This review was published on 09/15/2009.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy is Square Enix's version of the much revered Super Smash Bros. series, in a nutshell. It's a fighting game with an unusual style that stars the protagonist and antagonist of ten Final Fantasy games, plus a little extra. This is every Square fan's wet dream come true (well, aside from a remake of Final Fantasy VII), so it's likely that you already know where you stand on this game. Either you've been waiting for something like this your entire life, or you don't give a damn. Whichever your outlook, I implore you to continue reading.
As is customary with games from Square Enix, you're greeted with a vibrant presentation that does not know the definition of exuberance. You know, the usual: wonderfully rendered CG movies, superb in-game cut-scenes, voice acting that is surprisingly decent, and a whole lot of dazzling light. I often find myself believing that I'm playing a high-end PS2 game rather than one on a lowly handheld. Perhaps this is a sign of how much I underestimated the PSP's visual prowess, but I like to believe that Square Enix is just that good.
I compared Dissidia to Super Smash Bros., but the way in which these games function is completely different. Dissidia is a one-on-one fighter that takes full advantage of the third dimension. That is, you can move in full 3-D. And it's not the kind of uneventful 3-D witnessed in games like Soul Calibur or Tekken, either. You can run, jump, and glide about in spacious surroundings. There's also a huge emphasis on aerial combat, as almost every character in the game has the ability to remain airborne almost endlessly if you play your cards right. Try to picture battles so extreme that it borders on ridiculous; what Dragon Ball Z aspired to be, only infinitely better.
Okay, now this is where things will get iffy. I need to explain the battle system. It can be quite confusing, so bear with me. The big numbers you see displayed prominently over your HP meters is actually not how much health you have left; rather, it signifies your remaining bravery, thus known as Brave Points, or BP. These Brave Points determine the amount of HP damage you'll inflict on your opponent, provided you use a specialized HP attack move. See, attacks are divided into two groups; brave attacks and HP attacks. One lowers an opponent's brave only to add it to your own, the other damages the opponent's HP depending on how much brave points you've accumulated. Brave attacks are typically much faster and have more combos than HP attacks, making them far easier to hit foes with. Additionally, using an HP attack will reset your brave points back to their base value. Because of that, it seems that the best strategy in most cases is to treat HP attacks as finishing moves. This means you drain enough brave points out of the enemy so you can finish them in just one HP attack. Of course, you sometimes must alter this strategy and go for a more progressive means of reducing their HP, but this appears to be the flow of a regular battle. The exceedingly awkward method of combat is sure to make newcomers feel unwelcome, but it does grow on you. Dissidia is a fighting game that values thinking over pure reflexes, and this system is appealing on an intellectual level.
Battles have a tug-of-war feel to them as a result of the brave system, something that becomes readily apparent whenever you face off against a foe equal to you. To prevent fights from lasting too long, the "Break" system was implemented. If a fighter is hit by a brave attack when his brave points are at 0, he'll enter the aforementioned Break mode. When this happens, that fighter won't be able to gain any brave points for a limited period of time (which also means he can't inflict HP damage), and the opponent will gain an enormous boost to their brave points, usually enough to kill in one HP attack. The huge sudden gain of brave points is incentive enough to make any warrior eager to send their victims into break mode, so this is obviously something you'll want to shoot for whenever possible.
The other big thing about Dissidia, aside from its unique battle system, is the RPG-like customization. We're talkin' some real deep stuff here. Characters can level up by gaining experience, you swap their moves by tinkering on the Abilities screen, and you can purchase gear at the shop. You can even gain AP to master abilities, which results in learning newer abilities and reducing the cost of equipping them. This admittedly destroys the balance most fighting games strive to achieve, but you can always choose to have a more fair fight by entering the "quick battle" mode, which allows you to change your opponent's level, equipment, and abilities to match yours, so you don't effortlessly slaughter them. An "arcade" mode is also available, in which the levels and move-sets are preset for all characters involved, including the one you chose. It can still be a pain, however, as you'll have to beef up any characters you plan on using in any other mode, and that's very time consuming. Something like this does wonders to a game's replay value, yet can intimidate those who don't have the time to spend hours grinding levels.
Square Enix loves their extremely metaphorical plots, a love that is made quite explicit in Dissidia's story mode. If you don't include the few extra stories that you unlock, there are ten scenarios in all. Each hero has his or her own tale, which consists of them sorting through their personal demons. Dissidia manages to capture each character's personality quite well, often keeping it true to its original incarnation. Well, save for the few that didn't have an original incarnation; the heroes from a few of the earliest Final Fantasy games were devoid of any discernable personality, merely acting as vessels for the player. Due to this, Square Enix saw fit to simply create a new personality out of thin air for these nameless heroes. I was pleased with how they handled this, for the most part.
I think there's not much else I can say about Dissidia. It's a fantastic game with no real missteps to count. The only negative thing that comes to my mind is that this game is on the PSP, and the PSP's user-base in the U.S. is small. That and I think a game of this caliber deserves to be on a main console. I'm mostly saying this because I hate the PSP's analogue nub. I sorely wish I could use a real analogue stick for this game; it deserves it. In any case, as I've mentioned at the beginning of this review, it's highly unlikely that you don't know where you stand when it comes to this game. So what are you waiting for? Go grab a PSP, and play the bloody hell out of it.
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