An Eternal Battle
When it was announced, Dissidia: Final Fantasy sounded like an interesting concept: a fighting game starring Final Fantasy characters. At first glance, you might think it is the spiritual successor to Ehrgeiz. You’d be wrong. The only thing this game has in common with that PS1 brawler is the inclusion of Cloud and Sephiroth among the cast. Make no mistakes about it. This is an action RPG at its finest, and for fans that have dutifully played the first ten Final Fantasy games, it’s chock full of nostalgia and gameplay that will keep you coming back.
The story starts off kind of weak. There are two gods: Cosmos, Goddess of Harmony and Chaos, God of Discord. The two are locked in an eternal struggle, and warriors from the various Final Fantasy worlds have been summoned to be the gods’ respective armies. Naturally, Cosmos’s side is filled with heroes such as Cloud Strife, Terra Branford, and Cecil Harvey. Chaos tends to prefer final bosses, and his ranks swell with characters like Sephiroth, Kefka, and Garland. All in all, one good and one evil character from each of the first ten numbered games are represented, and after you finish the game’s main story, players can add Final Fantasy XI‘s Shantoto to the side of Cosmos and Gabranth of Final Fantasy XII fame to that of Chaos.
In order to fight the armies of Chaos, each hero must seek a crystal, and as luck would have it, there are ten of them, one for everyone. Not surprisingly, obtaining a crystal is a difficult task, and it culminates by facing the boss from that character’s game. As such, the game is initially divided into ten chapters of increasing difficulty. The player is advised to play the stories from easiest to hardest, as the game’s overarching plot is actually told in that order, as opposed to numerical order of the games. Each character remains true to his or her personality. Squall is still a loner, and Cloud doesn’t really know why he fights.
Each chapter is divided into five sub chapters, each of which takes place on a map that resembles a board game. The board is populated with Manakins, blue phantoms that resemble any of the game’s characters, and they represent most of the battling in the game. There are also periodic boss fights that step up the difficulty. While traversing the board, you use Destiny Points to move from one square to the next. These determine a bonus for finishing the substage, and they also give a bonus for unlocking extra material as well. So rather than just fight Manakins in any random order, it behooves the player to take them out strategically, combining as many battles into a chain as possible. Some battles also award Destiny Points for fulfilling certain conditions that range from getting a flawless victory, to winning within a certain time limit, or in some cases, just winning at all. There are also treasure chests and potions scattered about the board that assist the player.
While on the board, you can access the menu, which is quite extensive. There are settings to change your various skills, equip summons, view battle tips, and even buy new weapons and armor. You’ll be doing a lot of character customization, and the menu system allows you to set your character up to your liking as you learn new skills. There are also several tabs for multiple set-ups in case you want to switch on the fly, and as an added bonus, all equipment and summons transfer to every character you play, so you can use your purchases for everyone that can equip them.
When you are ready, you can go into battle, and that’s where the real meat of the game is. Battle effectively uses all six buttons of the PSP. Primarily, players will be attacking with square and circle, as these do HP and Brave attacks respectively. HP attacks do exactly what they sound like; they reduce your opponents HP total, something necessary to win. Brave attacks lower a character’s Brave stat, which affects many things. For starters, HP attacks will do damage equal to your current Brave. Brave attacks also transfer Brave from target to attacker, so not only do they weaken your opponent, they strengthen you. And finally, if any character’s Brave is reduced to zero, there are additional bonuses. The unfortunate character who has no Brave is considered broken, and for a time, they cannot do any damage, even if they land a HP attack. Furthermore, the character that performed the break attack gets a special Stage Bonus that adds a tremendous amount of Brave, which can be earned as many times as characters get broken. This means that most battles are won in a single HP attack.
It sounds like the strategy is then to just break your opponent, collect the Brave bonus, and then win, but things are not as simple as that. There are also summons, which all affect Brave in one way or another. They range in effect, but they either help you or hurt your opponent but not both. Where they really become effective is how they change the strategy. Consider the Magic Pot; it copies the opponent’s bravery. If you are using that summon, it actually helps you to let your opponent get the Stage Bonus, so that when your summon activates, you will have the same amount of Brave. For some of the harder fights, this is a viable way to win.
Aside from HP and Brave attacks, you can also block and jump with triangle and x respectively. Blocking is difficult, so most people, the computer AI included, will probably jump to dodge most attacks. This results in a battle where both characters are jumping in odd directions, attacking from all angles, and then jumping again. Though it sounds confusing, these airborne battles are almost like an intricate dance of strikes and dodges. Make no mistake about it; the battle system is easy to learn but hard to master. Newcomers will find the battle system a bit hard to grasp, but after a few hours with the game, you’ll be dancing around foes with ninja-like precision. The learning curve is somewhat steep, but it’s worth it.
