Release Date: Q2 2009
While Kingdom Hearts was a fun game on its own, it originally sold itself on being a massive crossover title. It wasn't just the Disney worlds that attracted people, though, but also the introduction of a wide crossover between various Final Fantasy games, allowing players to see characters like Squall and Cloud interact for the first time. However, that was really just a sideshow to the Disney-based adventures of Sora and pals, so hardcore Final Fantasy fans were left waiting for a true crossover. Twelve games and countless spin-offs into the series, the Final Fantasy cast is finally getting a crossover game of its very own with the PSP's Dissidia: Final Fantasy. It may not be exactly what people were expecting, but Dissidia is a love letter to Square-Enix's fans and is shaping up to be a fairly good game in its own right.
The cast of Dissidia hails from the first 10 Final Fantasy games, with one hero and villain from each, gathered together by powerful gods called Cosmos and Chaos, to do battle. Most of the character choices are quite obvious. The hero side, summoned by Cosmos, is represented by Bartz, Cecil, Cloud, Firion, Squall, Terra, Tidus and Zidane. The only real surprises on that side are Warrior of Light, who represents an amalgam of the characters from Final Fantasy 1, and Onion Knight, who comes from the classic Final Fantasy 3 instead of the DS remake. The villain side is represented by The Cloud of Darkness, The Emperor, Exdeath, Garland, Golbez, Kefka, Kuja, Sephiroth, Ultimicia and Tidus' dad Jecht, appearing here in a form somewhat like Braska's Final Aeon from Final Fantasy X. In addition, Final Fantasy 11 and 12 are both providing "guest" characters in the form of NPC questgiver Tartaru Shantotto from Final Fantasy XI and Judge Gabranth from Final Fantasy XII . The end result is 22 playable characters, each of whom is unique in his or her own way.
The characters in Dissidia really do manage to be quite different while being true to their roots. Cloud Strife is probably the easiest character to pick up and plays rather simply. He has a big sword and he hits people with it, his early-game abilities allowing him to zoom after opponents Advent Children-style and deal massive hits with his trademark Buster Sword. Final Fantasy V's Bartz, on the other hand, uses a wide variety of abilities and switches between them rapidly, mimicking the "Job" system from his game. He can't deal damage as quickly or easy as Cloud at first, but is much faster and more versatile. Bartz's rival Exdeath is a super-defensive character who uses a wide variety of traps and counter-abilities to deal damage, making him difficult to learn, but powerful if mastered. Despite the fact that each character comes from a turn-based RPG with many of the same spells and abilities, Dissidia does a fairly remarkable job of setting them apart, so no two characters feel overly similar.
Dissidia is built around the Story mode, which lets you take control of any of the 10 heroes and go through their adventure. Each character has a unique plot, with fully voiced cut scenes and cinemas to keep you interested. The actual adventuring takes place in a weird sort of grid-based board game. You're given control over the character and can move them spaces, attempting to figure out the quickest way to reach the exit. Blocking your way are various obstacles and enemies, as well as rare treasures, like chests and potions. The trick is that you have a limited number of Destiny Points, which you must use to activate these objects. Moving around the board is free, but to activate an enemy fight, open a chest, or interact with something, you have to spend a Destiny Point. However, using a Destiny Point allows you to interact with anything around you, so careful positioning may allow you to fight multiple enemies or open more than one chest with a single Destiny Point. While it's possible to finish a stage with zero — or even negative — Destiny Points, doing so is unadvisable, as the game punishes you for it. At the end of every "board," your remaining HP, the number of objects you interacted with and your Destiny Points are tallied up. You earn specific prizes for having a high number of points, and at the end of a character's story, his Story Points are tallied up to give you rare items or special unlocks, which are unavailable if you force your way through the story.
The good news is that it is possible to replenish Destiny Points. Enemies on the game board each have a unique status. Some enemies are simple fights against weak foes, which are easy to defeat. Others have special gimmicks, such as an enemy who begins with a massive amount of Brave Points or who is always in EX mode. These foes, while more difficult, tend to offer greater prizes to players who can defeat them. Some foes even have special conditions they ask of you, such as Breaking an opponent with 10 seconds or hitting an enemy with an HP attack. Doing these bonus objectives will earn you extra Destiny Points and allow you to earn a higher score at the end of a stage.
