Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy – Staff Review

Dissidia: Final Fantasy was a game that kind of took players by surprise.  On the one hand, it’s hard to believe that it took this long to make a fighting game out of Final Fantasy, and on the other hand, it’s hard to believe that you could honestly make it work.  The result was one of the best games on the PSP to date, so when a prequel was announced, it had some big shoes to fill.  Ultimately, Dissidia 012 is a fantastic, yet oddly named game that needs to be in your library.

As mentioned before, Dissidia 012 is a prequel to the original game.  The events in the main story directly lead up to the beginning of the original game and center around six additional characters that weren’t there the first game.  The game does somewhat explain why the original cast is almost nowhere to be found and why the newcomers Lightning, Yuna, Kain, Tifa, Vaan, and Laguna don’t make it into the next game.  Honestly, the whole story seems a bit like some interns went out drinking and wrote the plot in the course of the evening, but if you’re playing this game for the story, then you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Much like the first game, the reason to play this game is the battle system.  It is one of the most complex fighting games out there, but it works.  You fight in massive destructible environments where you can run on any surface and rail slide on any edge.  Because of the size of the battle arena, every battle seems epic, from the random encounters all the way up to boss fights.  The fighting never gets old, and it’s truly a lot of fun.

Individual battles are essentially all about two stats and their corresponding attacks: HP and Brave.  HP is pretty much what it sounds like, and when your HP drops to zero, you’re dead.  Brave is a little different.  Essentially, Brave determines how much damage you can do when you make HP attacks.  So let’s get a bit deeper into attacks.  It sounds like since HP is how you win, you should do nothing but HP attacks.  This could be a way to win, but it’s not recommended.  Successful Brave attacks subtract Brave from your opponent and add it to your total.  Not only does this make you stronger, it makes your adversary weaker.  If a character’s Brave is reduced to zero, they go in to ‘break’ status and cannot deal any damage until their Brave returns to normal.  On top of that, breaking your opponent yields a variable amount of bonus, so when you do attack HP, it’s going to hurt.  Dealing Brave attacks is kind of like investing in the stock market; you want to do HP attacks when you’re at your max and try to keep building it when you think you can.  The risk comes from the ability for Brave to swing wildly during a fight.  A few well placed hits can demolish a streak and possibly leave you lower than your base Brave stat.

When you’re ready to attack HP, you simply use an HP attack, but that’s not as simple as it sounds.  A successful HP attack does do real damage, but it also resets your brave to zero.  The more damage you do, the longer you stay at zero before it rebounds to base.  A well timed Brave attack can put you in break status if it comes right after an HP attack.

As if that wasn’t complicated enough, there are also summons to manipulate Brave, EX attacks to hit harder, and  skills, which temporarily alter stats to consider.  All of these factors contribute to making Dissidia wonderfully complex, yet fun to play.

There is also another new addition to the battle system this time around; a friendly unit can assist in making HP or Brave attacks when a meter is filled.  Assist characters don’t make a huge difference, but they can definitely make things harder when the computer uses them on you.

So for the most part, Dissidia 012 keeps the formula the same.  Aside from the aforementioned Assist characters, the only new aspect is the addition of an overworld map.  Now in between rounds, your character runs on a map and collects treasure.  It serves almost zero purpose, but it doesn’t really detract from the game either.  It does, however, let you replay certain boards to do some level grinding if you feel the need.  There is also one thing left out.  It’s minor, but this game scraps the limited number of movements on game boards mechanic from the last game, and it is a welcome deletion.

Visually, the game is as gorgeous as the last one.  Lightning looks almost as good on the PSP as she did on the PS3.  All of the new characters are smoothly animated, and it is fun to see them in action.  Considering the fact that Final Fantasy IV was before the advent of FMV, players have never really gotten to see how Kain moves in a fight.  Until the NGP lands this winter, Dissidia 012 really sets the bar for how good a portable game can look.

Aurally, this game is even better than the last game.  Dissidia 012 adds several tracks from each Final Fantasy game, some as remixes and some as they originally appeared.  For example, you get an amazing remix of Final Fantasy‘s Chaos Shrine filled with electric guitar and heavy drum lines, but you also get the Gurgu Volcano theme in all its 8-bit glory.  Dissidia 012 also has pretty good voice acting reusing voice actors from movies or other games for all the new characters.  In particular, Liam O’Brian does a standout job as Kain Highwind.

How fast you complete the game will depend on your level of experience with Dissidia. Despite the ample tutorials to teach you the system, the series has a steep learning curve.  If you’ve got experience with the game, the new scenario can be finished in as few as 15 hours.  If you’re new to the game, expect it to take around 25. Fortunately, the game does not end when you finish 012; the entire first game is unlocked when you complete 012’s scenario. This easily adds another 10-25 hours depending on if you import character data from the first game.

There is one new feature that is worth mentioning.  Dissidia 012 adds party battles in the last chapter, which work as a round robin style tournament.  Basically, you pick your team in order, and they will each fight one opponent.  This means that you can’t just plow through the endgame with a single character like you could in the previous game.  Usually, this poses no problem, but Dissidia 012 has the same balancing issues that the previous game has.  Some characters are clearly more powerful than others.  Laguna may be more fun to play, but his attacks pale in comparison to Yuna’s mighty Eons.  This can make the game’s final battle, a five-on-five brawl significantly more difficult and possibly frustrating since everyone will have to participate.

Whereas 012 could have felt a little light in the content department, the addition of the original game makes Dissidia 012 an impressive package.  The prequel improves on the original, which was a tall order for such an excellent game.  If you don’t have Dissidia: Final Fantasy, then by all means, get this.  It is an excellent game that deserves space on your shelf.  If you have the original, the second game is still worth a buy, albeit a slightly harder sell.  There’s enough to like about the new characters to want to play the game all over again.

This game was played to completion using a copy provided for us for review.

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