals. She%26rsquo;s definitely great for long distance aerial combat.
Finally, FFXII%26rsquo;s representative, cheery orphan boy Va%26rsquo;an is surprisingly slow. He packs strong magic attacks that are designed around his Quickening moves, but you really have to watch your timings, as he takes a few vulnerable seconds to charge each attack. But once you do unleash the magic, several of the moves are /unbelievably/ ranged and cheaty.
For those who need a reason to punch one another into catatonia, the storyline isn%26rsquo;t outrageously different either. The God of Discord and the Goddess of Harmony are still at ends with each other, and both have once again called upon the heroes and villains of Final Fantasies I-XIII to slug it out for them. Interestingly, there%26rsquo;s a new story mode for the baddies (Dissidia only let you play out the heroes%26rsquo; tale), so you also get to see things from their point of view. We%26rsquo;re going to guess they%26rsquo;re not bad; just misunderstood.
All in all, Dissidia 012 is already looking better than the original game, with new characters and story modes promising over 100 hours of gameplay. And you won%26rsquo;t have to wait much longer for it %26ndash; US players can start showing Va%26rsquo;an what they think of his Meg Ryan hairdo on March 22.
Jan 25, 2011