Combat in Dissidia takes place in a giant 3-D arena, each based on a popular Final Fantasy dungeon, such as the Magitek Research Facility or the Northern Crater. Movement is actually quite similar to the Kingdom Hearts series and very easy to pick up. You move using the analog stick, jump with the X button, and perform special movement actions, such as sliding along a pipe or running up and down a wall, using the Triangle button. You can even earn the ability to dash toward opponents by pressing R and Triangle at the same time. While a lot of the arenas don't have "bottoms," you can't fall to your death in Dissidia. Touching the arena bottom causes your character to be stopped by a glowing black hole, which saps some Brave Points and shoots you back into the air. If you fail to reach solid ground before falling back again, your character will lose a greater chunk of Brave Points and be teleported instantly to solid ground.
You actually have two health bars in Dissidia: the traditional HP bar, which shows your character's health, and the Brave meter, which appears above the health bar and represents your combat potential. Each character has two kinds of attack: a Brave Attack and an HP attack. Brave Attacks are done with the Circle button and tend to be fast basic attacks; you may slash an enemy, cast a low-level magic spell, throw objects at the enemy or what have you, but either way, it is a quick and fast combo attack. However, these attacks do no damage to the enemy but reduce the enemy's brave meter. Every time you strike an enemy with a Brave Attack, you steal Brave from them, and vice versa. You have both Air and Ground-based Brave Attacks, and mixing them up allows you to perform long, complicated combos to totally drain an opponent's Brave meter. If you drain all of an opponent's Brave, he enters Break status, which weakens the enemy and gives a huge boost to your Brave meter.
This is where HP attacks come into play. HP attacks are very slow and difficult to hit with, but they're also far more spectacular and tend to be what people would consider a character's signature moves. Cloud Strife, for example, will earn his various Limit Breaks, such as Climhazzard and Braver, to use as his HP attacks, while Terra will use high-level magic spells. If you can somehow hit with one, your current Brave level is translated directly into attack damage. Hit an enemy with 1,000 Brave in your meter, and you'll do 1,000 damage to him, but hitting with an HP attack resets your Brave meter back to zero (although you won't enter Break Status this way), so you'll have to build up your Brave again. While it's entirely possible to built up enough Brave to end a fight in a single strike, that gets harder to do later on, when you and your opponent are trading blows so quickly that you risk losing all of your Brave to a lucky combo. Learning when and where to use your Brave stockpile is the key to winning the fight.
In addition to regular Brave and HP attacks, you also have "rush" Brave and HP attacks. When hitting an opponent with certain attacks, you can send him flying. Doing so prompts you to press the X button to rush after him, which activates a mini-game where players take turns attacking each other with either HP or Brave Attacks. The defending character has to try to time his dodge to avoid the attack, with Brave Attacks being easier to avoid. If one player hits the other with a Brave Attack, the hurt player is sent flying, and the aggressor can choose to continue the Rush or return to regular combat. An HP attack works just like a regular HP attack, draining all your Brave and doing matching damage to the opponent. A Rush attack continues until either one of the fighters hits the wall at the edge of the arena, lands an HP attack, or chooses not to follow up a rush.
Perhaps the most powerful move in your character's arsenal is his EX ability. Each character in the game has an EX meter, which is charged by fighting enemies or collecting EX items that randomly appear in the stages. Collect enough, and you can enter EX mode, which increases the character's power by some type of transformation. Some characters, like Tidus or Squall, simply gain a new weapon, while others, such as Terra or Kefka, transform into an entirely new form. While in EX mode, you gain new abilities, including new attacks, special status effects, and improved defense. Your most powerful ability, however, is your EX Attack. When you hit an opponent with a HP attack while in EX mode, you'll be able to activate an EX Attack. These attacks tend to be a character's ultimate ability, such as their final Limit Break or special ability. Completing an EX Attack involves playing a character-specific mini-game. The greater your success in the mini-game, the more damage your EX attack does, and in many cases, it can be enough to instantly defeat even a strong foe. The enemy has a chance to lessen the damage by playing a mini-game of his own, but the only real defense against an EX Attack is not to get hit by one.
Defense is an important, if difficult-to-use, part of Dissidia. You can block attacks by pressing the R button, but by default, this doesn't allow you to simply hold and block. Instead, you have to parry attacks back at the opponents with careful timing, and this only works on Brave Attacks. Any HP attack will crush your Guard with ease. To avoid HP attacks, you have to dodge by pressing in any direction and pressing R and X at the same time. Doing so causes you character to perform an acrobatic dodge to avoid the attack. Timing is majorly important here, and you have to dodge at just the right moment to avoid an attack. It takes a bit of getting used to, but unless you want to be on the bad side of a Meteor spell, it's essential.
