When one thinks of a “fan service,” not often does one think of an IP that not only meets the requirements of the term, but also goes beyond expectations and delivers a quality gaming experience. Many fan service offerings undeniably fall short in terms of sheer playability and fun-factor, and it seems to have become general practice that if a developer grants the gaming community with a “fan service,” then gameplay can be overlooked to the point of mediocrity. Yet, this undiclosed “rule,” as all rules do, must have an exception to remain viable.
Square Enix, in an effort to become this very exception, has given us the ultimate RPG fan service, pitting twenty-two of Final Fantasy’s most well known warriors and villains against each other. Dissidia: Final Fantasy hopes to break free of fan-service inadequacy and create a new “rule” for all to abide by. Though, with such high expectations, can Cloud, Kefka, Tidus and the rest of the Final Fantasy party retain their individual splendor while proving to be a formidable IP for all to enjoy?
I’ll put it out there; Dissidia is an outstanding fighter-RPG hybrid, whether looking through the scope of fan service or not. And right as the tutorial boots up, the player will instantly be enthralled with how Square Enix has smoothly transitioned their idolized series from traditional, turn-based encounters to sleek, high-flying epics reminiscent of Advent Children. The battles flow fluidly, quickly, and are frantically enjoyable. I was instantly captured by DFF, because unlike most tutorials, this was a blast to play through; it provided me with enough to jump right into the story mode, but it kept certain advanced aspects vague (until further progression through the game) to keep me wanting more.
Dissidia’s battle system is a shining example of what all 3-D fighters should strive to be. I can’t remember the last time a combat system was so grippingly original, lightning quick, extraordinarily deep and intuitive. It provides a better sense of realism to classic FF characters that the gaming community has come to know and love. Seemingly simple, DFF’s battle mechanics break down to two kinds of attacks: HP and Bravery attacks. HP attacks (obviously) diminish an enemy’s health, while Bravery attacks target the opponent’s Bravery, a number above the player’s health bar that determines the strength of HP attacks.
Pummeling away at an opponent’s HP will yield very poor results without properly building Bravery first, which occurs by using various types of attacks the player will learn as their character levels. These attacks will both boost the player’s bravery as well lower the enemy’s Bravery in an indirect relation. The higher the Bravery number when the player performs an HP attack, the more damage will be dished out. It’s an innovative, continuous tug-of-war struggle to gain the upper-hand on the combatant, one that proves to be a challenging thrill.
Yet, I’ve merely scratched the battle system’s surface. To win this tug-of-war, player’s will vie for control through complete Bravery dominance. As the player or enemy’s Bravery breaches the negative plane, a condition known as “break” will incur. When break is inflicted, a significant boost in Bravery is given to the character who caused the break status, allowing for some serious beastage. However, battle momentum will change quite often and quite quickly, but helps keep Dissidia compelling and exciting.
Combat occurs on a completely 3-D plane, allowing for full movement in all directions. The battles begin on the ground, but the player will quickly find himself sprawling through the air a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but with a lot less “engrish.” Characters can dodge attacks and dash towards and away from opponents with quick taps of the “X” and triangle buttons, respectively. These will become necessary components to the player’s arsenal, not only for effectiveness, but for pure, high-flying awesomeness.
Though, what I found most impressive and enjoyable about Dissidia’s battle system comes in the form of the “Ex Burst.” Much like Overdrive from FFX, Quickenings from FFXII, or most similarly, Limit Breaks from FFVII, EX Burst boosts the character’s power to uber levels, allowing him to reach a transformation state. Although not all characters change, most will adopt forms that each respective character held in their series title, as Terra morphs into an Esper, the Onion Knight takes on a multiple different classes (Ninja and White Mage among them) and Jecht retains his Sin form, which looks a bit like a Pokemon juiced up on steroids. In order to build up the EX Burst meter, the player can receive and dish out damage, as well as collect EX cores that give significant boosts to the EX bar.
After entering EX Mode, players will have until the orange bar runs dry to perform an HP attack, which will prompt the character’s unique EX Attack (or limit break. Tomato, tamato). Many classic moves will peak interests of fans of the series; experiencing Omnislash and Renzokuken in real time was fantastic. Watching each character’s specific EX Attack was definitely one of the many high points of my experience with DFF. They combine the fluid combat and traditional Final Fantasy aspects with an intense flare that could only be achieved by Square Enix. Yet, above all else are the visuals. Not only are they unrivaled in general (besides maybe Squeenix’s previous FF fan service, Crisis Core) on the PSP, the EX Attacks push the system to its limits like none before, producing truly awe inspiring, choreographed works of art.
