Dissidia: Final Fantasy, like all Square Enix games, has been a long time coming. Truly must-have titles on the PSP are few and far between, and with Dissidia cramming a ludicrous amount of Final Fantasy fan service into a promising fighting game vehicle, it seemed like this would be the next big hit on Sony's handheld.
However, is fan service enough to keep Dissidia's rather messy hack n' slash button mashing compelling, or does Dissidia need more than dream match ups and a ridiculous plot to make this something people need to buy a PSP for? Read on as we review Dissidia: Final Fantasy.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy has been designed, from the very start, to bet a fanboy's ultimate wet dream. The principal heroes and villains of every main Final Fantasy game, up to and including Final Fantasy X, are duking it out in the name of their respective patron God, Cosmos or Chaos. Cue some nonsensical storytelling and bad voice acting as some of the Final Fantasy franchise's most iconic characters meet and fuel the fires of fanfiction writers around the Internet.
For a game that brings together so many amazing characters, the actual story of Dissidia isn't very epic at all, and is rather clumsily presented to the player through dreary dialog and awkward, shoehorned encounters that don't carry the kind of weight that they really should. A fight between Squall and Sephiroth should really feel epic, but the cutscenes generally come off more like something you'd see in Dynasty Warriors than a Final Fantasy game.
The story seems more or less thrown together weakly as a poor excuse to bring the characters together and show off the fighting system. There could have been a great plot here, full of memorable moments as worlds collide, but characters just appear with very little fanfare and no build whatsoever. The horrible voice acting doesn't help matters either. Characters like Kefka and Kuja aren't done justice in the least.
As far as the actual combat goes ... well ... Square Enix gets points for effort, at least. Rather than tread on safe ground with a 2D fighter or rip off the Super Smash Bros. formula, Dissidia plays more like an evolved Crisis Core, with familiar turn-based commands performed in real time to create a game that's part hack n' slash, part methodical sparring session.
Dissidia combat is a battle on two fronts. As well as the general HP meter of each fighter, there is also a "Brave" score. By using Brave attacks, players can sap the bravery of enemies and transfer it over to their own character, thus making their attacks stronger. The idea of the game is to constantly keep your bravery high so that you remain superior to your foe. A careful balance between using Damage attacks and Brave attacks is rewarded with swifter victory.
In addition to these shenanigans, players also collect "Ex Force" by collecting items or through sustained battling. When a player's Ex Meter is filled, they are able to go into Ex Mode, which allows them to change form and perform an ultimate attack. For instance, Zidane will go into Trance and execute a button-mashing Tidal Wave, while Cloud will pull out the Ultima Weapon and smack fools about with the Omnislash.
The game sounds great in theory, and often it can be quite fun. However, it's also somewhat messy and very limited despite the wealth of customization. For all its attempts to be a strategic back-and-forth contest of skill, Dissidia more often than not devolves into a frantic button masher that's so fast-paced and confusing that players don't even know who's won the battle until the victory screen appears. The game is literally all over the place, and things move so fast that you rarely have any time to get your bearings on the map. Speaking of maps, they could have been better designed as well, with scenery getting in the way and so many tiers that you can sometimes lose sight of the enemy completely.
With practice, one gets more used to the pacing and it all looks very flashy, but the input delays on attacks and constant dodging around the map gets rather repetitive and irritating. The control scheme is also a problem as well. Players must frequently rush toward enemies to close gaps and keep the momentum, which requires them to press the right shoulder button and the otherwise-unused triangle button. Why it couldn't just be triangle on its own is anybody's guess, but the fact that fingers must always be on or near shoulder buttons while thumbs are hammering the face buttons is very uncomfortable indeed, and so far nearly every play session has ended with a cramped hand.
Grinding is also encouraged, annoyingly. Many times players will come up against enemies that far exceed their levels and they'll need to get into Quick Battle mode in order to do anything about them. Some of the mandatory bosses will also simply steamroll over a player without warning sometimes. Players can't replay levels until they've beaten the story mode once, either, meaning that the necessary grinding is slow and restricted.
In between Story Mode battles is a rather inane board game-style interface where players must navigate a grid in order to fight enemies, find treasures, and unlock barriers. Players are given "Destiny Points" at the beginning of each level which are spent with each action. If players spend all their Points, the rewards for completing the level will be diminished. This entire section could have been cut from the game without doing it any damage. It's a waste of time and doesn't really add anything.
The game's considerable irritations are a shame because in many ways, Dissidia is a very good experience. The character customization is spot on, and fun little extras like the PP Catalog, where players can spend Points to unlock new characters and costumes, and the Chocobo, that flies on a set path during your daily playtime with the game and uncovers new rewards the more you play, serve to make this feel like a very complete and addictive package. There is a lot of content, with twenty characters and several game modes, include Arcade and Versus.
Hardcore Final Fantasy nerds will be dazzled by the fan service on offer and will likely let a lot of issues slip by unnoticed, just because Kefka is in it. However, Dissidia really isn't a great game. It's a solid, if annoying, hack n' slash title that had a shedload of potential, but just isn't tight enough to truly realize the greatness it could have achieved. Not only that, but the Final Fantasy lore and cast of characters has been plundered and squandered with no real sense of respect and attention to detail. It's a shameless nostalgia fest that doesn't do its own background justice, and while the game is certainly decent for what it is, it's ultimately not something worth buying a PSP for. Dream matches between Cloud and Squall can only get a game so far.
Score: 6.5 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)
reviewed by Jim Sterling