As bizarre as that title looks, it’s not really symbolic. Dissidia 012 is just the prequel to the original Dissidia, which brought Final Fantasy protagonists together in one big fighting fan service throwdown. It wasn’t a triumph among fighting games but its reasonable success was in following the philosophy that if you’re going to make a fan service game for your customers you might as well give it dynamic combat, a great soundtrack and lots of unlockables. A second round of fan service might be pushing it, though. Dissidia 012 would need to rise to the challenge by offering a lot more than its predecessor.
Does Dissidia 012 stand up as a follow-up in its own right? Let’s take a look. After all, what better way to celebrate the passing of E3 with a game that came out in March?
The story of Dissidia 012 unfortunately subscribes to a lot of the same problems that its predecessor had, namely that all of these characters have been brought together but the writers seemed to not know what to do with all of them. It relies exclusively on just having these beloved Final Fantasy icons present to hold your attention and you can practically hear an audience cheering whenever a familiar face appears for the first time. I understand that Dissidia is a fan service series but the game doesn’t really take advantage of that beyond having everyone in the same room. I also appreciate that for some people just having Lightning and Laguna in the same room will be enough to set off the nostalgia buzz, but it could have bee more.
The other problem is that like most fighting games Dissidia 012 needs to build its story around constant one on one engagements. This isn’t usually a problem in fighting games but Dissidia 012 seems surprisingly intent on being taken seriously as a narrative. It’s the usual setup of having the forces of light against the forces of darkness but due to some new plot devices a few light characters are part of the dark side and there’s a race of new mannequin enemies. The only noticeable difference is nine newcomers ranging from oldies like Kain Highwind to newer series characters like Vaan and Lightning from Final Fantasy XII and XIII respectively. The intent to appeal to us with power-of-friendship drama falls flat and the story is forgettable at the best of times.
Gameplay features the slick combat that its predecessor introduced and aside from some tweaks the overall gameplay is largely unchanged. The game operates on a philosophy of not fixing what isn’t broken and I can’t blame the developer for keeping the strongest aspect of Dissidia intact. Fighting is accessible, fast-paced hack-and-slash that relies on two types of attacks. Bravery attacks raise the number of Bravery points your character has and lowers the points of your opponent. Your Bravery score is subsequently measures how much damage you do with HP attacks, which deplete health directly. It was and still is a genuinely fun system that eschews memorizing of lengthy combo chains in favor of a simplistic brawler.
New additions to the formula add more color to fights. There’s a new Assist mode where you can summon support characters, which allows you to execute new combos with your helper. The special attacks of EX Mode, returning from the original Dissidia, works with Assist mode to form a clever system of counterattacks. Landing an Assist attack, for instance, can deplete your opponent’s EX Gauge. Alternatively if you time being attacked with entering EX Mode you can use EX Revenge, which slows down time and lets you pummel your opponent but drains your own EX Gauge. Assist mode and EX Mode work nicely together and Assist mode integrates smoothly into gameplay.
Sometimes new ideas for Dissidia 012 had potential but were left to wither on the vine along with the messy story. Single-player sometimes swaps the board game format you use to move characters around with a new world map reminiscent of the ones from Final Fantasy VIII or IX where you can buy items from Moogles and open treasure chests. It could have added a lot to the game but all it really does is give you a commute there’s nothing of real substance on the map worth exploring. The blandness of the scenery also means that visually it isn’t much more impressive than the board map. Maybe the idea was to draw on nostalgia from world maps of the earlier Final Fantasy games, but all that does is illustrate how poorly they’ve aged.
There’s a lot of content available but a lot of it feels recycled or draws too heavily from the original game. The new gameplay mode Labyrinth is good example, essentially being a modified version of Duel Colosseum from the first game. You choose opponents, assist characters and equipment from a deck of cards and see how far you can get into the different cloisters of the labyrinth in an exciting survival challenge. It’s easy to get hooked on and a great way to test your skills outside of the story, but stylistically it gave me a sense of déjà vu since I played the first game.
There are lots of other minute additions to the game like several new equipment types and some miscellaneous balancing issues but everything feels like so many bells and whistles on a relatively unchanged product. If you have friends around multiplayer is a blast and the presentation continues to be stellar, with combat being particle-effect clashes in detailed environments. The game really should be fun, and it is to a certain extent, but most of the improvements make the game feel like an expansion pack rather than a full-on sequel.
There’s also a quest creation system that lets you build your own quest. It’s fairly robust but it raises the odd question of why I would spend time doing this when I could instead play the single-player story created by professional designers. It’s not really a problem with the game itself but I’m not sold on why time and resources were spent on this that could have spent giving more depth to the world map in single-player.
Voice acting neither noteworthy nor offensive but let’s look at voice acting 101, guys. When you make a fighting game keep the character attack noises simple and to the point. Do not give characters mini-catch phrases because bear in mind we’ll probably be using these moves repeatedly. Hearing Laguna drawl “Look out!” or “There ya go!” fifty or sixty times gets grating and it’s enough to sacrifice the enjoyable Final Fantasy soundtrack remixes and make you mute your PSP.
Dissidia 012 is technically an improvement on its predecessor. The stylish combat is still a blast and Final Fantasy fans will be as enamored as ever, but a number of the improvements seem half-realized. The story is still a sloppy affair of poorly recognized fan service and when you look past the impressive visuals and nostalgic fan service there’s not much additional substance. In the end Dissidia 012 falls into that awkward territory where it feels more like Dissidia 1.5 rather than 2, so to speak. Final Fantasy fans will get a hefty treat but people who didn’t grow up with the series will probably enjoy the slick nature of gameplay but wonder what the point of a second game is or what the big deal is in the first place.