To accompany the fast paced, high flying action, composer Takeharu Ishimoto (not famed FF composer Nobou Uematso) chose some of the best and well known soundtracks from the FF universe. Many have been remixed for a more upbeat feel, which works for the most part. Square Enix took some chances by not having Uematso score the game (I for one did not expect a new composer), but these chances paid off. The music fits the action quite nicely, while never straying too far from the original flow of each classic track.
Although, where the music is an exemplar for quality sound work, the voice work isn’t exactly up to par. While certain characters have fitting voices, others are not quite as fortunate, and it sounds forced and uninteresting. With no option to use the original Japanese voices, I was left to suffer through monotonous character interaction and a dreadfully poor narrator. As a whole, the voice work doesn’t reach normal Square Enix standards, but it’s still leagues above over a certain abysmal performance.
For all of its greatness, Dissidia is not without its downfalls. The story mode, although fun and engaging, feels patched together without much thought given to depth and narrative pacing. The game is set in a fictional world where an endless cycle of battles (and cliche’s) occur between the forces of good, led by the god Cosmos, and the forces of evil, led by the god Chaos. Unoriginal, yes, but as with most FF titles, what seems clear-cut quickly becomes clouded with uncertainties, and DFF follows suit – to a degree. Besides the last couple of chapters, the story was generally uninspired and forgettable. Yet, what kept the the plot from really grasping hold and becoming worthy of Final Fantasy convolution is the narrative’s pacing, which is due to how story mode is played.
Straying from typical FF linear progression, Dissidia’s story unfolds with a bit of freedom. The player can choose any one of the ten Cosmos heroes, which all occur concurrently in the overarching plot. But because there is no defined order of completion, the narrative’s pacing suffers. I, unable to resist the traditional RPG temptation, completed story mode beginning with the the FF series’ first installment and gradually made my way through each subsequent title. This proved to be unwise, since each character’s subplot intertwines with many of the other characters while revealing pieces of the overarching story, but in no relative order, creating a stylized narrative that doesn’t quite work with handheld medium.
The PSP was not intended for prolonged use, and DFF’s narrative suffers because of this. I found it tough to keep track of every subplot as I made my way through the game; I would finish a character’s story mode that filled in plot holes in a different character’s story a day or two later, which doesn’t help the narrative’s cause. Although story mode may suffer from the PSP’s mobility, its still blows anything out of the water that conventional fighters have produced.
Once story mode has been complete, a plethora of extra content will become available for the player to bask in. Two extra characters are available to unlock, Gabranth from FFXII and Shantotto from FFXI, bringing Dissidia’s grand total up to a respectable 22. Each comes with their own story playable by any character, but is even further substandard in terms of narrative.
There are also hundreds of other unlockables in the PP Catalog that will alter battle, character appearance, stages, items available in the shop, and many other collectibles (FF themed icons, new music) that can be used for online via Ad Hoc. PP is gathered through all modes of play, and if you want that 100% (after 30 hours, I only have 37%) completion rating, you’ll find yourself farming not only for PP, but for enormous amounts of items used to make more powerful equipment or grant further accessory slots, especially in the Duel Colosseum, a card-like game that keeps DFF appealing once story mode has been completed.
Besides some shortcomings in story mode and voice work, Dissidia: Final Fantasy is a well-polished and gratifying fighter, and a near-perfect fan service. But because of its ties to such an epic RPG franchise, DFF transcends its status as a 3-D fighter, and more often than not feels like an action RPG. With a solid soundtrack, a phenomenal amount of collectibles, an “accomplishment” (achievement) list, and excellent side-content backing it up, Dissidia is a must own for any Final Fantasy enthusiast, as well as anyone who owns a PSP.
Some of the best graphics the PSP has to offer, Dissidia really pushes the hardware to its limits with over-the-top fighting spectacles.
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Besides a few poor camera angles and some story mode mishaps, Dissidia's battle system is a new standard that all 3-D fighters should now strive to achieve.
Besides the great soundtrack and superb effects, the voice acting, at times, is mediocre at best.
With hundreds of collectibles and unlockables, the Duel Coloseum, and Ad Hoc, I'm sure you're playclock will reach triple digits in no time.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy mixes a near perfect fan service with tight gameplay, unrivaled visuals, and an extensive amount of side-content. This IP should not be passed up.