On paper, Dissidia 012: Duodecim Final Fantasy covers all the bases required for being an excellent and fun title. It's a gigantic crossover fighting game with a roster featuring nearly all of the series' most popular characters. The presentation is top-notch, and there's loads of content. Yet, in the face of all of this, it has problems that keep it from true greatness. Let's start with all of the things Dissidia does right, as it's actually quite the long list.
Dissidia's crossover hook is one of the greatest that video games have to offer, and this game completely absorbs itself in it; simply put, Final Fantasy characters spanning the series' entire history have come together to kick each others' butts in the name of their representative god or goddess. With the most popular characters from each game made playable, any fan familiar with the series can easily jump in and represent with their favorite character from their favorite installment. Familiar locales from each game have been re-imagined with detailed polygonal graphics, and professional voice acting breathes new life into even the oldest of characters. Theme remixes call forth nostalgia, customizable battles allow for cosmic dream matches, and a thin but functional story ties together the entire hodgepodge cast. It's a smorgasbord of fan service that does its job admirably.
Dissidia 012 also boasts an extraordinary amount of in-game content. There are hundreds of special moves, items and bonuses (such as songs and outfits) to uncover via playing through the game's story mode and battle scenarios. Add to this two lengthy RPG-style story sequences (the first being a remix of the original game's story for newcomers), a roster of nearly 30 characters to experiment with, and local multiplayer (no online, sadly), and you have a spin-off Final Fantasy with just as much potential playtime as any of the mainliners.
As is par for the course for Final Fantasy presentations, high-quality graphics and animation abound for all characters present. The fight choreography on display is executed in a fun and fast anime style, consisting of characters running, darting and sliding all over a free-roam 3-D arena. All of this can be accomplished under the player's own power. However, switching to the semiautomatic RPG mode control scheme sometimes can be worth it just to be able to watch these characters in action while doing less work. Epic soundtracks are also a hallmark for FF games, and this is no exception. The majority of songs are remixes of tunes from past FF titles, the quality of which range from passable to quite decent. However, many of them barely sound any different from their original renditions. While they are still iconic and fit the game extremely well, audiophiles will likely be left wanting more.
All of the listed things above are what this game does right. Unfortunately, there is one place where Dissidia falters, and oddly enough, it's the absolute basics. Simply put, the fighting engine is questionable. As mentioned previously, fighting takes place in a fully navigable 3-D arena where players are able to fly, slide or run along pretty much any surface. This freedom can already prove daunting to the inexperienced. The game also requires the learning of extra on-screen notation in order to optimally navigate the field.
Dealing damage is done completely differently to other games in the genre. Two sets of attacks are used: "Brave" builds up potential damage output, and "HP" deals actual damage equivalent to the player's Brave score. In theory, it is possible for players to have a long and arduous fight using only Brave attacks and never get anywhere until someone remembers the HP attacks at their disposal.
As for the controls: Characters are moved via the analog nub, the face buttons are used for all attacks and two kinds of defense, the left shoulder button is used for camera control and various functions, and the right shoulder button presents modifiers for those functions. Button presses can also be combined for additional attack and defensive options in a layout that ultimately has little order or structure to it.
Confused yet? So was I for the first three days. Have your instruction book handy for a quick reference because this game only allows for a review of its techniques outside of fights. In these days of fighting games doing their best to be more accessible, Dissidia presents a game that is not unlike learning a different language. Upon learning it, it reveals a fighting game where you rarely have the utmost control of your techniques. If learning this language is too much for you, you can opt to switch to RPG mode, which purposefully causes players to rarely have control over their techniques.
It's clear that Dissidia was made with cinematic RPG players in mind first and fighting gamers fifth or so. While this was probably a good decision given Square Enix's main audience, this also results in the controls and on-screen action making only so much sense. Add the semiautomatic nature of most moves in either control mode — to the point where Quick Time Events are integrated into the fighting — and you're left with a fighting game that feels obtuse and complicated before learning ... but shallow after learning. It's hardly the best of combinations.
Ultimately, Dissidia 012: Duodecim Final Fantasy is a textbook example of a game that seems to have everything stumbling because of shaky fundamentals. However, this by no means makes it a bad game. Due to its high-quality overall content and presentation, it's actually quite engaging if you can get past its learning curve and are enough of a fan of the Final Fantasy universe. This game is mainly for Final Fantasy fans who don't mind something different from their titles or for fans who love the character roster and its crossover possibilities. However, people looking for a deep, rewarding fighting game should most definitely look elsewhere.
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