As with most Final Fantasy games, Summons have a role to play here as well. By collecting summon crystals on the game's board map, you unlock the ability to summon a specific monster during battle. Some of these are traditional Final Fantasy summons, while others may be popular monsters from the game. These monsters are not hugely impressive, with most of them appearing as simple still cutouts, but their effects can be devastating. Cactaur, for example, can be summoned to use his 1,000 Needles attack on the opponent, instantly draining 1,000 Brave from the enemy meter, while Magic Pot will instantly copy your opponent's Brave and give it to you. Some Summons can be activated, while others are automatic and used when a certain condition is met. However, their use is limited, and wasting a Cactaur when your opponent only has 50 Brave Points could leave you hurting later in the fight.
Dissidia may be an action game, but much like Kingdom Hearts, most of your abilities come from your level and equipment. As you fight opponents, you'll gain experience and level up, which improves your basic stats and unlocks new abilities and attacks. Like Kingdom Hearts, these abilities are equipped to your character but cost a specific amount of ability points to use, and you can only equip as many abilities as your character has ability points. Abilities come in two forms: passive abilities and attacks. Passive abilities are simply there. Equip them and they exist, ranging from simple defensive or offensive improvements to new movement abilities and the power to lock onto EX items. Attacks, on the other hand, are new abilities to use in combat. You can have a maximum of 12 attacks: six Brave and six HP attacks, with three slots each for ground- and air-based attacks. Of course, if you want to keep such a wide stable of attacks, you're probably going to have to pay for it by using fewer passive abilities. The customization options are nearly endless, and since you'll be able to challenge other players with your custom-built character, there's real encouragement to grinding and earning all of a character's abilities.
As you play through the game's story, you'll earn money, which can be used to buy new equipment for your characters or find items, which can be equipped. Buying new equipment doesn't change your character's looks but gives you improved stats, although better equipment has level restrictions. Not all equipment can be entirely positive, though, and there are some awesome pieces of equipment that may lower one of your stat in exchange for a greater bonus to another stat. Some items can only be "purchased" by completing special objectives while fighting enemies, which earns material you can use to synthesize the item. It's a pretty traditional Final Fantasy equipment system, but it works well in combination with the unique gameplay.
Outside of the game's Story mode, there is also an Arcade mode, which allows you to pit your customizable character against computer-controlled opponents in an attempt to see how your character stacks up. The real fun, however, is going to be in Dissidia's multiplayer. This mode will allow you to challenge other people's characters with your own hard-earned custom-built fighter, which will allow you to really see whose Tidus is the best fighter. Playing the game also earns you PP, which can be spent in the game's shop to unlock new features, which include bonus characters, background music and new outfits for your characters, such as Cloud's Advent Children outfit, or Squall's SEED uniform.
Visually, Dissidia is pretty impressive, especially for a PSP title. The fights are quick and cinematic and are the closest that actual Final Fantasy gameplay has come has come to matching the gravity-defying rapid-speed action of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children or any of the super-dramatic cut scenes in recent Final Fantasy games. It's a lot more fun to watch the game's over-the-top cut scenes knowing that you can replicate most of the effects in actual gameplay. The character models are well-animated and great to watch, and there are a lot of amusing little visual references that will amuse hardcore Final Fantasy fans. The camera is surprisingly good and tracks opponents effectively, even when they leave your visual range. Square-Enix knows how to use the PSP to its fullest strength, and Dissidia proves this once again.
As one would expect from a Final Fantasy game, Dissidia has some darn impressive audio. The soundtrack is made up of various remixed songs from every Final Fantasy game and usually contains some of the best of the lot. Everything is here, from Final Fantasy I's nostalgic battle music to Sephiroth's Latin-chanting "One Winged Angel," and each remixed version sounds quite excellent. The voice acting is top-notch, at least in the Japanese version, with all of the original voice actors returning to reprise their roles, and previous unvoiced characters, like Kefka and Bartz, gaining voices for the first time.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy for the PSP has the makings of a Final Fantasy fan's dream game. Action-packed gameplay, a fun and interesting set of characters, a fantastic soundtrack and great visuals combine to create a title that, while action-packed, feels far more like a Final Fantasy game than the spin-offs, like Crisis Core or Dirge of Cerberus, ever did. Combine all of that with an almost obscene amount of fan service, ranging from cameos to in-jokes, and you'll have a game that Final Fantasy fans will be hard-pressed to dislike. Due to hit the U.S. sometime in 2009, Dissidia: Final Fantasy may not be Final Fantasy XIII, but it should certainly be enough to keep the franchise's supporters happy until that long-awaited game arrives.
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