Crossover fighting games are nothing new, and they always tend to have one thing in common: From Super Smash Bros. to Marvel vs Capcom 2, they’re less about exploring what happens when disparate universes come together, and more about seeing how hard those universes can wordlessly kick each other in the teeth. It’s almost always fun, but for fans invested in the stories and characters of the crossover properties, it often feels like something’s missing from the experience.
To say Dissidia Final Fantasy isn’t like that would be a gross understatement. Bringing together a cast of 20 heroes and villains from the first 10 Final Fantasy games (plus two secret ones from XI and XII), it blends RPG elements with deceptively simple one-on-one fighting to create a crossover fighter unlike any seen before. It also puts about as much emphasis on story and character interaction as it does on fighting, and the action is supported by dozens of lengthy, densely chatty cutscenes, most of them devoted to just showing how all these characters interact with one another.
There’s a fresh plot behind these meetings, revolving around the gods Cosmos and Chaos gathering champions for one last, end-of-the-universe battle. But ultimately, how much you care about it all will tie in directly to how big of a Final Fantasy fan you are. If the thought of FFVII’s Sephiroth having a conversation with FFVIII’s Squall gives you fanboy/girl chills, or if you’ve always wanted to see FFIV’s Cecil reconcile with his brother/nemesis Golbez, then the stories that unfold here are a huge treat.
For everyone else, well… at least you can skip the cutscenes.
Putting story aside – for now – the action revolves around seemingly simple, one-on-one battles in relatively huge, open 3D arenas. Dissidia’s structured more like a third-person action game than a traditional fighter, with the camera chasing behind you, and while you’re able to easily lock onto your opponent, you’re also free to ignore them and run around the increasingly elaborate stages.
You’ll have two attack types at your disposal: simple ones that sap your opponent’s attack power (or “Bravery,” measured in onscreen points) and build up your own, and more elaborate ones that can knock HP off his or her life bar. These attacks can later be swapped out and supplemented with new ones as you level up and learn new skills, and they vary wildly from character to character. Some fighters favor lunging sword strikes, others wield homing destructive spells and plenty of them will end up using both as they make their way through the game.
This is a good place to mention that gravity has little effect on your fighters, and they’re able to grind on rails, run up walls and stay airborne indefinitely through continual dashing, air-dodging and hopping. It gives the battles a distinctly Dragon Ball Z-ish flavor, with characters constantly flying, weaving and diving at one another in midair. More difficult battles practically require this, as staying above your opponent and continually dodging can be essential to staying alive. The more you dash around in midair, though, the greater the risk of the camera getting suddenly caught up on a wall or low ceiling, obscuring your view of the enemy at a crucial moment.
After keeping this up for a while, though, these dogfights start to get aimless and unfocused. Often to the point that, well, some battles feel weirdly like this:
That’s the combat in a nutshell, but we’ve barely scratched the surface. The actual fighting is just the beginning of what Dissidia has to offer, and those who choose to follow its rabbit hole will find that it runs intimidatingly deep.
At the heart of Dissidia is its story mode, which is where all the cutscenes we mentioned earlier come into play. It’s also a lot longer than you might think – each of the 10 protagonists gets a separate storyline (in which each one hunts for a unique power crystal), and finishing at least one of them opens up “Shade Impulse,” the second half of the story in which the heroes unite to fight the dark god Chaos.
Chaos is, incidentally, the exact kind of final boss Japanese fighting-game designers seem to be so fond of these days – the kind so difficult that playing through the rest of the game doesn’t even begin to prepare you for what’s ahead. Granted, that makes it awesome when you finally beat him, but doing so takes careful memorization of his attack patterns, expert timing and inhuman patience.
Regardless of which half of the story you’re playing in, a big part of the reason story mode is as long as it is is that it’s structured like a board game, in which you’ll pick fights with seemingly endless clones of the other fighters.
This would get tedious if not for three things: first, the “fake” opponents differ wildly in terms of power and intelligence, and a lot of them will drop prizes if you meet certain conditions in battle. Second, plenty of the battles are optional, for those who want to grind. Third, the grinding makes the rare face-offs against “real” enemies (which usually come with a cutscene or at least a little bit of text) much more gratifying, if only because you know they’ll pose a more serious challenge.