There is one final aspect of battles, and it can change the tide in a battle almost instantaneously. Periodically, items called EX Cores pop up in battle, and they fill up your EX bar. When full, you can go into the aptly named EX mode and perform an EX Burst attack by landing an HP strike. In the original games, these were known as Limit Breaks, and in fact, characters will recognize many of them. For instance, when you use Squall’s EX Burst, you will be instructed to hit R to pull the trigger of his gunblade, just like in FF8. Another example would be that Tidus must kick a Blitzball just like in FF10. Every character has some unique move they must do to increase EX damage, and all of them are potential one-hit kills. And they look really cool to boot.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy is, in a word, gorgeous. It is one of the best looking PSP games to date, and its graphics look like they would be at home on the PS2. The character models are all very detailed, and the animations are top notch Add in a few pre-rendered videos at the end, and the game is an absolute treat for the eyes. The various levels are also lovingly crafted, and fans of the numbered games will immediately recognize locals from each game.
But as good as the game looks, it sounds even better. If you were to make a who’s who list of all the music tracks from the first ten Final Fantasy games, pretty much every track on that list is in Dissidia: Final Fantasy. Each game gets two to three battle tracks, its overworld theme, and a few other random tracks tossed in for good measure. Though some of the songs are brought over in their original form, most songs have been rearranged to be brought up to date. Just like the songs set the mood back in their original games, the same songs make the new battles more exciting. Fighting Sephiroth just isn’t the same without One-Winged Angel, and Jecht seems out of place without his heavy metal tune in the background. It is one of the best aspects of the game.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy does not stop at just offering grand music selections, it adds some prime voice acting as well. Square Enix has a tradition of reusing original voice actors wherever possible, so fans of Kingdom Hearts will recognize the voices for Squall, Sephiroth, and Cloud. Tidus and Jecht retain their voices, and everyone else has voices that really fit their personality. In particular, Keith David, whose voice credits include Goliath from Gargoyles and Captain David Anderson from Mass Effect, provides another stellar performance as Chaos.
Completing the game will take around twenty to thirty hours at a minimum. The final chapter can be played by character aligned with Cosmos, and it is highly recommended you pick one character and stick with it. After pretty much maxing out your chosen character, you may opt to pick another and play through the entire thing again. The game is addicting enough that it would be possible to sink hundreds of hours to go for 100% completion, and considering the fact that Dissidia is portable, its pick-up-and-go nature lends itself toward that goal nobly.
One other thing that players should take note of is the game can have extensive load times unless you do a memory stick install. Installs range from 224 to 542 MB, and the more you install, the less your loading time. It’s not required, but considering gigantic memory sticks are the norm these days, it’s worth your while to let the PSP go for a half hour while you do the full install. You’ll save time in the long run for sure.
Dissidia is a fantastic game, but there are some flaws. For one, the game suffers from some balancing issues. There is no “best” character, but various characters have distinct advantages over other characters. In the end, it’s kind of a wash, but considering the fighting game aspect, better balancing would have been nice. Another flaw is that the computer is allowed to cheat. You are restricted to equipment by your character’s level; the computer has no such restriction. Some fights will be against computer players with equipment several tiers above your own and even what they should normally be able to equip. This will mean that some battles will be frustratingly hard, but at least you can always flee if the battle is not winnable. And lastly, the game is brimming with spoilers if you’ve never played the original games. If you’ve played them all, you’ll find these plot bits nostalgic, but newcomers to the series will have pretty much all of the games they’ve never played ruined. Not only will you pretty much know who the last boss for each game is (though technically, three of the characters fighting for Chaos are not final bosses), you learn intricate relationships between characters. Suffice it to say, information regarding characters like Garland, Golbez, and even Exdeath can spoil major plot points of their respective games. And aside from skipping the story mode altogether, there is pretty much no way to avoid such spoilers.
On top of the game’s extensive story mode, there is also ad-hoc play; quick battles, which are essential for easy level grinding; and there is significant post-game play. There are three chapters of plot after the main game is finished, as well as the Duel Colosseum, which yields items for weapon crafting from the store. Even after you take down the final boss, there is still much to do.
Essentially, Dissidia: Final Fantasy is one of the best action RPGs Square Enix has produced to date. Fans of the original games will find little bits of nostalgia tucked all throughout the game. Dissidia excels in virtually every category to be one of the few must-have games for the PSP. Just hope that you’re not starting a new job or a doctorate degree or anything, because the game will pretty much dominate your time, whether it is free or not.