Dissidia: Final Fantasy - Review  

Cosmic Chaos
by Cidolfas

20-40 Hours
+ Addictive, original battle system.
+ Tons of stuff to unlock.
+ Fanboy-gasms.
- Terrible story.
- Some characters shouldn't be here.
- Steep learning curve.
Click here for scoring definitions 

Ages ago, I had this great idea - why not a Final Fantasy game done in the style of Super Smash Bros.? All the greatest heroes and villains could square off, answering for once and for all the key question - if Squall and Cloud were in a fight, who would win? (Answer: Cloud. In fact, Cloud can kick pretty much anyone's ass.)

In 2009, Square Enix finally granted my wish and gave me Dissidia: Final Fantasy. However, they didn't quite adhere to what I told them to do. Instead of simply having the characters who were most popular and/or best suited to a fighting game (such as Gilgamesh, Tifa, Sabin, Auron etc.) they decided to feature the hero and villain of each of the first ten games. In addition, one character from FF11 and FF12 would be featured who were neither good nor evil, resulting in the addition of Shantotto and Gabranth (Gabranth? Seriously?).

As soon as I heard this I knew I wouldn't like it. Quick, close your eyes and tell me the difference between Garland (FF1), Exdeath (FF5) and Golbez (FF4). Tough, isn't it? They're all heavily armored, personality-less evil people. (Golbez has a bit more of a backstory, but that's all introduced at the last moment.) Some of the characters of earlier games don't even have names, let alone personalities, like "Warrior of Light", "The Emperor", or "Onion Knight". The only begrudging praise I will give them is for choosing Jecht as the "villain" of FF10 rather than Yu Yevon or Seymour.

The core of Dissidia is a fighting game, but one unlike any I've ever played. I've heard it likened to playing Advent Children, and it isn't far off. The arenas are absolutely enormous, in three dimensions, and for many characters you will spend most of your time in the air, where you can stay almost indefinitely by jumping, dashing and dodging. You can dash towards an enemy and bounce off him with a satisfying ching! Some arenas, like the Planet's Core from FF7, are nothing but islands floating in the air. Others, like Pandemonium from FF2, are confusing mazes.

Some fight setups can be very cathartic. Some fight setups can be very cathartic.

There are two types of attacks, Bravery and HP. Bravery is your attack power; connecting with an HP attack will deal damage equal to your Bravery points, then bump them back down to zero. Bravery attacks, on the other hand, will steal Bravery from your enemy and give them to you; when his Bravery hits zero, he will "break". At this point you get a huge bonus to your Bravery, and all his HP attacks will do zero damage for a few seconds until he gets back up to normal. Basically this ends up being a "tug-of-war" with the Bravery stat as the rope, as you whittle down the other guy's HP. This is a surprisingly interesting take on an old game format, so hats off to Square Enix for experimenting a little.

There are a few other fun tweaks to the battle system, like EX Mode, chase attacks, Quickmove, summons, etc. I should also note the existence of Command Mode, which lets you play via an RPG-style menu; however, I've never even tried this, since it seemed to kill the whole point of the game.

All that is just dealing with the tip of the iceberg, though. Most of your time will not be spent in battle, but in the various menus and other modes. You can buy or synthesize equipment, put on accessories, set your abilities and summons, and level up your character. I will not mention the myriad systems in place except to note that there are no less than eleven different types of "points" to collect and manage, not counting stats: HP, Bravery, EXP, PP, DP, AP, Story Points, Ability CP, Summon CP, Gil, and medals.

There are various modes that the battles can ensue in. There's Quick Battle (one-on-one, you pick the details); Arcade Mode (beat five in a row) and Friend Battle (fight someone online). But the meat of the game is in Story Mode. Here, you move a little piece around a board, fighting "manikins" (easier versions of the other fighters) through five levels, finding treasure chests, using skills, and getting prizes for completing challenges. Oh, and watching cutscenes.

And here we come to the part I hate the most about Dissidia: its story. To be specific, there isn't one. Oh, there's some overarching thing about a cycle of violence between the forces of Cosmos and Chaos, but it's not the most riveting. You could easily remove every single cutscene and be no more confused or worse off than otherwise. The dialogue is uniformly horrible - vague, overdramatic, and completely pointless. The acting isn't bad, it's just the script the poor people have to deal with. In fact, the only person ever worth watching is Kefka, for obvious reasons.

Amazingly stimulating...yawwwn... story. Amazingly stimulating...yawwwn... story.

There is such a thing as a good mash-up story. Hell, the Super Smash Brothers Brawl mode "Subspace Emissary" has a better story, and there's only one line spoken in the entire thing. Stuff happens there. You start off with one character and gain more as stuff happens. Here, every character has the same five chapters, with a boss battle at the end. There's some attempt at pairing up a few characters together for banter, but it always falls flat.

There's two reasons, other than the obvious lack of scriptwriting ability, why this fails. The first is the strange decision to completely scuttle any hint of actual backstory for these characters. Each hero is obviously paired up against his respective villain, but we aren't given any hints to why. Squall never mentions Rinoa, Cloud never thinks about Aerith, and as a whole we get the feeling they were all dumped here with no memories whatsoever. There goes most of the reason why we like these people in the first place.

The second is the total lack of chemistry, and even worse lack of humour. Squall and Cloud don't get in a moping contest and Zidane doesn't tell them to lighten up; Kefka and Sephiroth don't get to snipe at each other (MAMA'S BOY!), and Exdeath and the Emperor don't get into arguments about whether to destroy the world or rule it, although there are very minor hints about this. They had a lot of material to work with and they used absolutely none of it.

There's one other mode that's interesting, and that's the Duel Colosseum. A sort of card game that becomes unlocked once you beat the main story mode, you can use this to fight as the villains (something you can't do in the main story), collect medals and prizes, and generally is insanely addictive.

I certainly can't complain about the graphics; while the models aren't as impressive as Crisis Core, they're large and expressive, and do a good job of melding the styles of Yoshitaka Amano and Tetsuya Nomura. The music is adequately remixed from Final Fantasy classic tunes. Some tracks, which are unlocked later, are direct ports of old-school chiptunes, which may excite the kid in you.

So after all this ragging on the game, what do I think of it? I think that despite all of its flaws, Dissidia is an incredibly fun game to play. I've put in more than 60 hours and still have so much more to unlock it isn't funny. Protip: Don't even think of getting every accomplishment, you'll need to play until you are old and grey and have no more fingers.

There's a few things to keep in mind, though. First, there is a huge learning curve. Of all games, this needed a full tutorial, but instead all you have is a few static images. Don't get turned off if the first few chapters are confusing as hell; you'll need to get used to it. (Another tip: Try Cloud's chapter first.)

Similarly, battles with high-level enemies can be incredibly difficult. They'll block or dodge every attack, and theirs will come with no warning. Your only chance would be to block their attack first, then immediately attack while they're off guard, but this rarely works, as often they'll simply wait until you've just finished guarding, and then attack. It's almost a matter of luck rather than skill, and having high enough stats that you only need to connect a handful of times.

Bottom line: Dissidia is a fun game, especially for Final Fantasy fanatics like myself; there are a lot of fun shout-outs if you've played many of the games, especially in the in-game manuals, which are "narrated" by minor characters. But it isn't a great game, and don't go in there expecting it.

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