Playing through story mode also enables you to beef up the character of your choice with new equipment, new attacks and accessories that can boost your attributes and combat abilities. You’ll also find Summons as you play, and while these won’t actually appear and fight for you, they can be equipped to give you a quick charge or cut down your opponent’s Bravery when certain conditions are met.
Meanwhile, if grinding and cutscenes aren’t really your thing, you can jump straight into the game’s arcade mode for quick battles against random opponents. There’s also an ad-hoc mode for pitting your beefed-up characters against a friend’s or trading “ghost” gameplay data to fight against. Online connectivity would have been much better, of course, but then this is a Japanese game, meant to be played primarily on commuter trains within easy reach of other players.
On the upside, Dissidia has a bunch of other weird stuff going on just beneath the surface, including hidden Moogles that send you letters with special bonuses for every day you play, which can in turn be used to unlock new characters and other extras. It also has an install feature that dramatically cuts down on load times, so maybe we can forgive the lack of true online play this once.
Of course, the main question on any fan’s mind when picking up a game like this is whether or not their favorite character is in it, and depending on how much of the preview coverage you’ve read, it might be on your mind as well. If that’s the case, then here’s the deal: Dissidia’s roster is made up of the main heroes and villains of each game, meaning that on the side of Cosmos (or Order, or Light), we have the Warrior of Light from FFI, Firion from FFII, Onion Knight from FFIII, Cecil from FFIV, Bartz from FFV, Terra from FFVI, Cloud from FFVII, Squall from FFVIII, Zidane from FFIX and Tidus from FFX. Meanwhile Chaos gets Garland, The Emperor, Cloud of Darkness, Golbez, Exdeath, Kefka, Sephiroth, Ultimecia, Kuja and Jecht.
Or to put it another way:
While all of the characters are rendered in a distinctly Kingdom Hearts style, they’re all extremely faithful to their original designs, which is great. There is, however, one exception: the Warrior of Light, who’s ostensibly from the original Final Fantasy despite looking absolutely nothing like his appearance in that game.
It’s a minor quibble, we know, but would it have been that hard to model a burly meathead in red armor with spiky red hair? It would have at least made him identifiable, instead of just another horn-helmeted pretty boy in blue armor.
That one, admittedly tiny issue aside, Dissidia’s presentation is near-flawless; the story is satisfyingly deep, the characters all feel true to themselves, the remastered music is great, the visuals look amazing by PSP standards and the dialogue can (sometimes) be interesting in spite of the voice actors' stiff, halting delivery. It’s a pretty appealing package, especially for Final Fantasy die-hards; just don’t be surprised if it takes you a while to understand exactly what you’re doing on its battlefields.
Unquestionably yes. Judgment is the last time someone tried to bring together characters from across a disparate series for a semi-serious fighting game, but where Judgment did everything wrong, Dissidia does most things right. It doesn’t mess with its character designs like Judgment did, thereby dodging a bullet from fans, and the customizable attacks give Dissidia a lot more depth and variety. While it’s simplistic on the surface, Dissidia has more than enough hidden complexity to shame Judgment’s repetitive waggle-fighting.
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3?
Yes. Honestly, though, the main reason we’re even making this comparison is because the Budokai Tenkaichi games are the only other examples we’ve seen of Dissidia-like gameplay in a fighter. DBZ:BT3 is (unsurprisingly) a much more accessible experience, but in terms of sheer quality and content offered, Dissidia has it all over this older, simpler distant cousin.
Tekken: Dark Resurrection?
Yes and no. As a pure fighting game, Dark Resurrection holds on to its title as the PSP’s best (at least until Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny comes out). But then, comparing a pure fighting game to Dissidia is comparing apples and oranges. Tekken: DR might have more coherent combos and a fighting system that relies more on skill than on grinding, but it also doesn’t let you jet around as Sephiroth and hurl Cloud into giant-gear hazards. We’re prepared to call it a draw.
In spite of nagging camera problems and an intimidatingly complicated battle system, Dissidia is an outstanding fighter that does a fantastic job of giving Final Fantasy fans exactly what they want.
Aug 25, 2009
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